Stonings, hangings and PR suicides

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It has been mayhem. And it has been really hard to keep up with it. We waited and then waited more before writing up our opinions on the matter, hoping we would get a clear picture eventually. Not happening.

Last week Diageo, a drinks giant that owns half of our beloved country, announced that an historic Johnnie Walker bottling plant in Kilmarnock, the place where the famous brand started almost 200 years ago, was due to be closed and it’s 700 employees were being made redundant. On top of that they decided to close Port Dundas grain whisky distillery and Dundashill cooperage in Glasgow (up to 140 jobs). Together with job cuts in a few other places it adds up to 900 posts. The company stresses that some of it will be offset by the new packaging plant in Leven, Fife. We’re talking some 400 jobs by mid 2011. That means half a thousand people better learn new skills and fast.

That triggered some dramatic reactions from all directions. I think the first to throw a stone were Kilmarnock authorities. They blame the company, they say it was unexpected, etc. Fair enough.

Then the Scottish Government started its own lament. First Minister Alex Salmond told the press that the government reps had no less than seven (7!) meetings with Diageo people this year alone and no redundancies were mentioned (a lie). There goes another stone.

I consulted The Scotsman, The Guardian, The Independent and The Times over the last few days and guess what I found. More stones.

And the people from the industry? Some remarkably calm but some… yes you have guessed correctly.

But Diageo bit back. They said that it was their employees right to know first (that’s why it was unexpected) and that it was the harsh economic climate that pushed them towards that “extremely difficult decision” (poor innocent corporation run by good fairies, how dare the dirty politicians, journalists and industry people of all sorts claim you didn’t do absolutely EVERYTHING to save those jobs).

Now, if you think the stones were flying in only one direction, think again. Labour MP’s (Des Browne to name but one) were delighted when they could ride Mr. Salmond like a wild boar with no anaesthetics, no saddle and no brakes. ‘You didn’t do enough, Alex’ – they shouted in their high pitched voices – ‘as a matter of fact, you didn’t do anything at all you useless bum’ – they added unisono. ‘We would have guessed what was going to happen’ they cried and streams of tears as swift as river Spey itself ran down their cheeks soaking into the collars of their silk shirts bought for taxpayers’ money. Holyrood and Westminster both witnessed such scenes. There is no better way to get a couple of votes in, than to accuse everyone around when shit hits the fan. Was it the ancient Greeks who figured that out? Old trick but still seems to work just fine.

Eventually even tabloids became sufficiently interested in the matter. In their own manner, that is. Daily Record sniffed out the fact that Diageo made plans to convert parts of the Kilmarnock plant into luxurious flats. Juicy. Diageo, in full resignation after realising that their counterintelligence is practically useless, simply agreed to consider any alternative. How noble.

The saga continues. And it will for a while now. The only good thing is that Metro lost their interest and stopped delivering their revelations about “distilling Johnnie Walker” in Kilmarnock since 1820.

What’s our opinion? I spoke to Chris about that today and all we could say was that we were sad. It hurts that at least 500 Scottish families are now in shambles. It hurts that one of the iconic whisky spots and a significant tangible piece of Scottish heritage will be degraded to the status of accommodation for yuppies, and what hurts even more is that such a decision can be made by a huge multinational company and there is absolutely nothing we can do about that. It hurts that political elites think it’s business as usual and show no signs of anything which would even remotely resemble a united front in this case. Finally, it hurts that a company that owns a rather sizable chunk of the Scotch whisky industry got into so much trouble, they decided to restructure their operations at the cost of a spectacular PR suicide (read: at any cost).

It all looks grim. But you know what? We are not going blame anyone. We are not going to draw any wannabe analytical conclusions. Instead we are going to enjoy a few drams of Black Label from a bottle with the words “Bottled in Kilmarnock” still proudly imprinted on it.

No more time should be lost by infighting. The real fight lies elsewhere.

For daily updates on the matter, or to show your support to the Kilmarnock families, please visit:

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