Scotland politics

Scottish government reintroduces alcohol pricing bill

Plans to reintroduce a minimum price for a unit of alcohol in Scotland have been announced.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said it was important that Scotland's "battle with alcohol misuse" was tackled.

Official figures have suggested Scots drink more than people in other parts of the UK.

A first attempt by the SNP to push through a similar price proposal failed during the last parliament.

MSPs rejected the idea before the May election, but after the SNP's majority win at that poll this fresh plan is set to become law before next summer.

At this stage, the Scottish government has not fixed a unit price.

During the first attempt to bring forward the legislation, the SNP minority government proposed setting the minimum price at 45p per unit.

That would have resulted in;

  • an own-brand bottle of vodka increasing in price from from £8.35 to £11.85
  • a two-litre bottle of cider going up from £1.20 to £3.75
  • and the cost of a bottle of wine moving from £3.75 to £4.20

A unit figure will be suggested in the new year after research by the University of Sheffield, which is re-running its minimum price modelling to produce the most up-to-date data.

Ms Sturgeon promised her party's annual conference on 21 October that a new minimum pricing on alcohol bill would be back before MSPs "within the month".

Following the introduction of the new bill at Holyrood, the health secretary said Scotland's unhealthy relationship with alcohol was one of the "most pressing public health challenges facing us as a nation".

Ms Sturgeon added: "We have introduced a ban on quantity discounts, and promotions in off-sales have been restricted, but already we have seen that without minimum pricing these attempts to take action on Scotland's alcohol problem are being undermined.

"By setting a minimum price for a unit of alcohol, we can raise the price of the cheap supermarket white ciders, lager and value spirits sought out by problem drinkers.

"I hope that this time around MSPs will do the right thing and back this policy that has the support of doctors, nurses, the police and growing numbers of the general population. I will not shirk from leading the way in addressing this challenge. It is time for Scotland to win its battle with the booze."

The Scottish government has estimated that the country's alcohol problems cost £3.56bn each year - or £900 for every adult.

'Probably illegal'

Scottish Labour's health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson said his party did not believe minimum unit pricing was the answer to tackling the country's drink problem.

He claimed the move would deliver a £140m annual windfall for big supermarkets "without providing a single extra penny for our NHS".

Dr Simpson added: "Scottish Labour has proposed a whole raft of measures that we believe will help tackle Scotland's relationship with alcohol, but the SNP's narrowly-defined bill - designed to shut down debate - means other proposals cannot even be considered.

"The SNP think minimum unit pricing is some sort of magical silver bullet, but unfortunately no one measure is going to tackle Scotland's relationship with alcohol.

"If the SNP government is serious about tackling alcohol abuse it should drop its dogmatic approach, broaden its bill so a range of other proposals can be included."

The Scottish Tories have also suggested that a blanket minimum pricing policy would not work.

Changing culture

The party's health spokesman Murdo Fraser said: "Evidence has shown that problem drinkers are those most resistant to moderate changes in pricing, meaning that this bill would end up penalising only responsible drinkers.

"This is in addition to the hugely questionable legality of the measure, which has already been labelled by the UK government as 'probably illegal', therefore potentially rendering the bill utterly meaningless."

However, the SNP move won support from the Liberal Democrats whose health spokeswoman Alison McInnes said it was "a positive and confident step towards changing the culture of excessive drinking in Scotland".

Drink
The minimum unit price will be decided in the new year

She added: "Alcohol abuse has a devastating impact on the lives of individuals and families across Scotland.

"It is a blight on our society and that is why I wish to work constructively with Ministers to make forthcoming minimum pricing legislation the most effective it can be. We need to examine all possible action to change Scotland's relationship with alcohol."

The Scottish Green Party also backed the government's bill, as it had done when the first attempt at acohol pricing legislation came before Holyrood.

Patrick Harvie said: "The evidence presented on alcohol pricing last session was robust and convincing, and we're still convinced. A minimum price for alcohol will help tackle irresponsible drinking and deliver substantial health benefits.

He added: "SNP ministers could and should go further than the half measures they're proposing today. They have a strong democratic mandate but they also pledged to govern inclusively.

"It's not too late for ministers to allow new ideas into this bill, to focus the response on the harm caused by big business while protecting community pubs and small producers, the businesses which make their living from quality instead of volume sales."

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