SNP to press ahead with alcohol minimum pricing

By Alex Stevenson

The Scottish government is set to use its overall majority in Holyrood to push through legislation introducing alcohol minimum pricing.

Its latest bid to push through the policy has prompted furious debate in Scotland, after an earlier attempt was defeated by the opposition in the last Scottish parliament.

It is not yet clear what minimum price would be placed on each unit of alcohol. It had previously proposed 45p, which would push the price of a two-litre bottle of cider from £1.20 to £3.75.

"The support in favour of minimum pricing is overwhelming, particularly among health professionals who recognise the harm that alcohol is doing to our communities and the benefit minimum pricing will bring, saving lives and reducing crime," Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said.

Minimum pricing has proved politically difficult because many fear the price of alcohol will be pushed up for all drinkers.

But campaigners argue that all pricing strategies will have a much greater impact on heavier drinkers, because they mostly prefer cheaper drinks.

"The policy objective of the bill is to use pricing as a tool to reduce overall alcohol consumption in the population in order to reduce Scotland's high levels of alcohol harm. All the available international evidence would indicate that this approach will be effective," Alcohol Focus Scotland said.

Legislation published today will be placed before Holyrood's health and sport committee for scrutiny in the coming months, where it is likely to come under sustained attack from the drinks lobby.

"The Scottish government's fixation with minimum pricing as the solution to alcohol-related harm is misguided," Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Gavin Hewitt said.

"The impact of recent legislation has not yet been fully felt and many other measures to address alcohol misuse remain untested.

"Minimum pricing is the wrong policy option. It will not achieve the objective of a more healthy, positive and responsible attitude to alcohol."

The committee is expected to resist these arguments, however, as the SNP has a majority on it.