Politicking of Holyrood opposition condemned as UK coalition announce minimum pricing plans


By a Newsnet reporter
The SNP has welcomed reports that the UK Government is looking at introducing minimum pricing per unit alcohol south of the border.
However the party described as “shocking” the politicking by Unionist opposition in Scotland that saw the introduction blocked in the last term of the Scottish Parliament.

Today it was reported that David Cameron has ordered Westminster officials to look at setting up a system that would see shops and supermarkets unable to sell alcoholic products below a unit price of around 45p.

The proposal is similar to the one promoted by the SNP last term but blocked by a Unionist coalition and only now to be introduced following the party’s majority win in May’s Scottish election.

The proposal has widespread support amongst the medical profession north and south of the border.  It has also received a boost following a recent study that found that setting a minimum price of 30p per unit would prevent 300 deaths a year in England, 40p about 1,000 deaths, and 50p more than 2,000 premature deaths.

In another study Professor Tim Stockwell who is director of the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, found that a 10 per cent increase in the minimum price of all alcoholic drinks led to a 3.4 per cent reduction in consumption.

Responding to reports that the UK Government is to investigate the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol, SNP MSP Jim Eadie said:

“There is a serious problem with cheap alcohol, not just in Scotland but across the whole of the UK, and it is increasingly clear from all the evidence and expert opinion that the introduction of a minimum unit price is essential in tackling our drinking culture and improving our health as a nation.

“It is good that David Cameron and the UK Government now appear to be seriously examining the possibility of minimum pricing in England, but is shocking that the Tories, the Liberals and Labour refused to put politics aside to introduce it in Scotland, where the problem of alcohol abuse is even more acute than it is south of the Border.”

Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson has claimed the plans would not tackle binge drinking and would in fact lead to £140 million going to supermarkets.  His party colleague MSP Jackie Baillie has criticised the SNP plans and said that Labour didn’t feel it was the correct measure, Ms Baillie claimed there were questions over the legality of the proposal.

Mr Eadie added:

“With this latest development there can now be no excuses from the Tories in Scotland, who should agree with their colleagues down south by getting behind the policy here.

“However, with an SNP majority in the Scottish Parliament, minimum pricing in Scotland will now become a reality. 

“Alcohol costs our NHS millions of pounds of each year and much more in human misery – minimum pricing is not the silver bullet but does move us as a nation forward in a positive direction.”

Support for minimum pricing has come from all quarters – the Welsh Government, Northern Ireland Executive, all 17 of Scotland’s public health directors in NHS Scotland, the Chief Medical Officer of Scotland Sir Harry Burns, British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges, ACPOS, Scottish Licensed Trade Association, Church of Scotland, various children’s charities, Tennents, Molson Coors and Greene King.

The cost of alcohol consumption in Scotland is estimated to cost £3.56 billion each year, £900 for every adult.

A 45p per unit minimum price which was proposed in the last Parliament was estimated to result in the following benefits:

  •     Reduction in deaths in year 1 by 50
  •     Reduction in deaths per year by year 10 by 225
  •     Fewer hospital admissions in year 1 by 1,200
  •     Fewer hospital admissions per year by year 10 by 4,200
  •     Fewer cases of violent crime by 400 per year
  •     Fewer days absent from work by 22,900
  •     Fewer numbers unemployed by 1,200

The total value of harm reduction for health, crime and employment in year one is £52 million and £721 million over 10 years. (Figures taken from University of Sheffield modelling for Scotland updated and published in April 2010.)