Friday, 21 October 2016

Scottish minimum pricing ruled lawful

In 2012, the Scottish Parliament voted for minimum pricing of alcohol, but implementation was delayed when the Scotch whisky industry launched a legal challenge, claiming the plans breached European Law. The Court of Session in Edinburgh has dismissed the challenge which means that, unless the drinks industry appeals to the Supreme Court in London, 50p per unit can be implemented north of the border. The price of a bottle of spirits is likely to exceed £14.

The Scotch Whisky Association's argument was that the policy is a restriction on trade and thus contrary to EU law. The opposing argument is all about alcohol misuse, asserting that minimum pricing would help address Scotland's "unhealthy relationship with drink".

My reasons for opposing minimum pricing are not personal; as I'm a beer drinker in pubs, it wouldn't make much difference to me. I previously explained my reasons here just before the 2013 CAMRA national AGM in Norwich, where a motion had been tabled to end the campaign's support of the policy. Pleasingly, the motion was passed, much to the chagrin of the top table.

Not everyone who buys cheap alcohol is a binge drinker - many simply don’t have much money, so minimum pricing will mainly affect the poorest in society. It is in effect a poll tax levied equally on every drinker, without reference to their ability to pay. The better-off and rich will still be able to buy as much drink as they like, unhampered by nanny state interference. I have never heard anyone assert that alcohol misuse is confined to the poorest in society; this law affects certain strands in society disproportionately and is therefore inherently unjust. Is this an unintended consequence? I don't think so.

I'm hoping the Scottish drinks industry does appeal further, even though I don't particularly share its motives.


  1. As Chris Snowdon writes here, the case will surely be appealed to the Supreme Court, so it's by no means a done deal.

    It's ironic, really, that the SNP are so keen to stay in the EU, but it's EU trade rules that have been preventing them implementing minimum pricing.

    Something often overlooked in discussion of the issue is that a 50p/unit minimum price would affect the majority of off-trade alcohol sold by volume. It's certainly not just a few ultra-cheap products as often supposed.

  2. I find it hard to see how anyone can argue, as the court apparently did, that minimum alcohol pricing is not a tax on the poor given that, as you say, if you've not got much money it'll take a larger proportion of it than it will for better-off people who won't notice the difference.

  3. I am proud to say I moved that successful motion!

    1. You're right to be proud - it was an important motion.


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