Victory Against Cheap Booze
As the battle to overcome Scotland’s drink problem reaches a significant victory – Scottish ministers just won the first round in a lengthy court battle against the whisky industry after a judge ruled their plans to fix a minimum price for alcohol were legal and justified – it’s worth remembering the oppositions role in blocking these measures.
In 2010 when the Unionist parties colluded to block the moves, Tory MSP Mary Scanlon said: “There is simply no political support for the SNP’s blanket minimum pricing. These plans would penalise responsible drinkers, harm the Scotch whisky industry, cost jobs and is probably illegal.” She was wrong on all scores.
Labour’s Jackie Baillie added: “The facts are that the Scottish government has not been able to get a parliamentary majority because they have lost the argument. This policy is effectively a tax on the poor paid directly to the shareholders of the big supermarkets.”
This was just nonsense, and probably the most cynical bit of politics Holyrood’s seen.
Ross Finnie, the Lib Dem health spokesman, said: “We remain unconvinced by the government’s proposals for minimum pricing. It impacts heavily on the low paid, has a marginal effect on hazardous drinkers and gives a windfall to retailers.”
The Liberal Democrat opposition was even worse, because they actually support minimum pricing – it was in their UK election manifesto.
This is a major victory for health campaigners, Nicola Sturgeon who championed the legislation and now Alex Neil. Lord Doherty ruled on Friday that the Scottish parliament was within its powers to introduce Europe’s first minimum pricing law on all alcoholic drinks, because it would protect health.
Alex Neil, the Scottish health secretary, said he believed minimum pricing would help bring in “transformational change” on alcohol abuse.
It’s a regular refrain from the Unionist parties that ‘bread and butter issues’ and issues of social justice have been put on hold because of the constitutional debate, the reality’s different.
The legislation has the support of the Chief Medical Officer, the BMA, the Royal Colleges, the Association of Chief Police Officers, and numerous campaign groups like Alcohol Focus Scotland. Dr Brian Keighley, from the British Medical Association Scotland, said: “Any credible alcohol strategy must have at its heart measures to tackle price and availability. Scotland is awash with cheap alcohol and Scots are paying the price with their health.”
NHS Scotland estimates the impact of excessive alcohol consumption in Scotland costing £3.56 billion each year, or £900 for every adult in Scotland. Not only does alcohol misuse burden our health service and police – it also has a considerable knock-on effect on our economic potential and on the families devastated by death and illness caused by alcohol.
The argument’s been won and now has a good chance of winning the legal battle.
This is about standing up to big business interests in defence of public health. It’s about what sort of Scotland we are creating and and whether we can stand up to corporate capture shaping and dictating social and health policy. It’s still shocking to reflect on the cynicism of those who opposed it for narrow party gain.