FURTHER delays to the implementation of minimum pricing could prompt the Scottish Government to consider alternative measures to tackle alcohol misuse which could have ramifications for the whole trade.
SLTA chief executive Paul Waterson fears if the legislation is held up any longer, ministers could seek to implement tougher regulations on the sale of alcohol in the interim.
His comments came as the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said it plans to appeal a Court of Session decision earlier this month, which ruled that setting a minimum unit price for alcohol of 50p is “within the powers of the Scottish ministers” and “not incompatible with EU law”.
The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 was passed by the Scottish Parliament last May but its implementation has been delayed after the SWA, along with European drinks bodies Spirits Europe and Comite Vins, sought a judicial review.
In the Court of Session ruling, Lord Doherty refused the petition, saying the Act is “not outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament”.
The SWA said it intends to appeal, which it has until May 24 to lodge.
But Waterson said he is concerned a further delay to the legislation could prompt ministers to consider alternative measures.
“If this goes to Europe, it could take years,” he told SLTN.
“At worst, this is a delaying tactic and it will delay it a long time. In that time, it’s clear politicians will look at other ways to curb excess.
“Supermarkets have to be stopped, they won’t do it voluntarily.
“What we’re going to get is other pieces of legislation that could be a lot worse and impinge on all of the trade.”
Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) has also called on the SWA and other minimum pricing opponents to end efforts to block the implementation of the legislation.
“The alcohol industry should drop its opposition to minimum unit price, accept democratically-determined controls and stop putting private profit ahead of public health,” said SHAAP chair Dr Peter Rice.
Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “We will be appealing this decision and we remain confident of our position.
“The Scottish Government has agreed not to introduce MUP until the legal process, including appeals, is complete.”
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association described the Court of Session decision as the “first step in a long legal process”.
“The Scotch Whisky Association’s decision to appeal is the right one and we support it,” said chief executive Miles Beale.
Health secretary Alex Neil said: “We look forward to being able to implement minimum unit pricing and making that step change in Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.”