Labour under increasing pressure over alcohol minimum pricing

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Iain Gray’s Holyrood Labour group have come under huge pressure to back the Scottish government’s minimum price for alcohol proposal after a host of people from the medical profession, police and the arts world joined forces in order to sign a public statement calling for MSPs to support the SNPs bill.

With days to go before the crucial Holyrood vote the British Medical Association Scotland has upped the pressure on Labour by taking out a full-page advert in a leading Scottish newspaper to demonstrate the widespread support for minimum pricing.

Dr Brian Keighley, who is chairman of BMA Scotland, said: “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.”

Signatories to the statement include Scotland’s previous chief medical officer Dr Mac Armstrong, actress Elaine C Smith, former rugby internationalist Scott Hastings and Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, head of Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit.

The Labour group at Holyrood have become increasingly isolated over their opposition to the plans and the last few months has saw Labour colleagues in England and Wales voicing their support and seeking legislation to implement minimum pricing.  Recent alternative proposals from Scottish Labour’s alcohol commission were roundly criticised after they were found to have had little or no evidence behind them.

Figures show that the SNPs 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.

There was a further blow to Iain Gray when former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish insisted that his party should back the proposals saying that not to do so would be a missed opportunity.  

Mr McLeish said: “The use and abuse of alcohol is now reaching crisis proportions. As a nation we are simply awash with alcohol and this is having severe implications for every aspect of society and in every part of Scotland.”

McLeish insisted that without minimum pricing Scotland would not be able to effectively tackle its chronic alcohol problems.

He added: “I just fear if we miss this opportunity it is not going to return for many, many years if at all.”

However this week Labour’s Holyrood health Spokesperson Jackie Baillie stated that she thought that Scotland’s alcohol problems were part of a wider UK issue and were better left to Westminster.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “I am delighted to see that so many people from all sections of Scottish society agree that minimum pricing is an important step forward in our efforts to combat the shocking toll that alcohol misuse takes on this country.”

Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson said Labour would continue to oppose the policy describing it as a tax on the poor and more money for retailers.

He said: “A minimum price of 45p per unit will deliver more than £140m of extra revenue per year for retailers. But it won’t create a single extra penny for more police or the NHS.

“We agree raising the price of alcohol has a role to play in reducing harm and there is a consensus among the opposition parties that this should be done on a UK basis and that the revenue generated should go to the public purse.”

It is understood that the World Health Organisation and countries around the world are watching to see what decision Scotland will make in next Wednesday’s vote.