Is Scottish independence a winning ingredient for success or an unnecessary risk for Scottish hospitality?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th September 2014
With just two days to go before voting begins, we’ve heard a lot from chefs, restaurants and industry professionals on why Scotland should leave the UK. Just last week 40 leading Scottish and internationally renowned figures involved in the Scottish food and drink industry declared their support for Yes with an open letter published by Business for Scotland. But those in the opposing camp appear to be less vocal – so are they quietly confident? “No and I think you would be a fool on either side to be confident,” said No supporter BeppoBeppo-Buchanan-Smith Buchanan-Smith, owner, Isle of Eriska hotel, Benderloch, Argyll. He explained: “Half of the population have never voted before so if anyone can predict which way they will go they are a better judge than I am.” The No campaign appears to be holding onto its narrow lead, according to a series of opinion polls published over the weekend. Excluding undecided voters, a survey by Opinium for the Observer had it leading by 53 per cent to 47 per cent, while a Survation poll commissioned by Better Together put the gap at 54 per cent to 46 per cent. An ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph put the Yes camp in front by 54 per cent to 46 per cent, although it had a smaller than usual sample size. Speaking to a chef who is voting No and currently working in one of Scotland’s high profile restaurants, one of his main concerns is the Michelin star they currently hold. Last year's Michelin GuideHe said: “It’s something that has been discussed in the kitchen. The Michelin Guide is the UK and Northern Ireland so would this still include Scotland? If not would we have a new guide and would it mean that we had to start again?” He added: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. I heard a good analogy of it and they said it’s like going on a night out, you’re all up for it at the time but then you wake up with the hangover. I think that’s what it will be like.” He chose to remain anonymous as the friction between employees and owners of well-known establishments is growing – many do not want to comment as our anonymous chef explains, they fear it will have a lasting effect on business. He said: “Everyone is entitled to an opinion but I can see why big brands and high profile establishments aren’t speaking out. You’re representing a business and things get said on Twitter, Facebook and in the news that could do lasting damage.” Beppo is happy to voice his opinion and he is as patriotic as they come. His roots are firmly in Scotland so his decision to vote No is not a question of passion for his country, he said: “My passion for Scotland would not change if we were independent or remained as part of the UK. But personally I hope we choose to remain within the union. “I don’t see how the proposed changes which will come with independence will make a difference. Where I do see an issue is raising foreign investment for Scotland in a new, young country – I think it will be difficult. “My three biggest worries for my industry are investment, staffing and customers. The Yes campaign hasn’t convinced me that there will be stability and as we are just coming out of a pretty big recession the last thing we want is change.” Beppo believes hospitality in Scotland survives on consistency, continuity and stability. Will this remain in an independent Scotland? It’s the uncertainty surrounding questions like this which has many people working in this sector worried. He said: “In the event of independence and possibility of different barriers around the borders it would create issues surrounding our clients as 80 per cent of our clients don’t come from Scotland. Any possibility of a barrier, not that I’m scare mongering and saying there will be but if there was, it would not be good for business.” Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, said on Sunday that the referendum was “a once in aAlex Salmond, First Minister of  Scotland generation opportunity”, confirming that in the event of a No vote he would not seek to hold another one for 20 years. Many will be relieved to hear this as bullying and intimidation tactics have become the subject of discussion as the build up to the vote hits its peak. Beppo has seen this first hand, he said: “Driving to Edinburgh yesterday I saw No signs lying on the ground burnt, or smashed in peoples gardens – and you don’t see that from the Yes signs.” He added: “It’s easy for people to have no comment, my personal hope is that all those people who are undecided aren’t. They know which way they are voting they just don’t want to say it.” Names on last week’s Yes list included Andrew Fairlie, Chef/Proprietor, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Paddy Crerar, CEO, Crerar Hotel Group,  Craig Stevenson, MD, Braehead Foods and many more. Also on the list is Billy Boyter, chef and owner of The Cellar Restaurant, Anstruther. BillyHe said: “A lot of chefs have kept quiet so they don’t upset guests in the restaurant but I think if people see successful businesses and chefs putting their name out there it gives them the confidence to come out and share their views. Andrew Fairlie is such a massive figure in cooking, for me it is someone strong to stand behind almost like a figure head.” He added: “Both sides are as bad as each other as it’s coming to a head. I’ve never seen any real badness towards one another but I’ve seen Yes signs with No graffiti on and I’ve seen No signs pulled down. I think it’s a minority really and everyone is just very passionate about their views.” Billy, who was brought up in a SNP household, has his own reasons for voting Yes and they are similar to those of others in the industry. “Looking at both sides a Yes vote is the more obvious vote for me. There’s a lot of scaremongering about how things are going to change when we become independent but realistically nothing will change. Not straight away anyway, there will be a negotiating period and I have no concerns regarding my business. “I see Scotland prospering more away from a Westminster government. Having a government that we can select and that’s in charge of our own economy seems far more beneficial to me as a business owner. “If you look at our history we are a nation moving towards independence, it’s inevitable and it’s up to us to take the opportunity now.” His thoughts are echoed by Albert H Roux, world-renowned chef and Scottish food and drink rouxambassador, who employs over 130 people. He told Business for Scotland that, ‘as far as the food industry is concerned Scotland would be better with a Yes.’ He said: “Scotland is a nation with world class produce, outstanding landscapes and rich history which I have been proud to promote and I think independence could offer more opportunities to promote these wonderful things.” Adam Handling   This year’s British chef of the year and Masterchef Professionals 2013 finalist, Adam Handling, was born and raised in Scotland but currently lives in England. He says he doesn’t really care what the results are although he does find himself drawn more towards ‘no’. “I use Scottish products in my restaurant and will continue to do so if Scotland goes independent. However, I do think I side with the 'no' vote as I think it's called Great Britain for a reason and if the world sees England splitting apart it would look bad - we are more protected and stable together. “But these are the views of a little chef not a politician, I don't know what I'm talking about! It's like me asking David Cameron how to make a Béarnaise sauce -  let the people whose field it is do what's best.” There’s no doubt that the issue of Scottish Independence will be debated right up until the ballot boxes open and close – however until the result is announced no one can really predict Scotland’s future or what this future will hold for the hospitality industry, and indeed other industries, in years to come. By Cara Pilkington @canteencara  
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th September 2014

Is Scottish independence a winning ingredient for success or an unnecessary risk for Scottish hospitality?