Scottish Labour ‘no shame’ as party endorses minimum pricing in England

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By G.A.Ponsonby 

Labour’s Holyrood health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie has rejected suggestions that the Scottish arm of the party should be ashamed that they blocked minimum pricing for alcohol after the party’s UK shadow public health minister openly backed a pilot in England.

Ms Baillie was responding to a question from a GP after Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow public health minister at Westminster, said she would favour a pilot scheme in England, and possibly legislation, if it stopped young people getting “out of their skulls for less money than it takes to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola”.

Attending a hustings in Edinburgh in front of health professionals and students from the British Medical Association, the Scottish Labour health spokeswoman insisted that she felt no shame in voting similar proposals down at Holyrood.

Sitting alongside Liberal Democrat health spokesman Ross Finnie, whose party also blocked minimum pricing proposals, she dismissed her UK Labour colleague as a ‘character’.

Ms Baillie said: “Diane Abbott is a character all to herself, and if Ross can disown what’s going on in the UK coalition … well, it’s quite interesting.”

Ms Baillie claimed that minimum pricing would hand £140 million to supermarkets that would otherwise be used for “alcohol treatment, for education and enforcement” and added: “The biggest growing number of people consuming alcohol are actually middle-aged, middle-income women who wouldn’t have been affected by a minimum unit price of 45p.”

Scottish Labour joined the Tories and Lib Dems in order to block the SNP’s proposal despite the health secretary Nicola Sturgeon offering a ‘sunset clause’ that would have allowed the legislation to be reversed had it proven ineffective.

The cross-border split comes as Iain Gray’s team look to re-energise a campaign stalled by a series of major U turns on council tax and education.

The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon said her failure to build consensus on the Alcohol Bill was her “biggest frustration” of her last term in parliament.

She said: “A fiver can buy enough alcohol in this country to kill a teenager.  I think that is shocking, it is shameful, and we have to do something about it.  It’s the biggest frustration of my entire time in Parliament.  I tried everything to get consensus.”