Scottish government plans 50p per unit alcohol price after Supreme Court backs minimum pricing proposal

Catherine Neilan
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Scotch Whisky Association Challenges Minimum Alcohol Pricing
The Scottish Whisky Association has lost its appeal (Source: Getty)

The Scottish government has said it will set minimum alcohol prices "as quickly as possible" after the UK's Supreme Court ruled in its favour.

The measure, passed by the Scottish parliament in 2012, was appealed by the Scotch Whisky Association and others. But this morning's ruling decided that the policy, in which a price will be applied per unit of alcohol, is "appropriately targeted, lawful and proportionate".

Ministers will conduct a consultation around 50p per unit. Currently alcohol can be bought as cheaply as 18p per unit.

Scottish health secretary Shona Robison will set out the government's steps to its "pioneering and life-saving alcohol pricing policy" in a speech in Holyrood shortly.

This morning she said: "This is a historic and far-reaching judgement and a landmark moment in our ambition to turn around Scotland’s troubled relationship with alcohol... Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families."

Robison said the Scottish government would set out its preferred timetable for implementation, as well as plans to engage with retailers and industry "to make this a success".

She added: “The Scottish government has always supported whisky as a key part of our economy and an icon of Scottish food and drink, and we will continue to work closely with the sector to ensure its economic success. We will also work closely on the promotion of safe and responsible alcohol consumption and the smooth implementation of the policy.”

Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “We accept the Supreme Court’s ruling on minimum unit pricing of alcohol in Scotland. Looking ahead, the Scotch Whisky industry will continue to work in partnership with the government and the voluntary sector to promote responsible drinking and to tackle alcohol-related harm.

“We will now look to the Scottish and UK governments to support the industry against the negative effects of trade barriers being raised in overseas markets that discriminate against Scotch Whisky as a consequence of minimum pricing, and to argue for fair competition on our behalf. This is vital in order that the jobs and investment the industry provides in Scotland are not damaged. At home, we hope to see an objective assessment of the impact.”

Chris Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said the decision was "disappointing", adding: "We should be thankful that the legal action has delayed the implementation of this pernicious policy by five years, thereby saving Scottish drinkers hundreds of millions of pounds."

"Minimum alcohol pricing is a policy that clobbers the poor and exempts the rich. Most of the beer, cider and spirits sold in the off trade will become more expensive under a 50p minimum price, but doctors and politicians can relax. The champagne at their Christmas parties will not be affected," he added.

Graeme Young, a competition partner with law firm CMS, said this policy was yet another - like the sugar tax and energy cap - that suggested "greater appetite to implement targeted market interventions to change consumer behaviours".

He added: "One further interesting issue the Scottish MUP case raises is how the UK’s departure from the EU Single Market, which has generally resisted state intervention in markets, may impact the legal landscape for these types of case, and whether this is likely to relax the rules further on such measures.”

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