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'Smoking ban moment' denied

Brian Taylor | 11:25 UK time, Wednesday, 22 September 2010

And so minimum pricing for alcohol has been vetoed by MSPs - or, more precisely, thwarted at committee stage.

It remains open to ministers to seek to reintroduce the plan at stage three, under consideration by the whole parliament.

This they will do: one, because they believe the policy is correct and, two, because it will oblige their opponents, all their opponents, to show their hand - or at least their button-pushing finger - in full open session.

Opponents of the measure say it is impractical; that it would not deter hardened drinkers; that it would simply put money in supermarket tills; and that it might encourage countries elsewhere to introduce a punitive "health tax" on Scotch whisky.

Supporters of the measure point to the backing they have received from senior figures in the health service and the police: those, in short, who deal with the worst consequences of Scotland's alcohol problem.

The electoral consequences? I doubt whether this particular issue, important though it is, will sway substantial numbers of votes at the next Holyrood elections: at least, by comparison with the much bigger impact of public spending cuts.

But it has added to the long-established mistrust between the SNP and Labour in particular.

No majority

Labour says the episode has demonstrated a Nationalist adherence to dogma, pursuing a course of action long after it had been repeatedly signalled that there was no parliamentary majority.

The SNP says that Labour's opposition to the measure was founded not on principle - but on a partisan wish to deny the Nationalist government its "smoking ban moment".

In particular, Nationalists say that Labour has been light on serious, sustainable alternative policies. Labour's commission, they say, was shown to be weak on empirical detail when subjected to committee examination at Holyrood.

The accusations from either side, needless to say, are denied by the other.


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