‘Facts are Chiels That Winna Ding’

head shot of Alec Ross

I had a wee blether with a few folk last night. Great craic, people. I just wish my golf was as good as your conversation!

Some folk were genuinely surprised at the admittedly astonishing scale of Scotland’s food and drink sector that I have outlined several times. The source for the figures, by the way, isn’t what you might think.

By that, I mean that it isn’t one of the many pro-self-determination websites that regularly promote this kind of positive material, but from the Scottish Farming Leader, which is the non-political in-house journal of the National Farmers Union, which itself is a broad church and hardly a hotbed of radical separatism.

It’s fascinating how the needle has moved.

Nine years ago, I was a member of a body called Farming For Yes. As we toured the draughty village halls of Scotland, these kind of numbers were our bread and butter, but they didn’t get as much traction as we hoped, largely because they were dwarfed by nonsense about an independent Scotland being horsed out of the EU unless we stayed tied to the yoke of London.

I whiles wonder how that one played out.

Today, the numbers we were talking about – the exporting of forty bottles of whisky per second, the incredible contribution of farming to Scotland’s GDP – are now very much a mainstream discussion. It’s hugely encouraging that promotion of one of Scotland’s greatest success stories is being championed widely. It’s a rare example of the Overton Window shifting in a good way. Fair play, and if you’re late to the party? Welcome, welcome again. I’m buying.

The plan is to increase Scotland’s food and drink turnover from £18bn to £30bn by 2030, yet a recent Herald article (I’ll declare an interest here, I write a twice weekly column) ran a story about Scotland’s GDP being hammered by £10bn because of a Brexit clusterbouroch it utterly rejected. So as we approach next week and and remember the choice we made in 2014 a couple of questions we need to ask are:

What sort of food and drink sector do we want? And what are the constitutional arrangements and trading agreements that will allow us to achieve that? Roll those questions over into each and every sector you wish to and it’s a total no-brainer. Let Scotland be Scotland.

The eighteenth of September will be, every year for as long as I live, an important and difficult milestone. Just as it will be for the millions of Scots who voted for normality and, I suspect, a fair few who didn’t.

There’s a saying amongst sporting enthusiasts that the greatest feeling in the world is winning, and the second best is losing. Nine years ago I thought my world had ended. But I wouldn’t have swapped it for the world. I’ve never, ever, in my life felt so alive. Truth is I was grieving for months, not just for the result, but for the campaign, the friendships I made over illicit late night drams. It was just so brilliant. I missed it for months afterwards. I still do.

Robert Burns had a phrase. “Facts are chiels that winna ding”. In other words, the truth is your friend and will not let you down. The arrival of Scotland’s incredible food and drink sector into mainstream conversation, in the midst of food shortages and a pandemic, speaks to this deeper truth.

The facts will, even in a post-truth, post-shame age, eventually, out.

Burns also said that it’s coming yet for a’ that. He wasnae wrang then. He isn’t now.

Stay safe good people. I’ll meet you further on up the road. And let’s bring this home.


head and shoulders of Alec Ross

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