Price returns to top agenda

Players voice familiar arguments after Salmond announcement

Minimum pricing made its predicted return to the alcohol debate in Scotland last week when First Minister Alex Salmond made it a key priority in his forthcoming Programme for Government.

The SNP showed it’s not for turning on the policy by unveiling plans to bring in an Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill this autumn, just months after its previous attempt was defeated in parliament.

This time, however, the Nats are almost guaranteed success thanks to its thumping majority victory at the polls in May’s Scottish election. It’s thought the legislation could be passed as early as next June.

The SLTA said the government “deserves credit” for “showing mettle” on the policy.

“We’re convinced that minimum pricing is needed because of irresponsible attitudes [to alcohol pricing],” chief executive Paul Waterson said.

“We would also stress that this is not only a business argument. We really think it will make a big difference to alcohol misuse. The fact is Scotland’s uneasy relationship with alcohol has been exploited by the supermarkets. Opponents talk about alcohol consumption figures being down, but those figures hide the way we people drink in Scotland.”

Others in the alcohol industry remain hostile to minimum pricing, including the Wine & Spirit Trade Association.

“We don’t believe it’s right in principle for a government to intervene in a market,” spokesman Gavin Partington told SLTN. “There’s also a practical issue and whether it would address the cause at hand.

“There’s no evidence to suggest that minimum unit pricing would combat alcohol misuse.”

Partington refused to rule out the measure being challenged legally if the legislation was passed, though explained it would not come from the WSTA but a “commercial entity trading in the jurisdiction”.

Waterson said he was relaxed about the possibility. “Like in all of these situations, you get the legal advice that suits you,” he said. “If someone wants to challenge it, let them do it.

“I’d rather be on the side of the government.”

Ministers said last week a specific unit price would not be included in the Bill, stating that “separating the principle of the measure and the actual price allows each to be fully scrutinised and considered in turn”. But SLTN understands 45p a unit remains the favoured price.