Red tape threatens the authentic Scottish tourist experience


THE TURNBERRY Hotel used to buy its crabs fresh from the fishermen on the pier. Part of the experience of eating there was the fresh seafood. Now traceability and health and safety regulations require that the restaurant buy the same crabs a day later, once they have travelled 600 food miles for “tests”.

Further up the West coast, a restaurant I know employs tactics appropriate to an Ealing comedy. It buys in hand-dived scallops daily, but every now and then places a token big order with the fishmonger in Inverness to fool the inspectors who would frown on such natural spontaneity.

It’s not just the Scottish fishing industry, accounting for 60% of the nation’s food exports and generating £420 million for the Scottish economy, that must find ways of working around official obtuseness.

Many small businesses are so over-regulated that environmental sustainability is infringed to the point of endangering our most precious resources.

Take for instance EAE, a company that supplies and distributes one million leaflets during the Edinburgh festivals alone and is located on an industrial estate in Loanhead, Edinburgh. After erecting a wind turbine that not only reduced the company’s emissions but also sold carbon-free power back to the national grid, the company found that the local council wanted to increase its rates as a result.

Meanwhile, new licensing regulations appear to demand that visitor attraction shops, such as at Glamis Castle, will have to section off our national dram from other products, as if it were shameful to display it.

In myriad different ways, it seems that so much attention is paid to minutiae of working practice that the bigger picture is lost. By disincentivising businesses in such ways, we are effectively preventing long-term growth and economic sustainability.

The Scottish tourism industry is particularly vulnerable. Bringing in more than £4bn to the economy each year and employing 200,000 people, we have to provide an authentic Scottish experience for the visitors that arrive daily on our doorstep.

But this authenticity is becoming hard to maintain in the face of growing regulation, which, though well-meaning, often has unforeseen consequences.

Up until recently during the winter months, my company, Rabbie’s Trail Burners, used to take customers on a little adventure at Kilchurn Castle in Argyll. The guide would take groups across a path over the railway track telling stories of local legends and folklore and to the locked doors of the castle.

The awe in people’s faces as they realised the guide had a key and they could enter was a magical part of the tour.

Then the rail company closed the route over the line because of health and safety fears and for two years land access to this iconic Highland castle was accessible only through deep bog. By the time the council had provided a new access route, Historic Scotland had asked for the return of its key, as entering the castle had become a health and safety issue.

These regulations may be in place for our protection, but they drain away the spontaneity, adventure and joy that people seek on holiday. These are the very things that the tourism industry desperately needs to sustain growth in a competitive world.

Enterprise, energy and tourism minister Jim Mather referred to the “unintended consequences” of legislation at the Scotland United conference last week. These must be addressed by Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels before a vital part of our international competitiveness is killed by unthinking bureaucratic dictat.