Labour/Tory alliance attacks minimum pricing

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The SNP tonight attacked Labour’s disgraceful decision to vote with the Tories against Scotland’s national interest and public health as they voted for a Conservative amendment in an attempt to block the introduction of essential measures to tackle Scotland’s problems with alcohol….


The SNP tonight attacked Labour’s disgraceful decision to vote with the Tories against Scotland’s national interest and public health as they voted for a Conservative amendment in an attempt to block the introduction of essential measures to tackle Scotland’s problems with alcohol.
 
The vote at Holyrood saw MSPs overwhelmingly agree the general principles of the SNP’s Alcohol Bill, which aims to tackle Scotland’s drink problem.  However Labour joined up with the Tories in an amendment calling for the removal of minimum pricing from the legislation, the Lab/Tory alliance winning by 54 to 49.

There was anger at comments made by Labour Health spokesperson Jackie Baillie who boasted that she was voting with the Tories to hole the policy “below the waterline”.  This was despite claiming she would listen to Labour’s own alcohol commission who have yet to make their final recommendations.

There was also controversy when Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson compared the minimum pricing measures with Mrs Thatcher’s hated poll tax.  Scottish Labour’s public health spokesman, said: “The last time we were used for the testing of an economic theory was the poll tax. The minimum unit price fails on lack of evidence.”

SNP MSP Michael Matheson said:
“This is a disgraceful vote by Labour.  Siding with the Tories against Scotland’s national interest is a real betrayal of Scotland’s public health.

“It is a damning indictment of the state of the Labour party that they have put a political alliance with the Tories ahead of the health of the Scottish people.
 
“There is widespread agreement from public health professionals, the drinks industry, the police and justice community, children’s charities, two former Labour health ministers and even a supermarket that minimum pricing is a necessary part of tackling our problems with alcohol.
 
“Unfortunately for Labour and the Tories they failed to win the support of a majority of MSPs for their politically motivated attack on these essential health plans and will be roundly condemned by those outside Parliament who expect politicians to put party aside for public health.

“The Tory proposals in England do not have the desired effect on problem drinking and Labour has so far put forward no alternative proposals despite accepting that price is a major factor in alcohol consumption.

“After today it seems Labour’s irresponsible attitude extends beyond ruining the economy to colluding with the Tories in refusing to support sensible measures to improve Scotland’s public health.”

Of the Labour members only Labour MSP and former Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm voted with the Scottish government.

Mr Chisholm said: “Some people have highlighted culture as the problem, but price is a key part of culture.

“I do not believe that culture can be effectively changed without dealing with the dirt cheap prices that are a road block to culture change.”

Minimum pricing for alcohol has support of every front line organisation in Scotland and many in England.  Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS), BMA Scotland and Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) have urged MSPs to support the proposal.  Even The Herald newspaper gave a cautious endorsement to minimum pricing by arguing that a pilot scheme should at least be tried.

Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said: “As a public health measure, minimum pricing could have a significant and positive impact on health.”
 
Mr Keighley pointed to research which estimates a 40p minimum price could cut alcohol-related deaths by 119 in the first decade and alcohol-related hospital admissions by more than 2,000.

A recent report revealed that within the last two months there had been 18 murders in the Strathclyde region alone and alcohol had been a contributory factor in 14.  The problem drink according to Chief constables was cheap vodka.

The SNP are believed to be planning to go ahead with their minimum pricing policy in the hope that MSPs can be persuaded by the massive support for the policy outwith the confines of Holyrood.

The SNP’s plan is to introduce a minimum price, which is likely to be 40p a unit, although the government has yet to confirm the level.  Under the plans, pubs would also be forced to pay a “social responsibility” fee and some off-trade promotions would be restricted.

The Tories have argued that the issue should be dealt with by the Tory/LibDem Westminster coalition after it promised to review alcohol taxation.  Labour favour restricting the amount of caffeine in alcoholic drinks.