Whisky producers take Scotland to Supreme Court over minimum alcohol unit pricing

Alys Key
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Whisky producers are protesting minimum unit pricing (Source: Getty)

The Scottish government faces a fight over whisky today and tomorrow, as its alcohol policy is called into question.

Whisky producers are challenging the SNP policy of minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol products. Groups including the Scotch Whisky Association are arguing that the plan goes against EU law.

Previously the European Court of Justice has ruled that MUP is only legal if evidence shows it is more effective than taxation, therefore the Supreme Court case will weigh up the evidence to establish whether this requirement is met.

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In a statement released today, Karen Betts, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, said "We reluctantly took legal action against the Scottish Government in 2012 because we believed that its proposals for the minimum unit pricing of alcohol were illegal under European law. This was endorsed by the European Court of Justice in 2015 when it held that the Scottish scheme was likely to breach Single Market rules and distort competition when less trade restrictive measures are available."

Whisky is one of Scotland's two main exports, with the market increasing by £79m in first quarter of this year.

The policy was first passed in the Scottish parliament in 2012, by 86 votes to one. An initial price was set at 50p per unit.

Today's court case comes as a group of medical professionals urges the government to follow Scotland's lead in England, as Sheffield University research predicts that 35 people are set to die every day between now and 2022 due to alcohol-related liver problems.

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Yet some industry voices have pushed back at the idea.

Dave Roberts, director general of the Alcohol Information Partnership, which advocates for responsible drinkers, said: “There remain some individuals that are causing harm to themselves and others by drinking too much. It is in everyone’s interest to tackle these specific problems and the alcohol industry is committed to targeted partnership projects involving retailers, licensees, charities and the industry to change behaviour and reduce harm."

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