Burns’ Night puts Scotch Whisky tax on Chancellor’s radar

25 Jan 2015

Robert Burns' birthday is toasted cross the country with a wee dram of Scotch Whisky.

If every adult in the UK raises a toast to Robert Burns and enjoys one dram, Chancellor George Osborne will pocket £38.7 million in duty.

But as long as 230 years ago, Burns himself, despite employment as an excise man, savaged the tax regime imposed on Scotch Whisky - today one of the highest taxed goods in Britain.

In 'Scotch Drink', written in 1785, he declares of Scotch: "O thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch Drink!"

But later in the poem he reveals his frustration at high taxes:

"Thae curst horse-leeches o' the' Excise,
Wha mak the whisky stells their prize!
Haud up thy han', Deil! ance, twice, thrice!
There, seize the blinkers!
An' bake them up in brunstane pies
For poor damn'd drinkers."

Today almost 80% of the price of an average bottle of Scotch is made up of tax.

Meanwhile, the spirits and wine industry contributes £45bn to the UK economy every year.
In 'The Deil's Awa Wi' Th' Exciseman' (1792) Burns ponders the reaction if the Devil prevented the taxman from collecting his alcohol duty. Few, he predicted, would mourn:

"We'll mak our maut, and we'll brew our drink,
We'll laugh, sing, and rejoice, man,
And monie braw thanks to the meikle black Deil,
That danc'd awa wi' th' Exciseman!"

Today a similar reaction could be predicted. Recent polling commissioned by the Scotch Whisky Association found that 84% of the British public believe current tax rates on whisky to be unfair.

Rosemary Gallagher, Scotch Whisky Association spokesperson, said: "Today we celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns. His poetry continues to resonate with many people not just in Scotland but across the globe.

"But for those of us concerned about the impact of high rates of taxation on one of the UK's most successful industries, the words of Burns are particularly appropriate. While we would never refer to anyone as a 'horse leech', we do understand his frustrations. One can only imagine what he would make of today's 80% tax rate." 

The 'Drop the Duty!' campaign, comprising the Scotch Whisky Association, the Wine & Spirit Trade Association and the TaxPayers' Alliance is urging Chancellor George Osborne to cut excise duty on all spirits, including Scotch, by 2% in the UK Budget this March.

The industry is calling on people to email their MP via the campaign website (www.droptheduty.co.uk) to urge George Osborne to act.

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

Translations
"Those cursed horse leeches of the Excise,
Who make the whisky stills their prize!
Hold up your hand, Devil! once, twice, three times!
There, seize the spies!
And bake them up in brimstone pies
For poor damned drinkers."
"We will make our malt, and we will brew our drink,
We will laugh, sing, and rejoice, man,
And many good thanks to the big black Devil,
That danced away with the Exciseman!"

The SWA is joined in the 'Drop the Duty' campaign by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and the Taxpayers' Alliance.
For more information on the campaign visit www.droptheduty.co.uk
For more information on the SWA visit www.scotch-whisky.org.uk and follow us on Twitter @ScotchWhiskySWA
Contact Rosemary Gallagher at the SWA on 0131 222 9230/07432 605 385 or email rgallagher@swa.org.uk with any media queries.