Couldn't agree more with the sentiment that independents can come up with truly outstanding bottlings.
For example, there was a recent (a few weeks ago) Cadenheads Bowmore 14 year old at 63.9%. It was absolutely fantastic and rather un-Bowmore like in my view. When we tasted it blind I swore it was cask strength Laphroiag. When I acquired a bottle I found that more in depth examination led me to the conclusion that it was necessary to buy more. Sadly the bottle numbers are so small that by the time all the Cadenheads places get their share there was only a few bottles per shop. So I didn't get any more
And ok the independents are capable of pushing out some duff casks, but if everything was a 97, then nothing is good or bad it's all just the same. Half the fun is in the exploration (at least for me) and in finding a gem that can be set aside for sharing with friends. If life was simple it would be boring.
Keep the independents coming that's what I say. However, it is clear that they are finding it increasingly difficult to source casks from the distilleries so their day may be coming to a close.