Opposition party leaders at Holyrood have been left exposed and isolated after it emerged that Westminster plans to bring in minimum pricing for alcohol in England and Wales.
The news is an embarrassment to Holyrood’s Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem leaders after they joined forces in November last year in order to block the SNP’s minimum price policy.
UK Ministers unveiled the plans yesterday and claimed that they would help cut crime by setting a “base price” for the first time. The proposal places a ban on selling alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT, but does not include the cost of producing the drinks.
Home Office Minister James Brokenshire said the plans were an important first step and added that they would be kept under review. Welsh Labour ministers have already given public approval for minimum pricing and Labour controlled councils in England have also voiced support.
Researchers at Sheffield University estimated last year that raising the price of alcohol to a minimum of 50p per unit would mean that there would be almost 3,000 fewer deaths every year in England after a decade and 41,000 fewer cases of chronic illness.
In Scotland figures indicated that the SNP’s plans would lead to 50 fewer deaths in the first year, 1200 fewer hospital admissions and a cut of £5.5 million in healthcare costs. In November last year Labour joined the Tories and Lib Dems in order to block the SNP’s minimum price plans.
The Unionist politicians banded together to block the moves despite widespread support amongst health bodies, the voluntary sector and police chiefs. The British Medical Association Scotland also took out a full-page advert in a leading Scottish newspaper to demonstrate widespread support for the proposal.
Dr Brian Keighley, who is chairman of BMA Scotland, said at the time: “The collection of signatures is to ask the politicians of all parties to pause and think again about the damage that alcohol is doing in their own constituencies … to ponder the fact that while they have suggested alternative approaches through a commission and through taxation that they really have not brought something as effective, we believe, as minimum pricing.”
Nicola Sturgeon said in the Holyrood debate that in the eyes of opposition MSPs: “This policy only has one fatal flaw, and that is that it is proposed by the SNP”.
With almost every public body both north and south of the border and the governments of Wales, England and Scotland now endorsing minimum pricing, the words of Nicola Sturgeon are looking increasingly accurate.