Whisky Advocate

Boycott Scotch?

August 24th, 2009

Yes, there’s more politics relating to Scotch whisky. This time it’s an effort to boycott British goods and services (including scotch) because of the controversial decision to repatriate the Lockerbie bomber’s release.

Here’s the story from the Daily Telegraph, and here’s one of the main websites urging the boycott.

Thoughts, anyone? (I don’t usually post about politics, but I thought this might make for good discussion.)

52 Responses to “Boycott Scotch?”

  1. Michael Shoshani says:

    Personally, I believe such a move is ill-advised. What’s been done has been done; many of us may disagree with the decision of this judge in Scotland, but after all she is applying Scottish or UK law, not US law.

    Americans who boycott Scotch are only depriving themselves of one of the most sublime pleasures in the world. Most, but certainly not all, Scotch distilleries are in the hands of large conglomerates. If their entire spirits portfolio begins to lose its overall profitability, they can afford to shut down and concentrate on other businesses in their vast enterprises. One could certainly expect prices on other spirits (bourbon, vodka, etc) to rise in compensation for the lost income from sales of Scotch.

  2. David G says:

    1) Boycott Scotch
    2) Demand Drops
    3) Inventories Increase
    4) Prices Drop

    I’m all for it :)

  3. Sam S. says:

    The industry had nothing to do with the choices of one judge.
    They shouldn’t be blamed for it.

  4. Tim P. says:

    This whole “boycott” is a media driven movement, and we should just keep that in mind.

    boycottscotland.com is registered to a Domain Privacy Group in Canada so we should just remember that as likely as this site was created by a concerned US citizen, it also could have been created by a foreign or domestic media comglomerate, hungry for a story to fill up the end of summer.

    I say we get back to whisky.

  5. Michael Shoshani says:

    1) Boycott Scotch
    2) Demand Drops
    3) Inventories Increase
    4) Prices Drop

    5) Distilleries close and get turned into parking lots
    6) Well-known brands disappear forever

    This has already happened in times when Scotch doesn’t sell. Go find a bottle of Brora or Littlemill today. We came scarily close to losing Ardbeg and Glendronach.

    Don’t wish for such things; they will ultimately work against Scotch drinkers.

  6. Tony Menechella says:

    Which distillery was it that freed him?? That’s like boycotting the NFL because a judge only sentenced Donte Stallworth to 30 Days for DUI Manslaughter. I don’t agree with either decision, but lay blame where it belongs. Cheers!!! LOL

  7. bgulien says:

    Looks we got some sane people here.
    It’s always wrong to boycott. You will hurt people who have no say in the process that led up to the reason to boycott.
    And let’s be honest, me as an European, I am sometimes flabbergasted at some of the things happening in the US.
    But I will never boycott, and certainly not something as wonderful as whisk[e]y.
    Mr. David G. is financially driven instead of ideological, and that’s
    even worse, because he obviously doesn’t care about the situation, but more about his wallet.

  8. John Hansell says:

    Here’s another report on the topic from the BBC.

  9. Joe says:

    Reminds me of the old joke about the liquor store owner who, when informed of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, decided to remove all of his Russian vodka. After surveying his shelves, he said, “Wow, I hope that we never go to war with Scotland.”

    I never said that it was a funny joke…

  10. Louis says:

    John,

    While I generally agree that politics and hobbbies/interests don’t mix, this time there is room to make an exception. Especially since there is a good probability that this decision was tainted by oil politics.

    If a well known figure in the scotch whisky industey had been a passenger on flight 103, we would certainly be hearing an outcry. The fact is that it doesn’t really matter who was or was not of the flight. Every one of the victims was somebody’s family and friend.

    I also can’t accept the argument that the whisky industry had nothing to do with it, so they shouldn’t be ‘punished’. There is a nice chunk of tax revenue that goes to the government from each bottle purchased, so the Scottish government will bear the responsibility for their decision to coddle terrorism. Also, the pain felt in the local economiies would be far less than than felt by the families of the victimns.

    While I realize that a boycott may not make a huge difference in the overall whisky revenue, we can make our voices heard if it is done strategically. In particular, I would recommend refusing to purchase any new expressions for the next six months or so, and e-mailing each distillery to tell them why their products were not purchased (and I would not spend any of the diverted money on Jim Beam products, as they own Laphroaig and Ardmore).

    In this day and age where pretty much everything is politicized (see the current health care debate), it would be nice to see somebody having a moral backbone to stand up for what is right.

    Louis

  11. David S. says:

    Brilliant plotting by the Scottish whisky industry to undermine justice via the use of tax revenue.

    I’ll pour a dram to that cleverness.

  12. Tanguy says:

    Switch from Scotch whisky to Bourbon Whiskey, buy American after all!

  13. Steve says:

    John,

    You’ve stirred the still with this one. I will not single out one industry and indiscriminately punish all associated, including the guys working the counter at my local Atlanta liquor stores, because of one official’s decision.

    I still purchase goods made in countries whose decisions don’t always delight me, including my own. I find keeping a list of who made what where and did what wrong this particular week/month/year difficult to maintain as somebody is always doing something with which I disagree. Such is the world. Why take out frustration on some cooper, stillman, warehouseman, farmer, truck driver, or local liquor store owner making a living via whisky?

    As some of the Europeans posting here have said, they continue to buy American and American-owned whisk(e)y even though they’ve made no bones about their concerns with some American policies.

    I’m sure some Europeans (Canadians, Chinese, et. al.) avoid American products as some Americans avoid Chinese (French, now Scottish, et. al.) products for various reasons. Some countries, such as South Africa, have changed policies because of a determined world, but I don’t see British marines storming Tripoli to get this guy back because of a whisky boycott. The British may evaluate any future case (although this was the only person convicted in the Lockerbie attack) differently but that will come because of internal review of release qualifications and procedures.

    I believe the British have been for almost 100 years and will continue to be economic, political, and military partners and tonight, even though I disagree with this particular decision, I will make sure to toast the Scots, their fine whisky, and their need for used bourbon barrels from my home state of Kentucky.

    I will, however, continue a long standing personal boycott on canned haggis.

    Slainte,
    Steve

  14. Michael Shoshani says:

    I would recommend refusing to purchase any new expressions for the next six months or so, and e-mailing each distillery to tell them why their products were not purchased (and I would not spend any of the diverted money on Jim Beam products, as they own Laphroaig and Ardmore).

    I’m not sure exactly how this would benefit anyone at all. The largest and fastest-growing drinks market right now is Asia and the Pacific Rim. All of our best bourbon goes there, bar none. You can’t get barrel-proof Elmer T. Lee here, but you can there. You can’t get 101 proof Maker’s Mark here, but you can there.

    Don’t think that Scotch whisky producers aren’t experiencing similar sales figures in that part of the world. The only message we will send by refusing to buy new expressions for six months is that we are obviously not interested in their best offerings, so they may as well market them elsewhere.

    I’m not quite sure it’s fully understood that Scotland’s distillers have other markets that are more than willing to buy whatever is refused here, and will subsequently get first pick of new or limited expressions.

  15. Louis says:

    Michael,

    The US is one of the two largest whisk(e)y markets in the world. Most people listen when their larget customers talk. The Asia market is mostly blended scotch in terms of volume. The barrel proof Elmer T. Lee and 101 proof Makers Mark don’t amount to that much business.

    The purpose of the boycott is to get the message across, that there are reprecussions for actions such as these. Such as if you release a terrorist who kiled by fellow countrymen, I may not want to do business with your country. I am not trying to harm the scotch whisky industry, that’s why I set the six month time limit. OTOH, if their is an oil link involved, then the boycott is totally justified. Whatever the case may be, the goal is to get condemnation of this act, not much else possible, as the damage can not be undone.

    And this type of campaign does work I know of two cases in particular, one involving CNN and the other the New York Times.

    Louis

  16. Neil Fusillo says:

    This is asinine. That’s pretty much all I have to say.

    Many of the Scottish MPs and British MPs were very much against the move to release the Lockerbie bomber, but it was a political move based on a rather well-established compassion law that was out of their hands.

    And now people want to punish all of Scotland for it. And all of the UK. That’s a bit like the movement to punish France for not wanting to go to war against Iraq. Freedom Fries, anyone?

    It never ceases to amaze me just how incredibly provincial US Citizens are, and how little thought is ever given toward how the world actually works. This kind of third-grade clique politics is peurile, worthless, and serves only to reinforce the idea that fear, hatred, and anger are the best ways to motivate people into action.

    Boycott away. I’ll buy up the leftover cases of Scotch. Meanwhile, the 2nd largest market for whiksy in the world, France, will become the more important market, and we may see even fewer expressions. A sound idea if all you want to do is hurt innocent businesses and innocent consumers out of some misplaced sense of revenge.

  17. Tim B says:

    Neil,

    There is no need to be offensive. I think that your characterization is unfair, and through it, you do yourself a disservice. US citizens hold a wide diversity of opinions and beliefs; it is unfortunate that the media and and those who represent us do not always reflect that.

    I, for one, will continue buying Scotch whisky.

  18. Neil Fusillo says:

    You’re right, Tim. It was unfair. And it’s not just some US Citizens who hold a monopoly on being provincial. But it’s so frustrating to see, mostly because, as an American, I expect MORE from us than I do from others. It just irks me when I see bringing down the proverbial bell curve as it were.

    I meant no offense, but I understand it did come off that way.

  19. John Hansell says:

    A very passionate and lively debate. Much more than I expected. Who else wants to weigh in?

  20. Douglas says:

    If you accept the decision at face value, then it is simply a consequence of a different justice system; one where the State can show compassion even when the wrongdoer does not. Obviously you are entitled to disagree with it but please remember that there were also Scottish victims in Lockerbie and the Scottish public is split by this decision too.

    If you, like many of us, suspect that oil politics are the unspoken factor in this latest controversy (again!) then we will surely see the US, UK and Europe all benefit from the normalisation of relations with Libya. I assume in that case you will be equally keen to boycott US products too.

    My point is that a boycott of all things Scottish is much too simplistic. And it just hurts people, not governments.

    Megrahi did not act alone and is widely believed to have been just one link in the chain. The West including the US does not seem to want to reveal the real perpetrators of Lockerbie; they have too much to lose in the share of Libya’s wealth.

    Boycott the West if you are really sincere about this. Because as surely as night follows day, the train of events leading to the release of Megrahi was set in motion by the governments on both sides of the Atlantic seeking to ingratiate themselves with Libya.

    I recommend you prepare yourself for a diet of Cuban cigars and Caribbean rum… could be worse mind you :)

  21. H.Diaz says:

    Will switch to other spirits for a little while. Like these new “classic” high end bourbons John is raving about.

    I say hit them where its hurts, in their pocket book. And should it hurt their local economies, they can take it up with their Government.

  22. Tim B says:

    No worries Neil, and I suspect that our sentiments are not all that different. Your candor is appreciated.

  23. Sean says:

    Unfortunately I have to agree with Neil’s orignal post, in general politics in the US have become about anger, hate, and extremism, and has gotten away from constructive dialogue (just look at our current healthcare debate which is focusing on made up things (death panels anyone) instead of reality). That is not to say that everyone is that way but just take a look at our news channels and it is easy to see. As far boycotting scotch, no way. They made a law based decision, and while I may not agree with it, I respect their law and that it is their decision. People also keep commenting on how the decision may be based on oil and thus we must boycott. Umm, did these same people boycott bourbon and other US good after we invaded Iraq? Time to go pour myself a glass of scotch.

  24. Louis says:

    Sorry Sean, but this is not about ‘anger, hate, and extremism’. Real, innocent people got killed. Ironically the anger, hate, and extremism comes from the other side, where it is OK to kill, well, pretty much anybody for any reason reason. Were the attacks in Mumbai last November also out fault? The post-election violence in Iran? How about the attack on the USS Cole and 9/11?

    And the fact that the decision ‘may have been based on oil’. Have your read how many high level contacts there have been recently between England and Libya. Just how much in the way of British exports are sent to Libya, and how many Libyan products other than oil go to the UK? Do non-oil producing nations in Africa get the same attention? Maybe Prince Andrew can tell us what exactly was on the agenda for his now-cancelled trip to Libya.

    But just because some law in Scotland says it’s Ok to release terrorists, doesn’t mean that I have to respect it.

  25. Neil Fusillo says:

    No Louis. You don’t have to respect that law. There are, in fact, many laws I don’t respect. But I shouldn’t be punished for laws I can neither change nor interpret any more than a whisky distillery should be punished for the Scottish laws it had nothing to do with.

    When you attack innocents to make a statement toward people in power, you’re nothing more than a terrorist of another kind.

  26. Sean says:

    Louis, I understand that real innocent people were killed, and I feel for their families. I also believe that the families have a right to be angry. IMHO, that anger should be directed at changing the law not at boycotting, as Neil pointed at why should innocent scottish and english citizens be harmed?
    Do you live in the US? Have you watched the Healthcare townhalls, or Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN? People carrying AR-15’s around at townhalls?
    Oil countries always get preferred treatment. Just look at how we treat Saudi Arabia. Are they any better than Libya? Heck they may even produce more terrorists but they get treated with kid gloves. You may not like it, and you don’t have too. Louis, did you boycott the US after how we treated Saudia Arabia after 9/11?

  27. Sean says:

    John,

    Sorry if derailed the conversation.

  28. Michael Shoshani says:

    Will switch to other spirits for a little while. Like these new “classic” high end bourbons John is raving about.

    You go right ahead and do that. Buy a lot of bourbon. You will support the Scotch whisky industry either directly, by buying the product of a bourbon distillery that either owns or works in partnership with Scottish distillery….or indirectly by the simple act of buying bourbon. ANY bourbon. After all, the empty barrels go to Scotland to be filled with maturing Scotch whisky.

    This is just part of the futility in this boycott idea that its proponents aren’t seeing. Those who declare they will buy another spirit will end up buying the product of one of the conglomerates that owns Scotch distilleries anyway. The distilleries don’t suffer, but the boycotter deprives himself of good whisky because he has it in his head that refusing to buy Scotch whisky will somehow make a dent in a judicial system that is about as far removed from the distilling industry in Scotland as is the auto industry from the canned peaches industry here in the States.

    I can assure you as I live and breathe that someone somewhere, perhaps a participant in this very discussion, will have made up his mind to show Scotland a thing or two by refusing to buy its whisky and thus “hurting its pocketbook”, and will thus reward himself with a trip to Burger King, or Baskin-Robbins, or Dunkin’ Donuts – all owned by Diageo, the huge conglomerate that has at least half the Scottish distilling industry in its clutches.

  29. Jacob says:

    This is asinine.

    Exactly what I thought, Neil.

    I’m going to counter-boycott by ensuring I drink only Scotch whisky for the foreseeable future. Sorry Buffalo Trace!

  30. John M says:

    My opinion on the matter would be pretty similar to Douglas.

    Justice is not just about satisfying people, it’s about developing a society in which injustices happen less often.

    I have no idea whether the decision to release this man will do that. Maybe it’s a bad decision, maybe it’s a political decision – I don’t know. But it is the opinion of many that showing some kind of compassion even when it hurts is part of building a better society.

    The hero’s welcome the Lockerbie bomber got upon his return is very unfortunate, of course, but there’s not much Scotland can do about that.

    A Boycott would probably hurt people who disagree with the decision in the first place anyway. It could hurt US citizens too.

  31. John Hansell says:

    Stimulating conversation, to say the least.

    I’ll be traveling until later this evening but will check in again here at that time. — John

  32. John Hansell says:

    One more quick note before I leave. Just to add a little levity, I have to agree with Steve: I’m all for boycotting canned haggis. :) At least the stuff I had a few years back. I like haggis (and black pudding and scrapple, etc.) but the stuff I had I could do without.

    Anyone else want to chime in with their thoughts? I’ll check back with you later in the day.

  33. Gary says:

    I was friends with one of the American high school students who died on that plane. She was a bright, funny and talented young lady. She was 16 years old.It was truly a sad day.

    I disagreed with releasing the bomber. He should have rotted in jail for the rest of his life.

    That said I wouldn’t support a boycott of Scotch whisky or any other product of the UK. You don’t punish someone that has nothing to do with the release of the prisoners. No boycott. But I will raise a glass in that young ladies memory!

  34. Phil R says:

    I too live in upstate NY and enjoy more than my share of scotch. I personally know a family who lost a child on that plane. Libya tried to buy off those families in exchange for being removed from the terrorist list. So it is all about the money. In this case none of mine can be going directly or indirectly back to Scotland until Kenny MacAskill is fired or resigns. Or until the terrorist dies. Then I will resume purchasing whisky again.

  35. Duane says:

    Some thoughts:

    It appears that MacAskill was not required by Scottish law to release the terorist. Therefore the decision to do so in light of the circumstances is apalling to me (and apparently to many people).

    I don’t for a moment think that Americans or others outside of the U.K. can (or should) directly influence U.K politicians. It would take a public outcry in the U.K to do so. On the other hand, to say that the voting public should be immune from foreign backlash against the actions of their politicians is to deny the responsibility of the citizens of a democracy.

    I for one don’t believe that a limited boycott of the scotch whisky industry by Americans will have any effect, but I believe in the importance of individuals taking action based upon their own ethical standards.

    I will join others from this forum in raising a glass to those who lost their lives in the Pan Am bombing.

  36. Florin says:

    Let’s boycott USA goods because Hierosima,
    Let’s boycott mercedes,BMW, because Hitler
    Let’t boycott wodka because Stalin.
    Let’s live aside politics and drink whisky without borders.

  37. Paula says:

    Scotland freed a man who almost certainly did not plant a bomb on the plane – or he would never have been freed. There are more unanswered questions than answered, and there is a lot the public will never know – as always. But still people think they know. Should the rest of the world boycott American goods as they shot down the Iranian airliner in the first place which may well have caused this possible retaliation? Scottish law has a range of tones – not just black and white.
    I suggest we find alternatives to oil as fast as possible and let the Middle East get on with its own affairs while we reduce pollution and save money – to spend on Scotch.

  38. Rick Lyke says:

    John:

    For me this is personal. I am a graduate of Syracuse University and had the opportunity to spend a semester at S.U.’s program in London in 1980. Thirty-five of the 270 people killed in this mass murder during Christmas week 1988 were students from that program.

    Scottish law did not have any compassion for the 270 people killed by this man. Instead, they had compassion for a mass killer. He spent less than 2 weeks in jail for each life that he took. Compassion? The U.K. obviously knew this was coming and did nothing to protest. Scotland is hiding behind a law that can be applied with a great deal of flexibility, trying to make it appear that this was not a political and econmic decision. Clearly it was just that and now Scotland does not want the world to react. Keep in mind that when the murdering thugs were identified as agents of Libya, the Tripoli government did not turn them over until economic sanctions took hold and they negotiated to have them tried in the U.K. It looks like they knew what they were doing.

    Avoiding Scotch whisky and English ale may be viewed by some as nothing more than an economic action on my part, but in terms that the governments in Edinburgh and London appear to understand best, this is my form of compassion for the families of everyone on Pan Am 103.

    This hurst even more because it was an action by people we consider to be our friends. I’m going to miss their fine beverages, but there are plenty of whiskies and beers from the rest of the world that I just feel like drinking more at this time.

    Thanks.

    Rick

  39. I’m requesting that those Americans who wish to boycott Scottish products begin returning the following ASAP;

    penicillin, anaesthetics, pneumatic tyres, hypodermic syringes, anything to do with golf or ‘soccer’, telephones, haggis, televisions, fax mac…hines, Bovril, radios, postage stamps, whisky, the US Navy, thermos flasks, lawnmowers, lime cordial, refrigerators, combs, keyrings, colour photos, digestive biscuits, bicycles, MRI and Ultrasound scanners, any cloned mammals specifically sheep (or cat-sheep, I think I invented that), you can forget about the theory of electromagnetism and the concept of latent heat, radar technology, the standard time of the Universe…

    Stick it all into a big box and mail it to me please.

    Thanks.

  40. Gary says:

    to Adam,
    Sure we will do that right after the UK gives us their entire country that we saved from the Germans in WWII. ;)

  41. Gary – The United Kingdom isn’t a product of America. ;)

    And America contributed to the World War victory, they weren’t the sole reason… ;)

  42. Euan says:

    Firstly I’m Scottish and have a close affinity with the US, I also have good friends in the Middle East who are Arab. This is the most difficult situation the Scots/we have ever found ourselves in , bar a few Viking and English raids in times gone bye.
    Americas has “In God we Trust”, Scotland on our ceremonial mace in our parliament has “Wisdom, Justice, Compassion, Integrity”, The Aspirations of the Scottish People.
    There are those that question our judgement in relation to Justice, I for one feel that we may be a little too lenient, however, we can never debase our humanity by adopting “an eye for an eye” this will never bring any form of peace between the Middle East and the rest of the world. Especially in the Arab countries where martyrdom is the supreme act.
    It is written in the laws of Scotland that we offer compassion, Megrahi is terminally ill and the last thing we wanted as a nation was for this guy to die on our soil. So he had to go back to Libya. The unfortunate thing was that the agreements for repatriation of prisoners between UK and Libya did not allow that due to prior agreements with the families of the victims of the Lockerbie tragedy. The British Government conveniently and unfortunately turned a blind eye to proceedings and still have not declared why (I think we maybe all know why , as Im sure the US government do too). It left one man and one man only to make the decision on the basis of compassion. It was the only way out, the only way to get Megrahi off our soil (remember, we didnt ask for this atrocity, weve had enough atrocities perpetrated on the Scots in our land over 1000’s of years without having any more). And so our Justice Minister, MacAskill, bravely made the decision , he alone made it and to penalise all Scottish people and even penalise him is beyond reproach. Any form of reprisal I believe throws insult not only to the Scots , but also to those who died, some of whom were Scots. I think those who wish to demonise Scotland do not know how terrible we all feel about what happened 20 years ago, dont know how terrible we feel that this man had to be returned to Libya. We only ask that people from the larger nations of the world realise that Scotland is but a tiny nation that has been through some terrible trials of its own. Its a country of people who always show kindness to others and is of high moral principle.
    Dont just throw care to the wind and make us pariahs.

  43. Sean says:

    Gary,

    A little history would let you know that at best they would only have to give the US 1/3 of the country. Another third would go to Russia and the last 1/3 would go to Japan for bombing Pearl Harbor and getting the US involved when the American people had shown no desire to get involved (though FDR did want to get involved). :P

  44. Iain says:

    Geez, there are some increasingly bilious and silly statements coming in from all sides on this media-engineereed “debate”. One side goading the other to make ever more extreme statements. I know what I’m going to do – I’m going to boycott this thread.

  45. Gary says:

    Obviously sarcasm is lost on this board.

  46. Sean says:

    Gary, did you notice that I was razzing you. (well at least the emoticon at the end is supposed to be razzing).

  47. monique at the dell says:

    The only kind of “cot” I’m game for with scotch is the type that I nap on when I’ve imbibed a bit too much!

  48. Gary – The sarcasm started with me at post 39. ;)

  49. Gary says:

    It’s all good. Adam and Sean I raise a glass to you both. Sláinte!

  50. Philip says:

    What’s done is done. There is no sense in driving a wedge between two peaceable nations when there is so much to do with nations that cannot see eye to eye no matter what.

    I, as one American, have no issue with the Scottish people over this act when so much has gone on in our own country that can be viewed with a jaundiced eye by somebody at some time somewhere in the world.

    “The more you stir it, the more it stinks”
    It’s time to let it go.

  51. Barry J says:

    Well, it’s good to see that this subject is both near and dear to one and all. I would suppose that one good thing is this. The bomber is dying a horrible death in an underskilled Lybian Hospital. Had he stayed in Scotland, huge amounts of Scottish money would have been spent keeping this monster alive…fearing outcry from human rights groups is they didn’t….money better off spend elsewhere. We whiskey drinkers, who understand the better things of life…with our sense of passion about that which is good just need to be guilding lights in this often confusing and misguided world!

    Cheers to all…thanks John for allowing us all to vent.

  52. Alex C., Glasgow says:

    I find the idea that America and Britain are ‘peaceable nations’ rather an intriguing one but perhaps this is an aspirational claim, and more power to you Philip for that. Please feel free not to buy Scottish products if you don’t like Scottish values. I often avoid many American goods for exactly the same reason. Ethical buying is only a crime against international capitalism, buy local, support your neighbour. The money you pay into a country supports that nation’s world view: vote with your dollar, I vote with my pound (until we join the euro anyway). We have whisky, America has bourbon, I’m fine with that. We recycle bourbon barrels (paying for the privilege) and use them to make the world’s best whisky, but we hold no grunge. Lead by example is what I say.

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