Industry unites against Scotland’s alcohol clampdown
Published:  18 June, 2008

Drinks and retail industry associations have voiced strong opposition to Scottish proposals to ban alcohol sales to under-21s in shops and set minimum prices for drinks.

Plans for minimum prices were “absurd”, while the prospect of banning under-21s from buying drinks in off-licences but allowing them to enter pubs was “farcical”, the Scottish Grocers’ Federation said.

Others, including the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) and Scottish Retail Consortium, accused Scottish ministers of chasing headlines and demonising alcohol.

The vitriolic responses followed the publication of Scotland’s alcohol strategy document, announced by justice and health ministers on Tuesday morning. As well as pricing and age limits, other proposals are to end three-for-two promotions, create alcohol-only checkouts and force some retailers to pay a “social responsibility” fee towards the cost of tackling drink-relateed crime.

Policy makers and drinks retailers in England and Wales will be watching developments closely. WSTA spokesperson Gavin Partington told OLN there was a “clear precedent” for measures introduced in Scotland to move south of the border.

All drinks associations accepted the need to combat alcohol misuse in Scotland, which the government claims costs taxpayers £2.25bn annually.

WSTA Chief Executive Jeremy Beadles said: "The Scottish Government has decided all Scots drink too much and all must pay the price. The message is simple. They want Scottish families to pay more tax.”

The Scotch Whisky Association delivered a more diplomatic response, calling the strategy document a “starting point for future debate on how to change the drinking culture in Scotland”.

It steered clear of the proposed under-21 ban, but strongly attacked plans for minimum pricing. It accused ministers of “failing to answer the exam question” by not including a competition law assessment.

Justice minister Kenny MacAskill told OLN in an interview last week that he would not be swayed by industry lobbying. A consultation period will now follow, ending in September.

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