ON a day when even the Secretary of State for Scotland pledged to protect Scottish brands, the country’s largest distiller Diageo stands accused of ‘Union Jackery’ in promoting Bell’s Whisky as a British rather than Scottish product.

A reader of The National spotted Bell’s Whisky covered in a Union Flag label on sale in Sochi and St Petersburg in Russia.

This is despite the Scotch Whisky Association claiming to do everything to protect the good name of Scotch as a Geographical Indication.

Earlier this week The National and other newspapers reported on the fact that US lobbyists are pushing hard to have the European Union’s Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status removed after Brexit.

LibDem MP Alistair Carmichael yesterday asked David Mundell in the Commons about protections enjoyed by Scottish produce – Arbroath Smokies and Stornoway Black Pudding, for example - that might be lost after Britain leaves the EU.

Carmichael said: “What progress has been made in ensuring that Scotland’s food producers will still have the protection that they need for important geographic brands such as Orkney beef or Shetland lamb after we’ve left the European Union?”

The Secretary of State replied: “I can assure him that despite scare stories to the contrary, which have appeared in some parts of the media, there will be no change to the protection of these brands or the allowing in of false brands purporting to be them.”

Kirstene Hair, Conservative MP for Angus, said iconic Scots produce “can and must continue to receive PGI status” and added: “No-one in government is suggesting that will end when we leave the EU.”

The GMB union which represents many workers in the whisky industry has taken up the PGI matter directly with Mundell. It is reported to have given a cautious welcome to Mundell’s statement but the union has also questioned if his words “carry sufficient weight in a divided cabinet”.

GMB Scotland senior organiser Louise Gilmour said: “These workers need assurances that their livelihoods aren’t for sale as part of future trade deals in the post-Brexit environment.”

Earlier this week the Scotch Whisky Association made its stance on PGI clear in a blog on its website by legal affairs director Alan Park.

He wrote: “Scotch Whisky is recognised as a GI and has been since the concept was introduced by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules in 1994.

“A GI has unique characteristics and a reputation associated with its origin. Brexit will not alter the fact that Scotch Whisky is a GI. There is an obligation on members of the WTO, the vast majority of nations, to protect GIs from misuse. Some WTO members do that by providing a register for GIs in the same way countries provide a trade mark register. Scotch Whisky is recognised as a GI in this way from the Dominican Republic to Thailand.

“Where Brexit will have an impact is in the protection given to Scotch Whisky in some bilateral agreements between the EU and third countries. We want the UK to negotiate the continued benefits of those agreements but, in the meantime, the SWA is already taking steps to ensure that Scotch Whisky is recognised and protected in those markets in the range of ways available to it.”

What a pity the SWA did not have a word with Diageo about their Bell’s disguising Scotch as British.

The National asked the SWA how such labelling sits with the Association’s policy of promoting Scotch as a brand.

A spokesperson for the SWA referred us to Diageo for an answer.

We asked Diageo: “Can you say why the Union Flag label is being used? Why is it used abroad and not here in Scotland?

“Are you aware that a growing number of Scottish people are boycotting brands which promote ‘Union Jackery’ on Scottish goods, viz. the ongoing backlash against Walker’s Shortbread for their use of Union Jack tins?”

A Diageo spokesperson replied: “Bell’s Scotch whisky has almost 200 years of proud Scottish history and its Scottish provenance and heritage are integral to the brand’s identity.

"Any marketing the brand does is intended to increase sales, which in turn supports the production of Scotch in Scotland.”

The National will continue to expose Union Jackery because it damages the reputation for quality that Scottish produce enjoys.