'The Scottish licensed trade is starting to feel a whole lot better about itself than it was a few years ago.'

Think of an affirmative to do with Scotland right now and your mind might produce images of people putting a tick in a box marked 'Yes'.


There is no doubt that the referendum in September is a big talking point on both sides of the bar and the border right now, but as I discovered this week on a tour in and around Glasgow and Edinburgh, it is far from being the only issue of the day.


I spoke to many licensees about the vote and the vast majority could see plusses and minuses for the licensed trade whatever way it ends up going.


Would tourism be hit by a split? Do pubs really want the generally anti-alcohol SNP to have even more control over the trade? Then again with separate licensing regimes already, what difference would it make? And could independence actually be a useful tool to promote a business?


Of course votes will be cast on personal views as well as business implications.


What was a lot clearer is that in general terms the Scottish licensed trade is starting to feel a whole lot better about itself than it was a few years ago.


The worst of the closures have happened and innovative licensees are starting to come up with new concepts.


In Glasgow, where tourism is nowhere near as rife as in Edinburgh, the creatives are heading to less salubrious areas where property is cheaper and helping to improve areas with their offers.


A case in point was in the East End of Glasgow where two pubs faced each other on either sides of the road. One brightly coloured brick building had metal grids over the windows and very little material to indicate it was anything other than waiting to be bulldozed.


I naturally assumed it was closed only to be informed that it was an old fashioned boozer that still operated viably, albeit with its glory days behind it.


Opposite, I enjoyed lunch in a building that had been refurbed to allow light in so you could see actually what was inside – unlike the masculine secret society across the road. On Tuesday lunchtime it was packed with families enjoying great quality and value meals, served to them by smartly turned out and bright staff. I was told the pub had increased dry sales by 10 per cent in recent months as the business continues to evolve.


The pub opposite may continue to trade but I know which pub the next generation will continue to go to.


That's not to say wet trade is dead. Far from it, the Scottish beer scene is in rude health. Tennents is omnipresent but it is being joined on bars by an increasing array of craft beer.


Cask was never such a big deal in Scotland so it arguably took to craft keg more comfortably than pubs further down South.


As one operator told me 'BrewDog smashed the ice' and now the market has really opened up.


Innis & Gunn, WEST, Williams Brothers and Arran are among the growing number of breweries fighting for space on the bars. The likes of Belhaven are responding with new and interesting beers of their own. Pubs such as the Hanging Bat and The Holyrood 9A are up there with the best of anything in the UK.


Of course it is not without its challenges, the smoking ban alone has taken years to recover from, but there is a distinct and growing pub scene.


So if you were looking for a busman's holiday, say 'Yes' to Scotland.