Sunday 5 July 2009

Johnnie Walker - born 1820, no longer going strong

Johnnie Walker is leaving Kilmarnock, the town where he was born:
LIKE THE square bottle and the slanting label, the Striding Man logo has helped make Johnnie Walker one of the world's most iconic drinks. The image of the cane-toting dandy struts above the factory where the whisky is bottled, a building that dominates Kilmarnock physically, emotionally and economically.

Last Wednesday the Striding Man lost his confident swagger. Diageo, the world's biggest drinks manufacturer, announced it was closing the plant with the loss of 700 jobs.

After almost 200 years, Johnnie Walker is striding away from his Ayrshire roots."

There's a great deal of anger in the town:
"I think the area is finished once they've gone. Unemployment is bad enough without this adding to it. What's Kilmarnock going to be like in two or three years? A ghost town."

Outside, 67-year-old Sam Anderson, the head barman, and Andrew Davidson, his 74-year-old customer, go through the litany of the town's industrial dead. "Massey Fergusson, Saxone - gone," chants Sam.

"You used to be able to leave your job one day and walk into a new one the next. Now there's no jobs," says Andrew

I have Kilmarnock connections.

My late father used to work for Saxone, mentioned above. He joined Saxone after leaving the army and we lived in Stewarton, a few miles to the north. That's where I started school. When I was six a transfer took us to Leeds for three years. A move back to the shoe company's HQ led to us renting in Kilmarnock for a few months before buying a house in Prestwick where I lived until I was eighteen. Then another transfer took us down to London.

My memories of Kilmarnock are a bit hazy. I do remember my father taking to a few games at the nearby Rugby Park and I still look out for Killie's results every week during the football season. As a director of a prominent local company my father got to know Willie Ross, the town's MP and later Secretary of State for Scotland. Despite being a staunch Tory my father used to enjoy a dram or two on the London sleeper with the hardline socialist politician. Naturally, they drank Johnnie Walker. And now it's gone.

I read an editorial somewhere that pointed out that the Diageo-owned Guinness HQ is Ireland's number one tourist destination and why not try the same thing in Kilmarnock? A good question.

But there are deeper issues.

For as long as I can remember Scotland has suffered from the departure or downsizing of well-known companies. Up here, we all know the importance of having locally-based employers. If Johnnie Walker had still been locally-owned would it have left Kilmarnock? Probably not.

But all those folk who are moaning about profit being put before people are missing the point. Profit is about people. Without profit there won't be any jobs, something hundreds of thousands of "public" sector workers will shortly find out.

The key to long-term prosperity is a well-educated population, free trade, respect for property rights, and the rule of law. That's the only way to build up a critical mass of home-based companies. Another thing needed is to strip away all that red tape that gives an artificial advantage to big companies like Diageo. Few Scottish politicians understand this, or if they do they're afraid to say so.

What Kilmarnock needs is an outward-looking population that's as well-educated as any in the world. Somehow I think that my father and Willie Ross might have agreed on that.

1 comment:

David Farrer said...

Comments made on previous template:

Neil Craig
Being theoretical I would add technoloogical progress at the top of that list. This can be included in free trade in that the laws of science apply equally everywhere & so, if trade is freethe playing field is level. What we have here is that you are not allowed to build or buy nuclear power stations or plant GM crops, which deprives us of much wealth & there are numerous less blatant examples. Doesn't affect Johnny Walker much, though they are prevented from using GM grain, but the basic requires emphasis.

27 July 2009, 14:07:23 GMT+01:00
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Andrew Duffin
These people who are getting all upset about this, are they the same people who are campaigning ceaselessly for people to drink less? The same ones who want to ban cheap deals and happy hours? The same ones who want booze-only checkouts in supermarkets? 
They are? 
And they never guessed that the drinks industry and its supply chain might, erm, employ people? 
Joined-up government, no doubt.

22 July 2009, 13:17:46 GMT+01:00
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Colin Finlay
Willie Ross? Are you being serious? He was as enthusiastic a redistributionist as any envy-consumed trade unionist. Indeed, as a schoolmaster, he surely was a trade union member. Ross would not have survived in Scottish Trade Union Council dominated Labour politics had class envy, doubtless enhanced by his wartime commission (and the consequent inevitable exposure to many superior types) not been a sine qua non of his worldview.

19 July 2009, 09:38:23 GMT+01:00
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Porco Erectus
"Few Scottish politicians understand this, or if they do they're afraid to say so. 
I think they quite genuinely don't understand it. The Scottish political establishment are big on self righteous rhetoric and small on learning and humility. 
I think the roots of this are entwined with the decline of the Tory party in Scotland. In the days when that party could command an absolute majority of voters Scottish business was self confident and locally controlled, it declined to a weakened, externally dependent shadow of its former self while the corporate state rose to dominate the economy. And of course the Labour Party and its near cousins the SNP & Lib Dems also came to be dominant. They are all parties of state intervention in the economy (and in everything else too). 
The kind of politicians we have now are alien to business and vice versa. They don't know how to deal with it. 'People not Profit' is typical of both their delusional mindset and their ignorance of something they really ought to know about.

9 July 2009, 20:21:12 GMT+01:00
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David Farrer
If Edinburgh based it may have behaved differently, perhaps not. But we need more locally-controlled businesses (Kilmarnock and Edinburgh) and I think I've pointed us in the required direction.

6 July 2009, 12:57:04 GMT+01:00
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james higham
That's indeed sad and shows just how bad things have got in this country.

6 July 2009, 12:29:44 GMT+01:00
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john b
If Diageo was *Kilmarnock-owned*, then it probably wouldn't have left Kilmarnock. But I don't think the company would've behaved any differently had its HQ been in Edinburgh rather than London...

6 July 2009, 11:46:57 GMT+01:00
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Completely agree with your analysis.

6 July 2009, 08:49:17 GMT+01:00
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My grandfather's name was Johnnie Walker. He was a champion rover fisherman. He won so many medal and trophies but my grandmother gave them all away when he died. 
He only drank Johnnie Walker on New Year's Day because he worried he would become addicted if he drank it any other time. 
He died at the age of 56 fishing in the River Dee back in 1954.

5 July 2009, 23:53:59 GMT+01:00