In 2012 the Scottish parliament passed the measure overwhelmingly—but it has been subject to legal challenges ever since. This week, the Supreme Court will give its verdict. A huge amount is at stakeby Kenny MacAskill / July 26, 2017 / Leave a comment
When I became Scottish Justice Secretary in 2007 it was clear that action was required on alcohol abuse. As sure as night follows day, when too much drink is consumed, misbehaviour and even tragedy can occur. Ten years ago, Scotland had the eighth highest level of alcohol consumption in the world, and almost 1,500 Scots were dying a year because of drink. The economic cost of this as a whole was £3.6bn; the cost of alcohol-related crime was £727m.
Price and promotion were critical factors. Offers for cheap drink were everywhere and the ways in which it was sold often highly inappropriate. Education on the consequences of abuse was also needed but suggestions that only this was required were quite absurd. It had been tried and failed, and firmer action was needed.
The steps taken on stricter regulation of sales and restricting promotions were welcomed by both the police and communities. However, it soon became clear it wasn’t simply a law and order issue. Nor was the problem confined to groups of youngsters or a marginalised minority, it was much greater and across all sections of society. Its consequences were straining the health service to its limits and damaging our society. A whole population approach was required to turn things around.
A Minimum Unit Price (MUP) of 50p was devised as a strategy to support the other reforms. It was passed overwhelmingly by the Scottish Parliament in 2012 with widespread public support and endorsed enthusiastically by health, police and alcohol awareness campaigners. Yet has still not been implemented due to legal challenges by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). These are reaching their conclusion as the final appeal to the Supreme Court is heard this week.
“Ten years ago almost 1,500 Scots were dying a year because of drink”
The irony is that MUP won’t affect the cost of a fine malt or a dram in a pub. Instead it targets high-strength, low-cost alcohol, primarily ciders and vodkas. Drinks that sometimes can be purchased for less than a bottle of water. The evidence shows that it will save lives, as problematic drinkers are the ones most likely to be constrained by it. It is particularly badly needed since the banning of “two for one” alcohol sales in 2011 was undermined, with wine simply sold at…