Meme-busting: whisky, export duty, English ports and GDP

This one has been covered a few times elsewhere so it’s a nice easy start to the “meme-busting” that I hope to make a regular feature on the blog. It’s all about this:

whisky duty

It goes something like this: Scotland produces x amount of goods, including y amount of very valuable whisky. These goods are exported through English ports to the markets beyond. If they leave the UK from an English port, the export duty for these goods is then attributed to England, rather than Scotland. Another subsidy!

The only problem, of course, is that there’s no such thing as export duty.

It doesn’t exist. It is an illusion created by nationalists to manufacture an unwarranted grievance in an effort to dupe voters into saying Yes (or voting SNP).

So quickly, proof that it doesn’t exist.

EDIT 5th October 2016 – after posting this some time ago, endless repetitive arguments and incessant nonsense from people who still wouldn’t believe there is no such thing, I decided to write to HMRC.  Their response is included below.  Beyond that you can keep reading for further detail if you like.


  1. You can read the ever-excellent chokkablog post on “Stop Getting GERS Wrong” and look at #4.
  2. You can read the Freedom of Information response from the Scottish Government when asked what the value of whisky export duty was to Scotland.whisky foi
  3. You could even read the EC Directive concerning the general arrangements of excise duty

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And just for the avoidance of doubt, while there’s no such thing as export duty, whisky does accrue Excise Duty in the same way as other alcohol and tobacco products. This is a consumption tax and is charged at the point of sale. The Excise Duty for alcohol and tobacco bought here is accrued to Scotland through the Government Expenditure Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures. This is regardless of the origin of the alcohol. So the Excise Duty on Jamaican rum bought in Dundee, English cider bought in Oban and Scotch whisky bought in Auchterarder are all accrued to Scotland’s finances; while Scotch whisky purchased anywhere outside Scotland accrues excise duty for the country in which it is bought.

Here are those excise duty figures recorded against Scotland’s revenue for 2013-14, the latest figures available at time of writing.


You’ll notice that Scotland’s share of UK duties in this area is larger than our population share (8.3%) – 13.2% for tobacco and 9.3% for alcohol. So the additional tax that we generate in these areas are attributed to and then spent by Scottish expenditure.

So where did this myth arise? It appears to have originated from this post on pro-independence site Wings Over Scotland . Titled “The Great Gingerbread Robbery”, it contains a series of myths on VAT, Corporation Tax and, crucially for the purposes of this article, this:

whisky wings pish

And from that, memes are born. Doesn’t take much to check the facts though and we can definitely file this one under “PISH”.

whisky pish

UPDATE – there have been a couple of comments on Twitter and Reddit since posting this article which are suggesting that I’m mixing up Export Duty and Excise Duty. So, to clear things up, just let me re-iterate. There is no such thing as Export Duty. It does not exist.

There are a number of UK Government website pages which give details on the rules and regulations for imports and exports. Due to the wording of the titles, some of these can be a bit confusing and imply that the UK charges duty on exports. It does not. Some detail:


The last page of the three links is very clear.

export - duty

When exporting to “third countries”, i.e. those outside the EU, then you must ensure you pay the necessary duties in the destination country.  There is absolutely no mention of paying Export Duty from the UK because it does not exist.  And if you think about it, this makes perfect sense as a government would not want to discourage exports and put their own industries at a competitive disadvantage.

The quote above identifies a number of duty relief schemes.  In case you think these relate to export duty, you can see them here.  All relate to import duties but I thought I’d link them here for ease of transparency.

HMRC maintains an online tool for Tariff Tables, detailing the duty that is incurred by each type of good for import and export. This is the page for Scotch whisky.

excise whisky

“No VAT or Excise measures were found for this commodity on this date”.

I hope that clears it up and my apologies if the wording in the original article was misleading at all.


In a couple of responses to this post on Twitter, I’ve had pro-independence supporters throw this page at me as if it is a justification of their position and provides proof of all that missing tax.  So I thought I’d post it here with a brief explanation.

The page is from the Scotch Whisky Association, identifying some facts and figures about the industry.  You can take a look at the page yourself but I think that it is these figures which the nationalists are trying to draw my attention to:

whisky assoc

So, to avoid confusion, the “UK balance of trade” does not refer to taxation or government revenue.  It is simply the calculation of the value of your imports and exports.  So whisky exports generate £3.95bn of export trade per annum, i.e. £3.95bn worth of whisky is exported every year.  If you want, you can find out some more about “balance of trade”, here. For the purposes of this post, suffice to say that this is not implying £3.95bn worth of taxes or export duty.

Which you can see in the second highlighted section advising that “about £1bn is contributed to the Exchequer in taxes”.  This is not referring to export duty.  This will be referring to Corporation Tax, VAT, income tax, National Insurance, etc generated by the businesses directly (and perhaps indirectly, it’s not clear) involved in the whisky trade.  This will also include Excise Duty, some of which will be attributed to Scotland (for whisky purchased here) and some of which will not (for whisky purchased elsewhere in the UK).

And for the avoidance of doubt, just because it says “contributed to the Exchequer”, which happens to be in London, does not mean that the money disappears to England never to be seen again.  With all the taxes that are generated in Scotland assigned to Scotland within the GERS reports, we can see that all taxes raised here are spent here – with a healthy deficit added to accommodate the additional spending; £12.4bn for 2013-14, 8.1% of GDP.

I hope that clears that up.


There have been some ongoing claims around this meme suggesting that whisky exports are attributed to England’s balance of trade- this has nothing to do with revenue but is rather an account of how much a country exports versus how much it imports.

The suggestion, therefore, is that Westminster is, for reasons unknown, adding Scotland’s whisky exports to England in an effort to boost England’s balance of trade.

This is also very wrong.

As you can see from the Office for National Statistics methodology

ONS methodology.png

…and the Regional Trade Statistics Methodology and this letter from the Office of the Chief Economic Advisor to the Scottish Government…

scotgov response whisky export allocation
Thanks to Neil Lovatt

… the allocation of exports within UK and Scottish government statistics is not based on which port the goods happen to leave from.  There are, as you’d expect, complex bureaucratic systems in place to accurately attribute exports to the correct regional area from where they originated.

And in case you don’t believe me, here are the regional export statistics for “beverages and tobacco” from England… £1.5bn for 2015


exports england
Click here for large version

And the same for Scotland… £4.5bn for 2015.

exports scotland
Click here for large version

You can find the source tables for exports here.

So remembering the £3.95bn that the Scotch Whisky Association identified as the whisky industry’s contribution to the UK’s balance of trade… well it can’t be “hidden” in England’s £1.5bn, can it?  It all gets attributed to Scotland.

As does all the revenue the whisky association currently generates in Scotland.

So can we please, for the sake of my sanity at least, put this one to bed?

And if you *still* don’t believe me about whisky export duty, click here.






102 thoughts on “Meme-busting: whisky, export duty, English ports and GDP

  1. Very clear. Excellent stuff. The only flaw is that hardened (and even less hardened) SNP followers won’t read it. They already ‘know’ the truth as dispensed by Wings (and further propagated by the SNP front organisation, Business for Scotland).


      1. Hi Barry, as I state in the article I’m afraid you are not correct. Excise duty is quite clearly included in the GERS accounts under “alcohol duties”. You can see there is a separate line for VAT (6th from the top). I have referred to the SWA link in the article and explained the difference between UK wide excise duty and that collected in Scotland – of course only the latter is included in GERS, this is how it’s supposed to work.

        So no, there isn’t any tax “missing” from GERS.


      1. Another SNP member here. Read and inwardly digested so I shall stop referring to this one, (unless I see evidence to change my mind again), but good work.

        Will you be busting any pro-union memes, in the future? I suspect there will be some.


      2. Heartening to know that this actually resonates with people who don’t already believe me so thanks for that.

        I’ve no doubt there are pro-union memes but there are enough sites like Wings etc which already do that. I thought there was a “gap in the market” for stuff like this from the anti-union side. Apologies if that seems partisan!


    1. Business for Scotland is not an SNP front organisation, They are totally independent of SNP, Tory, labour Lib/dem. They are avow-ably pro independence. They take no instruction from SNP in any shape or form. But they do support the main Independence party.

      I think it is time England cut Scotland off from the union as the country is such a basket case, subsidy junkie, etc etc. Why would you have in your club people so many in England despise so much,


      1. If you think BfS “take no instruction from SNP in any shape or form” then I think you’re incredibly naive.

        As for “subsidy junkie” etc etc… well this is what some would want you to believe. The union is a mutually beneficial relationship. In pure fiscal terms, sometimes we’re net beneficiaries and sometimes we’re net contributors – never more so than in the boom oil years. We’re also much less “subsidy junkie” then any area of England outside the south east – do you want to kick them out of “your club” too?

        And there are many other non-fiscal benefits to the union – energy security, balance of trade, single market strengths, etc etc. If you want to take the same narrow view as the SNP, though, feel free.


      2. No but I could point out 1 fact you unionist idiots don’t quite get, Scotland is a country ? A rich country, Rich enough Big enough Smart enough, one that has kept England and the UK afloat for far to many years.
        Why do Westminster hold on to Scotland exactly?
        Why is brexit better than independence exactly ?


      3. Whether or not Scotland should be a country simply because “it is a country” is only a relevant argument to nationalists. For those of who for whom outcomes are more important then it isn’t really a factor.

        See above for the other stuff. And I’m not currently sure if Brexit will be better than independence as we don’t know what Brexit means. If it turns out that it isn’t then I’ll vote for independence. All the current evidence, including that produced by the Scottish Govt, suggests that economically independence would be an order of magnitude more detrimental than brexit for Scotland.


      4. We know exactly what brexit means we’ve witnessed the plummeting pound you are just living in denial crossing your fingers when it’s not getting better it’s going to get worse, but then you may be one of these unionist brexiteer nuts that mystical trade deals are going to magic out of thin air when the reality is it took Switzerland 14 years to get any trade bilateral agreements and they are still restricted or 9 years for canada who had little animosity with the EU or are you hoping for your friend Trump to pull a rabbit out the hat you live in a dream world.
        Scotland not paying for trident alone removes our debt, not to mention a fast train that doesn’t even come here lol
        You got any idea of the £ billions in shared assets we hold that we are due ?
        Or how about having 100% of our oil revenue rather than 8.4% that we get now, wake up to yourself


      5. Haha you’re funny lol yip Westminster invest in the development of new oil fields because they get nothing back lol
        Why does Westminster hold on to Scotland exactly?
        Keep thinking I’m still waiting xxx


      6. No you haven’t? You said you weren’t sure but then came up with mutually beneficial, when it’s not ?
        You’ve spent so much of your time juggling figures to try and find a reason for union that you’ve missed the most basic reasoning.
        Westminster holds on to Scotland because we generate far more money than we cost and brexit is not better.
        The best thing for Scotland and our people is our independence, economically, socially and culturally on every aspect from financial, political, cultural, social, moral and for the future of our children that is the right decision for us.
        What are you afraid of ?
        We’re not too poor, we’re rich enough
        We’re not too small we’re still a world player and world economy
        And I really don’t think we are too stupid ?
        Although it would be stupid not to seize this opportunity, an independent Scotland in the EU and on the British Isles wow what a USP what an opportunity or being told what we can and can not do by an unelected far right wing Prime Minister in a post brexit fascist state?
        You sure you want option2 ?


      7. Look. There’s no point in me replying to you because you neither read the responses properly nor take cognisance of facts when they are presented to you. Scotland “generates far more money than we cost” is just the most pathetically ignorant, post-truth bollocks that I can’t really get past it.

        As for falling back on the standard nationalist mantra of “what are you afraid of”, “too wee, too poor”, etc I really can’t be bothered going round that particular never-ending circle AGAIN.

        You have baseless mantra and the only attempts you’ve had at producing some “evidence” have been nationalist myths like “we don’t get all the oil revenue”.


      8. You can’t get past it because you’ve spent so long lying to yourself of course we do you fool that is the and only reason Westminster holds on to Scotland can you name just one instance in the entire history of england where they occupied a country just to give them money ? Come on you have the whole british empire to choose from ? But you think just Scotland? Have you any idea how deluded and idiotic you sound ?


      9. You know you trip over yourself with GERS figures and although I would contend it’s the things they miss out that is important like the shared services we have to pay for, but given that you think there is some mutual benefit and we do great from the union have you never asked yourself why ? How then are the GERS figures as they are if we are doing so good ? It just proves that we are not doing so well with being in this pointless partnership if we’re not making money and will have and make so much more just by not being part of the union


      10. Amazing that you understand the impartiality of business for scotland then make an ignorant ill-informed dumb ass statement like Scotland are subsidy junkies ? When the reality is and always has been the Scotland pays in more to Westminster’s coffers, you only need to read that info on business for Scotland?
        You could of course just ask yourself the question, why does Westminster hold on to Scotland? Is it because they like us lol? Is it because they ( giver your nonsense scenario) they just like throwing money at us? Or is it that Scotland generates far more money than we cost? That would be a good reason?


      11. “Scotland generates far more money than we cost”… seriously, do you understand what a deficit is?

        And Business for Scotland are a thoroughly discredited group whose only role just now is preaching to the converted.


      12. Discredited by who twats like you all ego and ignorance?
        I notice you were unable to answer the question, why does Westminster hold on to Scotland? If you were so biased and bigoted you could reflect on that and question why you try to manipulate reality to fit in with what you want to think rather than reality


      13. Discredited by anyone who cares to look at their members, who they represent and the drivel they produce as “evidence”. Seriously, a quick google would save you a lot of embarrassment.

        As for your follow-up question, you obviously missed this in my response to the other gentleman –

        It’s hardly a new question, it’s the last resort of the desperate nationalist when he/she is losing the argument. It’s really not very well thought through, but then your vitriol and general demeanour in this comments section leads me to believe that is a common occurrence for you.


      14. Haha what an idiot with an ego nothing worse, now let me thing should we believe a group of business people and economists who see the sense in independence or you ? Mmmm lwt me get back to you on that lol
        The independence movement is way bigger than just the SNP there are Labour independence people, Green independence people, non-political independence people and even conservative independence people, I don’t vote SNP? Yet you would have to be a completely deluded brainwashed fool not to want independence for Scotland?
        Why is brexit better than independence exactly ?


      15. Even the SNP’s own massively spun and, by their own admission, “overblown” estimates of the brexit impact estimate it at maximum £4bn per year by 2030 whereas independence creates an instant £9bn fiscal shortfall. Not to mention the fact the rUK single market (£48.5bn) is much more important to us than the EU market (£11.6bn).

        But listen, if you’re going to continue to act like a twat and simply throw insults around then I’m going to block your comments because I have much more important things to be doing. Thanks.


      16. Yip that is the normal reaction of unionists when faced with reality, you so want to pretend that Scotland is too poor too wee and too stupid to manage without england


  2. What company, HistoryWomman nevertheless!

    My Dear Fraser,

    While I admire your numberwang, you carefully omit to mention that, while we receive back 9.3% of tax revenues from UK sales of alcohol, Scotch Whisky is a product that is, by UK and international law, exclusively, 100% Scottish and cannot be made elsewhere in the UK.

    An Independent Scotland will receive in its finances 100% of the revenues from taxation on alcohol products made in Scotland, wherever it’s sold, and for Scotch Whisky is a humongous, mind-boggling amount.

    There’s the difference for you.

    Next time, instead of juggling percentages and relate to population share to pull the wool over the eyes of those that don’t understand numbers, follow the money, the hard cash.

    Oh, don’t bother to follow up. I won’t engage.


    1. Hi “Bodincus”,

      Unfortunately, your comment reveals that you have neither understood the article, excise duty or how Scotland’s public finances work.

      First, the 9.3% figure which you quote is not the sum “we receive back”. It is the sum which is attributed as “Scottish revenue” and is completely unrelated to expenditure.

      Second, it is not 9.3% of the taxes arising solely from whisky sales. It is 9.3% of all alcohol duty raised in the UK. As you are clearly unaware, if I buy a scotch or a vodka in Manchester then I pay excise duty on that drink. That tax then goes to the Treasury and is classed as “English tax” because it is a consumption tax and I consumed said alcohol in England. The tax is not attributed to Scotland or Russia as the origin of the drink in question.

      The point of highlighting the 9.3% is that this is above our population share (8.3%) and therefore reflects the sad reality that Scotland, as a population, drinks more and therefore produces more excise duty – whether that be on Scottish drinks like whisky, Russian vodka, Jamaican rum or, dare I say, English cider.

      Quite where you get the idea that Scotland, were we but independent, would recoup 100% of all taxation for any whisky sold anywhere in the world is beyond me and, quick frankly, just stupid. Do you think that all tax for French wine should be returned to France? Or American cigarettes? What about VAT on Japanese TVs?

      It might have been better if you’d found half a clue before you made your comment, would have saved yourself much embarrassment.

      Of course, you “won’t engage” – a common defence mechanism for those people who are unwilling to learn. I think the appropriate word for that is “ignorance”.


  3. Click to access Whisky-and-the-Scottish-Economy-BiGGAR-Economics-Nov12.pdf

    “This report reviews the evidence on the contribution that the Scotch
    whisky industry makes to the Scottish economy and the scope for a
    new tax on the production of Scotch whisky.
    The report has been prepared by Graeme Blackett, Director of BiGGAR
    Economics, who has more than 20 years experience of as an applied
    economist in Scotland. In 2002, he was a co-founder of BiGGAR
    Economics, a leading economic consultancy providing advice to
    governments, government agencies, universities and companies in
    several European countries. He was previously a consultant with
    Deloitte and with the economic consultants SQW.”

    One of the main points –

    “On this basis, GVA can also be calculated. At the company or industry
    level, there are two ways to calculate GVA; either (i) GVA = Turnover
    less cost of bought in materials, components and services or (ii) GVA =
    operating profit plus employee costs plus depreciation plus
    In 2011, GVA can be estimated as £3,540 million, equivalent to 70%
    of turnover.

    However, only £526 million of this GVA is accounted for by employee
    costs and so the other £3,013 million can be accounted for by
    operating profit and return on capital. Much of the Scotch whisky
    industry is owned and controlled from outside Scotland, meaning that
    little of the sector’s GVA will be retained in Scotland.

    The direct economic benefits to Scotland total at estimated £1,746
    million in 2011 (£526 million in employment costs and £1,220 million
    in supplies from supplies from Scotland), just 35% of the sector’s
    This is summarised in the figure overleaf.

    Of the £3,013 million that can be accounted for by operating profit and
    return on capital, little of this seems to be re-invested in the Scottish

    The briefing for MSPs gave a figure for investment of £800
    million over the life of the last Scottish Parliament, £200 million per
    year, which is less than 7% of the estimated operating profit and
    return on capital for 2011.”

    Any comments on how this might change after Scottish Independence?


    1. Hi David,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I’ve read the BIGGAR report before and thought it somewhat unrelated to the “meme-busting” effort here as it contains none of the myths that are commonly espoused but attempts to offer an alternative way in which the value of the whisky industry could be maximised.

      What struck me about the report was that it suggested a production tax at source, thereby inflating the cost of the product and arguing that this would not affect sales. Meanwhile the Scottish Whisky Association have launched a legal challenge to the Scottish Government’s attempts to impose a minimum unit price as they argue that inflating cost will, you guessed it, negatively affect sales.

      That inconsistency apart, I’d welcome any moves to maximise the value of important industries like this, whether whilst in the UK or in a hypothetically independent Scotland. If those moves are to enforce domestic ownership of certain industries then that should be offered as a solution, although what knock-on effects that has and how possible / legal it is (particularly if hypothetical iScotland is in the EU)… I don’t know.

      Anyway, after far too many repetitive and frankly ludicrous conversations about whisky export duty can I just thank you for an informed and civilised comment. It’s been a pleasure 🙂


  4. Fraser,

    Thanks for your prompt reply.

    I, like most folk, am not an economist or expert in the field of semantic number crunching – there seem to be more “terms” than you can shake a stick at!

    My question, though, is very simple (I hope).

    Would an Independent Scotland derive far more overall financial benefit from its whisky industry than the ” 7% of the estimated operating profit and return on capital” highlighted above?

    I appreciate the valid points you make about the SG’s stance on minimum pricing v the Industry’s opposition and the advisability, or otherwise, of a new Production Tax.

    But, all that to one side and accepting the existing arrangements, do you believe that the economy of an Independent Scotland would derive a far greater benefit from the Whisky Industry, than it presently does within the Union?

    Purely as a layman,I must admit that it appears to me that it would.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Like you, as a lay person, I don’t know. I guess it’s possible and BIGGAR have offered up one suggestion as to how that could be done – a production tax.

      From memory, they didn’t offer up any solution to the problem of foreign ownership other than highlighting that it might be a problem.

      So I won’t say it’s impossible but neither will I just say “yes, it can be done” without anyone explaining to me specifically how that would be carried out (much like many of the other pro-independence arguments, coincidentally).


  5. Maybe I misunderstood the linked Report, but I took his point about the tiny 7%,to be in reference to the present situation under the Union and not specifically in relation to the proposed new Production Tax.

    I thought he was inferring, quite strongly, that that would alter significantly in an Independent Scotland’s favour, even without that new tax being introduced.

    Anyhoo, it is getting a wee bit late and perhaps I got the wrong end of that particular stick.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.



    1. That’s certainly not my interpretation of the section. I read it as “these are the problems and why we think there is an opportunity” but no implication that independence would automatically alter that.

      GERS already assigns corporation tax on economic activity here to Scotland so the operating profit he excludes from the GVA which benefits Scotland doesn’t seem to fit.

      Honestly, we’d probably need someone with more expertise in this area to give us a more informed opinion but I would point out that the report’s author is a former-aide to Alex Salmond and heavily involved with the SNP. So it would be worth exercising some caution about the balance imparted. 🙂


  6. Applying production taxes might have an adverse effect, consider the following. Whilst other countries in the world cannot make Scotch whisky they are making very good whisky, Ireland, Wales and now Japan has not only entered the fray but from what I have read are very good at it. Each percentage point in production taxes could have an adverse effect on sales abroad and therefore lead to a loss in total revenue and jobs. I am no economist but fluctuations in in GBP USD, GBP Euro will have beneficial or adverse affect on sales depending only which way the pound is heading (currently good for exporters) adding a permanent barrier is nonsensical.


    1. Thanks Geoff. As a lay person, I’d agree that seems logical. I’d suggest that anyone wanting to offer a production tax as a legitimate option in an independent Scotland or otherwise would need to have professional cost/benefit analysis and modelling done to estimate the full impact.


  7. Also, I question your logic over the beverage/tobacco figure – this implies that Scottish Tourism/catering is three times the size of English, which I can tell you is extremely unlikely. There are plenty of drunks in England, and Scottish people are too busy to waste their time swilling down all that whisky. So, by your logic, English people are coming over the border to get pissed. I think it might be an idea to take a look at your perception of what accrues tax, and how the figures are used. Figures elsewhere imply that we sell whisky to England, and they then add somewhat to the price.


    1. Seriously… what?

      Are you referring to the *export* figures when you say “three times the size of English”? What has this got to do with the amount of whisky drank in Scotland? It is the *export* value of beverage / tobacco exported from Scotland. I think you are misunderstanding the data.


  8. I’m afraid there’s quite a bit wrong with this article, including its title, and replies below the line.

    First “… there’s no such thing as export duty”. But from UK Gov (the official UK Government website):

    “Finding commodity codes for import and export duty”.

    I think that answers that one fully. The UK Government refers to it officially, therefore it exists.

    There’s a difference between an export duty being zero-rated, an export duty attracting relief if the proper “paperwork” (usually electronic submission) is done, and “there’s no such thing as export duty”. There’s a whole industry of agents existing to help companies to import and export, pay the right duty – or none.


    Second “This is a consumption tax and is charged at the point of sale.”

    But from the UK Gov

    “When goods are released from an excise warehouse for consumption, you must ensure that the excise duty has been paid or accounted for prior to the removal of the goods.”

    So, no, it’s not a consumption tax and charged at point of sale. It’s a duty, not a tax, and it’s payable at the point of release for sale. The end customer sale might never take place, but the duty is paid regardless..

    Relating to the argument about where the alcohol duty is finally paid, it can be deferred, as in the case of movement to a bonded warehouse for maturation or bottling (or both), that warehouse might be in Scotland, England, or virtually anywhere. Duty deferrment rules differ depending on location. Who actually pays the duty also depends on circumstances – and paperwork. But it is most certainly NOT the actual person who walks in a shop and buys a bottle of whisky.


    Thirdly I note in one of your replies: “Excise duty is quite clearly included in the GERS accounts under “alcohol duties”. ”

    However, GERS also makes it plain that that alcohol duty is based on a breakdown of household consumption in the UK with, from memory, Scotland being attributed 9.7% in 2014-15 GERS. That’s CONSUMPTION, not PRODUCTION. As already proven, alcohol duty is not a consumption tax, it’s a production tax.


    I’m sure, like me, especially with your background in law, you would like total accuracy to be paramount, to form the basis of any arguments either for or against any viewpoint.


    1. HI and thanks for the comment.

      In turn:

      – If you wish to rely on the sophistry of whether a zero-rated duty is different to no duty existing then go ahead. The key point for this argument is that there is no revenue created from a mythical export duty and nothing excluded from GERS.

      Are there any exports which are not zero-rated? I think maybe weapons? I’d have to check.

      – second and third points – excise duty on alcohol is not a production tax, here indeed is pro-independence think-tank Biggar Economics calling for the introduction of a production tax –

      But you have a valid point re my wording here – “This is a consumption tax and is charged at the point of sale”. That’s not technically correct although as the UK Gov website itself says “alcohol duties are included in the price you pay for beer, cider or perry, wine or ‘made-wine’, and spirits” ( and the wording in the methodology you have quoted to me in the subsequent comment “the estimation of alcohol duty raised in Scotland is based on the premise that the burden of
      duty is borne by the final consumer rather than the producer”.

      So the amount of tax received is dependent on consumption / volume of sales and should be attributed where those sales take place. Unless you are suggesting that excise duty paid on English beer or cider bought in Scotland should be assigned as English tax? Or excise duty paid on Russian vodka should be assigned… where?

      It’s not clear to me what your overall point here is? Are you disputing some of the technical wording only (zero rate v doesn’t exist etc) or are you suggesting that the GERS figures understate the excise duty which should be attributed to Scotland for whisky sales? In the rest of the UK or overseas?


      1. Fraser, the tile of the article is: “Meme-busting: whisky and the non-existent export duty”

        So that’s wrong on two counts isn’t it?

        1). export duty does exist, and the HMRC won’t accept “sophistry” accusations as any excuse.

        2). Meme-busting is also wrong, because I’m afraid your meme-busting article has been well and truly – busted.

        Sorry about that. You did get “whisky” right.


    2. The meme cites “£1 billion in export duty which is paid to the UK Treasury”. This doesn’t exist or, if you like, is non-existent.

      I’m not sure who you think is making “excuses” to HMRC either but I’m sure it makes a nice line.


      1. You seem to presume that I think “my” side is always right, and that the other side is always wrong. If it says in GERS that “There is no export duty in the UK”, then GERS is wrong as well. It should have said: “The export duty in the UK is zero”, or “There is zero export duty in the UK (on whisky)”.

        I’m interested in facts and truth, not hyperbolic side-taking.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Well Fraser, it seems you refuse to admit you made a mistake, but here it is again in case you missed it in my first posting.

        From UK Gov (the official UK Government website):

        “Finding commodity codes for import and export duty”.

        “Finding commodity codes for import and EXPORT DUTY”.

        The UK Government – the HMRC – refers to it officially, therefore it exists. I daresay the legislation has existed since 1707, or thereabouts. If you were in business and dealt with imports and exports I daresay you’d know the difference between zero export duty – and “non-existent export duty”.

        Oh, “hahaha, right enough”.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh good god. That’s commodity codes that you need to export and is saying that you need these as you may be subject to import duty when exporting. Not export duty to the UK taxman but import duty to the country you are exporting to. It’s really not difficult. Here’s the UKGov page to help:

        Paying duty on exports to third countries
        Duty charges are set by the country you export to and depend on the type of goods, where they come from and their value.

        The UK Trade Tariff lists the duty charges, tax, custom rules and paperwork for exports to third countries.

        You might be able to claim duty charges and VAT back or delay payments for some exports outside the EU.

        This is called ‘duty relief’ and there are a number of schemes you can apply for. Some countries have trade agreements with the EU that allow you to export at lower or zero duty rates. In these cases you must usually be able to prove where the goods originally come from.


      3. Yay! We got there in the end Fraser Whyte 😉

        September 2, 2016 at 1:39 pm

        Yes, I think Scotland should only get excise duty which is paid in Scotland. That’s kind of how taxes work

        Scotch Whisky industry welcomes duty freeze, but says more support needed

        The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has welcomed the UK Government’s decision to freeze excise duty on spirits in today’s Budget. But it says a cut would have provided a bigger boost for consumers, a vital home-grown industry and public finances.

        As a result of today’s freeze, tax – VAT and excise duty – remains at 76%, a level that three quarters of the British public believe is too high. The excise duty on a 70cl bottle of Scotch at the average price of £13 is £7.59 and the total tax burden is £9.91.

        Last year’s 2% cut in excise helped boost revenue from spirits for the Treasury by £102 million and the Scotch Whisky Association had argued that George Osborne should do the same this year to help the public finances, a home-grown industry and consumers.

        Despite the Government opting for a freeze rather than a cut the SWA says that Scotch Whisky will remain one of the UK’s most vital industries, supporting more than 40,000 jobs across the UK. It will also continue to be one of the UK’s biggest exports. Without the success of Scotch, the UK’s trade deficit would be 11% larger.

        David Frost, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, said: “We welcome the freeze in excise duty on spirits. We hope that this will sustain continued growth in the UK market for Scotch Whisky and thus help improve the public finances. But tax is still 76% of the price of an average bottle of Scotch and the majority of the British public think that is unfairly high. We will continue to call for fairer taxation of Scotch, a vital UK industry, and we urge duty reductions in future years.”

        Click to access dutyburdenfs10.pdf


      4. Yeah, I could say the same I guess and round and round we go, where we’ll end up nobody knows.

        Anyway you seem a decent kind of guy, thanks for the replies and good luck with the blog. Both the pro-Indy and the, how can I put it without using the word unionist, indy-challenging side need to air views as accurately as possible, and at the end it’s Democracy would be the winner whichever side “wins” in Indy Ref 2

        Mmm, now perhaps for a very small whisky …. I think it’s my duty after all that.


  9. Ah here you go, I like to be complete:

    Scotland’s share of total UK private household consumption of these different alcohol products is then used to derive the proportion of duty attributable to Scotland. ” page 25.

    I think you are getting confused by this from the same report, same page:

    The estimation of alcohol duty raised in Scotland is based on the premise that the burden of duty is borne by the final consumer rather than the producer”.

    But that’s an estimate, not the actuality.


  10. Yip I’m a little confused , are you saying the UK government releases £4.3 billion of product for export and gets no money whatsoever on that product ? I find that very hard to believe?
    And I also found this unionist article saying Scotland would lose out on these exports if it left the UK
    Now you unionists are saying it doesn’t exist ? Which is it you can’t have both


    1. One – can we stop with the “you unionists” thing? I’m really bored of binary politics.

      Two – I’m saying that there’s no export duty and you don’t pay excise duty on exports. Selling a product still makes profit for that company – corporation tax is assigned to Scotland in GERS per economic activity. That company will have staff – income tax, NI, etc are all assigned in GERS according to the SPI and where people work. Etc etc. So of course the value of exports are worth money and tax revenue, just not export or excise duty and certainly not assigned to the port from which they leave the UK.

      I’ll try and read that link later


      1. Yes there is no export duty, no one in the independence movement have ever said there is, not SNP not business for Scotland, the meme is in error to call it that, but there is excise duty, all of which Westminster collects including whisky that is imported, they then give Scotland back 9.4% of that excise duty based on the whisky that is consumed in Scotland so in essence the point is the same Scotland does not see or get any of the excise duty on exports, but can you tell me why you wouldnot prefer for Scotland to get 100% instead of 9.4% of it’s national drink that can only be made in Scotland? Why are we giving 90.6% of our money to another country ?


      2. Oh not to mention the corporation tax we don’t receive and the even less we don’t get from overseas tax haven companies that own our distilleries from which the Scottish government wanted to impose a whisky tax on them but the tax dodgers in Westminster wouldn’t let us, let’s get it in perspective which ever way you look at it Scotland is being screwed


    2. Good lord.

      I’ve provided a link to where the claim was made by Paul Kavanagh (Wee Ginger Dug) on Wings Over Scotland and have had this mythical export duty spouted in “debates” both online and in person for years now. You’d have to be pretty bloody minded not to include Wings as part of the “independence movement” given his influence and how widely he is cited by SNP politicians and BfS.

      You’re also fundamentally misunderstanding what excise duty is. For a start, you don’t pay excise duty on exports. This is patently clear from the blog. Second, why should we recoup excise duty on whisky bought in England? Should we get excise duty for whisky bought in America? In Japan? Should we return excise duty on vodka to Russia? This is not a difficult point, excise duty is a consumption tax and it is all rightly assigned in GERS.

      So we’re not, in any way shape or form, “giving 90.3% of our money to another country”. This is just plain wrong.

      Corporation tax is also assigned to us properly in GERS, by economic activity not by HQ. So there is not “corporation tax we don’t receive”. Another basic misunderstanding.

      As for tax avoidance, well that’s a common problem facing all countries. The idea that independence solves this is just bizarre.

      Lastly this is just made up: “the Scottish government wanted to impose a whisky tax on them but the tax dodgers in Westminster wouldn’t let us”. I’ve never heard of such a thing, in fact the SNP have asked for and welcomed reductions in excise duty on spirits in an effort to boost the industry, included a 3% corporation tax cut as part of their independence campaign and saw the Tories do it for them UK wide…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Second, why should we recoup excise duty on whisky bought in England?”

        Ummmmmmm, you really really really need to look up how excise duty works (as opposed to export duty)!

        Here’s a starter for you:

        Note where on the page it says “the Government takes more than 75% in tax”.

        That’s the UK GOVERNMENT currently. With Independence whatever tax it imposed would be by the SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT.

        But don’t stop there, that’s not enough reading, you need to check out the rules for “Excise duty”.

        Good Lord, Heavens above!


      2. I just did and Scotland gets 9.4% what bit of that don’t you understand? Do you think that’s all Scotland should get from our national drink ?


      3. Under hypothetical independence, do you think that excise duty paid on whisky bought in England would come to the Scottish Exchequer?! Really?!

        Honestly, at this point you’re just wasting my time with this nonsense.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yes ok and thank you for that it did make me check, I don’t want to be dealing with false information either, Scotland doesn’t need false claims to prove it’s being screwed in this union, we already know Westminster doesn’t hold on to us because they like us lol it is because we generate far more than we cost, that is simple business sense, and one thing is for sure in an independent Scotland we would have the power to change that tax system, instead of being limited by what Westminster dictates


      5. Well if that’s your opinion, I look forward to you lobbying for the next independence campaign to jettison the highlands, islands, Dundee, most of Glasgow and anywhere else that doesn’t contribute more than it takes.


      6. Don’t quite understand how you can twist Scotland making more money for the Westminster coffers than we get back in pocket money in to that ? But then I don’t quite understand why any sane person wouldn’t want Scotland to be independent?


      7. We don’t make more money than we get back. That quite simply isn’t even in question to anyone with even a basic grasp of the facts.

        We currently have a near 10%GDP deficit, meaning that we “get back” almost 10%GDP more than we “put in”.


      8. Oh right so you are under the delusion they like losing money because they like us lol
        Or could it be that GERS doesn’t paint the full picture ?

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Well I contacted business for Scotland directly this is there reply
        For years I have been telling everyone not to share the whisky expert duty meme – it appeared on Wings by WGD and it is wrong. There is no export duty on whisky – That claim has never and will never appear on the BfS site or on any of our publications.

        A supporter once created a document that has our logo on it with links to our articles but he also cut and pasted from the Wings blog without stating it was from Wings and not BfS and a lot of people therefore claim we said it.  We didn’t and if you want to make a claim about economics that seems like its too good to be true – check if its on the BfS site – if its not on our site then its not accurate. 

        The people that claim BfS said it have been told we didn’t (I have recorded communications) and if the claim ever gets in the press that BFS supported that claim I will have them.

        Maybe you should have followed up and done your own research before spouting out it seems you were fooled by a meme too lol


      10. What are you talking about? I have never said Business for Scotland propagated this myth. I’m disproving the myth based on the meme which has been doing the rounds for years. I don’t like to be rude to people but your comments so far have had absolutely zero basis in reality.

        And yes, I think Scotland should only get excise duty paid in Scotland. That’s how taxes work


  11. What do you make of this from the Scots Whisky Association? It’s from from March ’17 and states tax (VAT and excise) flowing to the treasury of an average of £10.20 per bottle of Whisky. VAT is clearly collected at point of sale and attributable to the point of sale, but as excise duty is “levied on articles at time of their manufacture” (Wikipedia on UK Customs & Excise) that would suggest these are taxes that would be available to the Scottish Government if they ever got full fiscal autonomy. Unless I’m reading that wrong?

    And any chance you would know if anything else contributes to the 79% of taxes per bottle? I know a lot of Scotch Whisky is cheaper in continental Europe than in the UK, and it’s clearly not “export duty” as the countries where I’ve looked are all EU countries, but there must be something not paid outside of the UK that would explain the lower price.


    1. Excise duty isn’t a production tax, it’s closer to a sales tax. If you’re comparing to the counterfactual of independence, no ScotGov wouldn’t get excise for whisky sold in rUK in the same way we don’t get it for whisky sold in Ireland or France, that goes to those governments.

      I think it’s just VAT and excise duty that is counted in that percentage, unless the SWA also includes corporation tax etc as a means of inflating the number to make a point?


      1. No, I think you’re right that it’s only VAT and excise duty as I’ve seen the SWA heavily lament the other taxes they are subject to at the company level. Which again do not necessarily accrue to Scotland as the producers may be just as likely to have their headquarters in London as in Scotland. And it’s the location of HQ that would decide allocation of the taxes. Until they untangled all of this post-independence, it should be next to impossible to put a precise number on possible revenues from Whisky (other than its contribution to the balance on trade, but as you point out above that does not allow for any conclusions as to the actual income to the state).

        They may have a point about the unfairness of being taxed so much higher than other kinds of alcohol, which would of course reduce any revenues. Wouldn’t the minimum alcohol pricing debated last year also reduce those taxes?


      2. No, it’s just VAT and excise

        Also HQ location is irrelevant in how these taxes are allocated in GERS

        As for your previous comment, GERS calculates alcohol duty by location of sales as it’s the purchaser who bears the burden for the cost of the tax. The release for sale thing is just about release within the continuous market as opposed to being exported. Not sure what you think would be available to the Scottish Govt under independence given excise for whisky bought in England would go to Westminster. In fact, I’m not sure what your intention here is at all


      3. My intention? Didn’t know I needed one, never have before when exchanging views/asking for information/sharing knowledge on other blogs. But let me try to verbalize what was an entirely spontaneous and instinctive response (and an incredibly welcome distraction from a problem IRL):

        Last time round the economic case for independence left me wholly unimpressed. I thought it was a bit pie in the sky. It’s clearly, though, going to be a big issue again and every single time the Scottish economy comes up, so does, it seems, Whisky. Your article contains the most comprehensive discussion I’ve found on the issue so far. It was very informative as well as thought provoking and even though I find the snark present in writings from both camps unnecessary, I will admit it does make for better reading. Sometimes.

        Although I did know the difference between export and excise duty before reading your article, there is considerable difference between individual countries in how and where the latter is levied, but I didn’t entirely understand how this is handled in the case of Whisky in the UK from your article. I thought there must be a reason for the continued confusion of the two taxes that you mentioned in your updates. In short, I came for information, didn’t find all I needed, did some research of my own and came back to share it.

        By the way, I’m not interested in how these revenue figures are reflected in or calculated for GERS, but in how the actual revenue from Scotch Whisky comes about (and how it would contribute to the economy of an FFA Scotland. Or an independent one). I’m not here to pick bone with GERS however – surely one must make do with what’s available?


      4. I didn’t intend anything pejorative in my query of your intention but I can see why you’d think so reading it back. I simply meant were you suggesting the excise duty for whisky bought in rUK would be available to a hypothetically independent Scottish government and, assuming not, what was the intention of enquiry.

        It wasn’t clear to me why the location of release from bonded warehouses was relevant, for example.

        If it’s simply an academic curiosity as to how it works then I can ensure my answers (for the bits I know about) are appropriately focused rather than looking primarily at how this would effect public revenue under particular constitutional settlements.

        And I don’t think I write with that much snark 🙂


      5. No worries, maybe we’re all a wee bit tetchy right now…Dread to think about the state of this in another 18 months or so!

        Yes, I think my understanding from what the SWA is saying of how excise duty is levied and collected is that provided the warehouse is on Scottish soil, the revenue would be available to Scotland (of whatever flavour it may be, constitutionally) same for England/Wales/NI. This was based on my reading of further SWA publications and some research I came across, that explained it like this:

        Excise duty is levied and paid by the Whisky producer after release for sale, but before point of sale. Therefore the location of the warehouse is of interest. Then (and this I got from SWA complaints about being overtaxed), the producer recoups the money by having to charge far more for a bottle of Whisky than they normally would, in other words it’s seen as HMRC forcing such a high cost onto the consumer and making Whisky less competitive (plus giving rise to the White Van Man bootlegging trips).

        So, you’re completely right, it’s the consumer who bears the cost, but in accounting for the whole sum to HMRC you get an excise duty payment at point of release from the company and a VAT payment at point of sale from the shop. Obviously as you pointed out this is a theoretical exercise only as there is no separate accounting for GERS other than at point of sale (although if you did start making it a requirement, say a Home Nation tick-box, then you could also take into account where a company is headquartered, i.e. where corporation tax is due).

        If you play this through, you could then arrive at the ridiculous situation where an independent Scotland lowers excise tax, say by 25%, still levied at release from warehouse. Producers would be moving their warehouses north, pay the reduced levy, then sell to rUK (where VAT, but only VAT, goes to rUK, obviously). There’d be nothing stopping rUK to then lower their excise duty by 30%, producers move etc etc.

        Clearly then you cannot reliably argue that all that Whisky revenue would automatically go to an independent Scotland either, even if accounting by point of release for sale is higher than point of sale (and I don’t know that it is). We have after all a tax regime that allows companies to minimize their bill by all kinds of entirely legal shenanigans. At the very least, you’d need a far more expensive and complicated initial setup of a completely new tax regime, you couldn’t just copy the existing one. And would that even work or would you get a race to the bottom, where individual Whisky revenue then bears no comparison to UK revenue now. A loss/loss scenario if ever I’ve seen one.


      6. Don’t see how you could have differentiated excise duty for Scotland which would impact upon sales in England. This is my problem with the assumption it would be available to Scotgov.

        If you could release it from a warehouse with lower excise duty then sell it in a country with higher excise and recoup the tax where it was released then this would happen across all borders, not just within the UK single market. Which is why it makes sense to me that the revenue is attributed according to consumption as the sale is the principle act which triggers the application of the tax. It’s just that it’s treated differently in the UK because of constitutional wrangles.

        So I’m still not sure how you could say Scotland should be credited with excise duty for whisky released from bond here even if it’s purchased in England (also no idea where most is released from bond, could well be shipped to wholesalers pre-release)


      7. If this is true for the UK, then from further reading, it seems to be in violation of the EU regulations on excise duties set out in Council Directive 2008/118/EC. Brexit may, of course, change all that, but for now Article 7/1 specifies that excise duty is due at point of release and Article 8 that liable for payment is the warehouse owner or holder of the goods at time of release.

        In line with this, excise tax on alcohol and alcoholic beverages in Germany is charged at point of release as follows:

        1.) As soon as the bottles are released from the warehouse for the purpose of sale the warehouse owner becomes liable for the tax.

        2.) This tax has to be calculated and reported to the German tax office by the warehouse owner by the tenth day of the month following the month of release.

        3,) The tax has to be paid by the fifth day of the second month following the month of release, again by the warehouse owner.

        That’s from
        Gesetz über das Branntweinmonopol (Branntweinmonopolgesetz – BranntwMonG)
        § 144 Steueranmeldung, Steuerbescheid, Fälligkeit

        Austria levies excise duty both at the point of production if it is then released for sale, and point of release for sale from a warehouse. The procedure is the same (self-reporting of a self-calculated amount in line with the rate of excise duty, but the deadlines for reporting and payment are different).

        This is from Bundesgesetz über eine Verbrauchsteuer auf Alkohol und alkoholhaltige Waren (Alkoholsteuergesetz)

        Same goes for Ireland. See Excise. Revenue’s Guide for Tax Warehousekeepers (Alcohol Products), PN 1877 here:

        If alcohol is released across borders to other producers or warehouses, excise duty is suspended, but there’s now an EU-wide System for Exchange of Excise Data (SEED), with all transports to be done in line with the Excise Movement Control System (EMCS).

        P.S. Sorry for the info dump. Been in a holding pattern all day, so found myself with too much time at my hands and, it’s probably a professional hazard, but when I take an interest I can get a little obsessed and I do love research.


      8. If what is true for the UK? I’m 100% certain the whisky industry is in full compliance with EU regulations, to be fair.

        Surely the excise duty regulations are simply sensibly assigning the tax to the point where it is most difficult to avoid it? And it’ll be assigned correctly and uniformly across the UK.

        I also think the assignation in GERS is fair seeing as it is the consumption of the alcohol which generates the tax, rather than its release from bond even if that is technically the point at which it becomes liable for taxation. And still worth noting that we don’t know where it exits bond, not that it’s at all relevant for the purposes of the initial blog


  12. I’ve done some more research on this: Excise duty for Scotch Whisky is charged at company level, but not immediately at point of manufacture, rather at the point where it enters the sales chain. So currently it accrues in Scotland and would be available to the Scottish government if that is from where it is released for sale. I have not yet found numbers for the percentage of bottles held at warehouses in Scotland as opposed to the rest of the UK.

    From the 2011 submission by the Scotch Whisky Association to the Scotland Bill Committee:

    “23. Excise duty is levied and collected (following a period of duty deferment) at the point when the product is released for consumption from the bonded warehouse – wherever it is located in the UK – not at the point of sale to the final consumer.” (p.4)

    Click to access Scotch_Whisky_Association.pdf

    They also discuss the possibility of excise duty being devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but point out how complicated this would be due to the fact that the producers operate as UK wide entities, even if the Whisky itself is produced within Scotland.


    1. Speaking as an alcohol producer, excise duty (for all liable products) is calculated by location and not across a whole company as a single entity. For instance, I’m a single site producer, but when I recently moved premises, I had two premises registered for a short period while I got the new site up and running. During this period, I received two forms (EX606), one for each location I had registered and until such time as I de-registered the old place.

      Excise is calculated when the product passes the ‘duty line’. This is not the point of production, but the time when the product becomes available for sale. In my own case, I use ‘constructive removal’ which means I move my produce across the duty line in advance of it becoming ready for market. Other companies will work a month in arrears, but the principle is unchanged. From this, I can’t imagine any difficulty in having some produce calculated under Scottish rules and some under rUK rules. After all, there are companies that cross borders beyond the UK and the EU, yet somehow the system manages this. It is all doable.


      1. Thanks Christopher, that’s very interesting to know. It’s great to find out that it works in practice as my reading suggested, but it’s always best to hear it from someone who has to actually pay the duty. You’re quite right, though, it should be easy to collect the data on this, but maybe that will have to wait until the admin burden of Brexit is done with. Or until the Scottish tax office is ready. Whichever comes first…

        And the best of luck with your business!


  13. Pingback: The Whyte Paper

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