A couple of months ago I attended the 2010 Scottish Licensed Trade News Awards. I was a guest of Imperial Tobacco who were supporting the Best Smoking Facilities award, which was won by a smoker-friendly bar in Edinburgh, and I wrote about it HERE.
I mentioned that I had bumped into Paul Waterson, president of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA). I have known Paul for several years. In 2007 he even attended Forest's Revolt In Style dinner at The Savoy hotel in London.
A couple of weeks before the 2010 SLTN awards Paul had given us a quote in support of our Smoking Gun report that highlighted the impact of the smoking ban on pubs in Britain and I have no doubt that this was a major help in generating a lot of coverage for the report in Scotland.
Comments on this blog were not entirely supportive of the report ("Unless this study reaches the mainstream media then it's little better than useless") or the role of publicans in opposing the smoking ban in Scotland.
I was forced to defend the report and even the publicans themselves. In response, for example, to someone who questioned why I had attended an awards ceremony "for the very people who so actively supported the smoking ban" (eh?), I wrote:
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (in particular its chief executive Paul Waterson) fought every inch of the way to stop a comprehensive smoking ban being introduced in Scotland. I don't believe they could have done any more than they did. It was good to see Paul at last night's event because he is one of the good guys in all this.
While we continue to fight for amendments to the ban it is important that we support those pubs and clubs that go the extra mile to accommodate smokers in as much comfort as possible.
It is also important to keep the smoking issue alive and in the minds of the hospitality industry. Last night I spoke to a number of people in the hospitality industry in Scotland and was able to do just that. Refusing to engage and operating in a bubble surrounded by like-minded people and preaching only to the converted will get us nowhere.
I mention this because this morning a report in the Aberdeen Press & Journal, headlined 'Publicans appeal for the return of smoking', includes the following quote by our old friend Paul Waterson:
"The ban has had a devastating impact on our members. We were told that pubs would be swamped with people coming back because there would be no smoke, but that has not been the case.
"We would like a system where ventilation ... is a consideration. We could have a pub licence for smoking, but they would have to have a certain level of ventilation equipment in place.
Ventilation works in industrial situations where the air needs to be clean. Why couldn't it work in pubs?"
The article also mentions our Smoking Gun report:
Recent research by the Save Our Pubs and Clubs campaign showed that 11.1% of pubs north of the border had closed their doors since the ban. There were 6,610 operating pubs in Scotland before the ban. This fell to 5,873 within four years.
If I sound a little put out it's because I am, a bit. Some people - on this blog and elsewhere - are very quick to poor cold water on the work that we do, the contacts that we make (and maintain) and the networking (including the occasional glass of champagne!) that is a necessary part of any lobbying effort.
What this amounts to is keeping the issue alive and, believe me, that's important. I have seen first hand - in Ireland and in Canada - just how hard it is to relight the flame of liberty once it has been allowed to splutter out and die, and I will do everything I can to stop that happening here.
That's why we have NEVER criticised publicans in Scotland, least of all members of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association who, unlike their counterparts in England, have consistently opposed the smoking ban.
It is also why we have NEVER encouraged anyone to boycott pubs as a form of protest. In these difficult economic times it is important to support your local pub before not after it goes bust.
While you are there point out to the landlord and your fellow customers why you continue to oppose the smoking ban and invite them to support the campaign to change it. (Download this poster and ask the landlord to put it on the wall.)
In the new year we will be announcing a special event that will take place in Westminster in 2011. We need as many publicans as possible to come and make their voices heard. And that means working with them, not against them.
Quick reminder: this is not a message board for cut 'n' paste articles. Ditto, long-winded comments that exceed 300 words may be edited or deleted.