Our EU neighbours seek to emulate our policy of minimum alcohol pricing

IT IS curious that so much of what has been written about the Scottish Government’s Minim Unit Pricing policy (MUP) has been portrayed as a "Scotland versus Europe" struggle. The reality is actually a long way from this, and rather more interesting.

The National

First published in The National, 15 November 2016.

Various EU countries are either looking into or intending to introduce similar schemes of their own.

Only last Thursday, at a meeting hosted by myself and fellow MEP Brian Hayes, a packed room from across the continent came to listen to health experts and Irish Health Promotion Minister Marcella Kennedy Corcoran put forward their opinions.

To return to the beginning, MUP has had a difficult birth in Scotland, and is still not yet actually in operation. This is entirely down to the actions of the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA), which just one month after the Scottish Parliament approved the proposals launched a judicial review. This action was scandalous and based on a profit-before-people mentality.

To be clear, minimum pricing is a proportionate, evidence-based policy to cut down on harmful drinking among the heaviest drinkers. The evidence from Canada, where this policy has been in place for years, is clear: this is worth doing to address Scotland’s drinking problem. The School of Health and Related research at Sheffield University estimated that the minimum price set by the Scottish Government would result in 60 fewer deaths in the first year, rising to more than 300 fewer deaths per annum after 10 years. Financially, over 10 years it is estimated that such a policy would also save £942 million.

This is not about prohibiting alcohol. This is about encouraging responsible drinking and cutting down on heavy drinking which mostly happens at home. In fact, almost three-quarters of alcohol sold in Scotland was sold in supermarkets, and many brewers and pubs support MUP.

Ireland and Scandinavia, both of which have problems with heavy drinkers, are working alongside us here and looking to share best practice. The EU is not about imposing rules from the top, but about sharing ideas about what works and collaborating with other countries to make the changes we all need.

The SWA’s court case was (upon the request of Scottish judges) taken up in the European Court of Justice, which ruled that our policy was a proportionate measure to protect public health before passing it back to them for the final say. I am delighted they agree, so both the European Court of Justice and the Scottish courts have now given minimum unit pricing a clean bill of health.

We in Scotland need this policy, and alongside our European allies we can make progress. Other countries have already begun to do so, and we need to get on.

There is now only one possible avenue open to our opponents. The SWA could appeal to the UK Supreme Court, but they must do so in the next few days or accept the Scottish court's ruling. I truly hope they will do the decent thing and accept the result and not appeal.

There is a real need for the industry to work with the government in making our alcohol harm-reduction strategy work. I hope that the SWA will end their misguided campaign against this entirely reasonable policy.