Scotland given the go-ahead for minimum unit pricing
The UK Supreme Court has given the Scotland the green light to introduce a minimum unit price of 50p following a five-year battle.
Scottish parliament approved the measure in 2012 in a bid to curb Scotland's “unhealthy relationship with drink”.
The Scotch Whisky Association, backed by European trade associations, challenged the bill and it has been held up in the various courts ever since.
The SWA argued that minimum pricing breached EU and global trade law as it interfered with free trade and open borders regulations.
But today seven Supreme Court judges ruled it does not breach EU law and paved the way for Scotland to usher in the measure. It is now expected to go through in early 2018.
Wales is also pushing for minimum unit pricing, but the government has said it has no plans to enforce it in England.
SWA chief executive Karen Betts 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 of MUP.”
Scottish spokesperson for Drinkers' Voice, Kenny Alexander, said: “The poor, the young and the moderate majority are being made to pay the price for the excessive drinking habits of a few middle aged and middle class drinkers. It won’t be the ideologically driven Rioja drinking medics and academics who have campaigned for this measure that will feel the pinch but the average man and women that enjoys the simple pleasure of a drink at a price they can afford.
“As a Scotsman, I feel that this decision which will inevitably drive up the cost of whisky is an attack on our culture and our heritage.”
Joep Stassen, president of Spirits Europe, added: “We regret the Supreme Court’s ruling on minimum unit pricing of alcohol in Scotland, which we believe is inconsistent with the Court of Justice’s ruling in this case and its wider jurisprudence.
“We remain convinced there are more appropriate, proportionate and effective responses to tackle harmful use of beer, wine and spirits drinks. We nevertheless accept that MUP will now be introduced in Scotland, and hope to see an objective assessment of its impact both on the harmful use of alcohol and on the ability of cheaper imports to compete in the Scottish market.
“This decision sets an unwelcome precedent for fair competition between alcohol beverage producers and for the proper functioning of the internal market. The same is true for third country barriers to our European products, resulting in a very negative impact on one of the most valuable agri-food exports of the EU.
“We are determined to continue the fight against irresponsible drinking which is a blight upon our society and sector. Fortunately, there are signs of improvement not only in Scotland, but also in other EU countries. These positive trends only fuel the commitment of our sector to work at local level with all willing parties to increase awareness of the dangers associated with harmful drinking, and to promote responsible attitudes to drinking, especially among those most at risk.”
In a statement, Aston Manor Cider said: “We believe sincerely this is the wrong outcome. The legal arguments aside, the premise for MUP is flawed, based as it is on an untested forecast model that believes that the heaviest drinkers are very sensitive to price increases.
“This is not only counter to common sense, it is not the view of frontline professionals supporting those in crisis. Those working in drug and alcohol services and the homelessness sector are clear that to make a substance misused more expensive or to restrict supply will merely displace misuse to another substance or prompt a greater proportion of scarce resources to be directed to sustain misuse, making matter worse for those in crisis and those around them.
“In addition it will adversely affect legitimate consumers, especially those on modest incomes that are typically lower per capita consumers of alcohol than those on higher incomes. It will also disadvantage legitimate retailers and producers – a triple whammy with no discernible improvement in the levels of alcohol misuse.
“We are also concerned with the enormous resources that have been used to support this flawed policy and spent on this protracted process. The same time and money would have been better invested to support people struggling with substance misuse and to develop more effective approaches.
“A focus on the individual and their circumstance is the most effective approach, though we note that resources invested in drug and alcohol services and in the homelessness sector are being cut.”
Meanwhile, the C&C Group, which produces Tennent's Lager and Magners, said it welcomed the landmark decision in Scotland.
Paul Bartlett, Group Corporate Relations Director, said: “C&C Group has been a strong and vocal supporter of Minimum Unit Pricing since it was first proposed in 2011. We welcome today’s landmark decision. It is the right move to make; a progressive step forward in tackling the problems of alcohol misuse in Scotland and we congratulate the Scottish Government on its perseverance.
“We have been brewing in Scotland since 1556 and producing cider in Ireland since 1935, therefore our brands have long played an important part in the markets in which we operate. As such, we know that it is important to do the right thing, to support our communities and make sure responsible consumption is always encouraged. On this matter, we are completely aligned with the Scottish Government.
“Although the majority of Scots enjoy alcohol responsibly, we are concerned about the availability of strong, cheap alcohol and its correlation with harmful drinking that causes misery across Scotland. As part of a package of measures, Minimum Unit Pricing will help to address this.
“Now that the Supreme Court have made their ruling, we urge the industry to get behind the decision. We’ll be working with the Scottish Government and our customers over the coming months to support the successful introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing. Moreover, we also hope similar legislation can be realised across other territories we operate in, including Ireland and Northern Ireland.”