Friday 20 July 2012

Minimum Pricing Needs To Be Challenged

Yesterday, on the radio, there was discussion about the Scottish Whisky Association's confirmation that they were launching a legal challenge against the Scottish Government's minimum pricing legislation.

The SWA branded the move 'misguided and said it would not reduce the number of problem drinkers'.

A complaint is being made to the European Commission on the basis it is a restriction of trade and there will also be a petition for judicial review to the Court of Session.  The SWA is being joined in the Scottish court challenge by the European Spirits Organisation and European wine body Comite Vins.  All three trade bodies say the measure breaches the UK's EU treaty obligations.

Since minimum pricing was proposed, I was against the idea for the reasons I've stated previously and I agree with the SWA that the policy would not reduce the number of problems drinkers. What is needed is for current legislation to be used effectively, which would result in excessive drinking and the behaviour it can produce, becoming socially unacceptable.

In May the ISD published alcohol related hospital statistics for 2012. In Scotland in 2010/11 alcohol-related discharges, from a general acute hospital, were 695 per 100,000 of the population. Alcohol dependence was recorded in 69% (2,807) of all alcohol-related discharges from psychiatric hospitals.

Another interesting statistic is that over the five year period 2006/7 to 2010/11 there was a 6% decrease in the rate of alcohol-related discharges. NHS Orkney and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde boards had the highest rate of discharges.

Many commenters on radio suggested the Scottish whisky industry is acting selfishly and only concerned with profits.  Of course they are - industries require profits to stay in business.  The industry is one of Scotland's top exporters and any challenge needed to come from a 'big hitter'.

The SWA's challenge may delay the Scottish Government's intention to introduce the legislation in April, but surely they realise legal scrutiny is essential.  The Scottish Government has no second chamber to question any of their proposals so the next best thing is the courts.

Maybe Holyrood should have another chamber, but that's another post.

(I've placed a poll in the sidebar).


English Pensioner said...

The problem about this kind if impost, is that it can be extended to almost anything with which the government disagrees. What about a minimum price of butter, cheese, full fat milk, or beefburgers, etc, because they contain too much fat as already imposed in Denmark.
Or indeed anything else of which the government disapproves such as salt, sugar, sweets, soft drinks?

There was a cartoon, I think in the Mail, which summarized the situation

Boy (to boozy father):
"Dad, does this mean you will drink less?"
Father "No, it means that you will eat less"

JRB said...

Totally concur with the action being taken by the SWA.

So much so, that I’m off to buy a bottle of my favourite malt and will raise a glass to the success of their endeavours.


RMcGeddon said...

Good luck to the SWA. I doubt if the SNP would attempt to break EU Law so often if they had to pay the court fees themselves rather than charging the taxpayers. We all warned them about minimum pricing being illegal a long time ago ;)
They lost the slopping out in prisons case and then the right to see a lawyer case but it's just an inconvenience rather than a financial cost to themselves.
I see they've had second thoughts about the gay marriage case as they realise they can't guarantee freedom from EU prosecution for churches who disagree.

Anonymous said...

It's a double edged sword this one.

The Scottish Government should be held to account though it does seem extreme that this is the manner in which it has to be done.

The SWA are effectively a front for Diageo and this issue is more about Diageo punting cheap vodka to those least able to deal with it than anything else.

There was a short lived conspiracy theory back around 2009 that Diageo would have kept the Johnnie Walker plant open at Kilmarnock if the SNP government dropped its alcohol unit price raise.

How much truth there was in it I don't know, but considering some of the sources it certainly seemed feasible.

This SNP government are going to learn a few hard lessons about Realpolitik and playing with the big boys by the looks of things.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Beware the democratic fig leaf of a 'sunset clause' too. It won't matter even if the plan is a total disaster, the massed ranks of state-funded alcohol bashers will cherry-pick whichever tiny piece of 'evidence' suits their cause and the SNP will parrot it as 'proof' that their idea was brilliant.

The public health alcohol debate is already awash with lies, they won't miss a heartbeat in telling even more.

Barbarian of the North said...

I still can't understand why the Government didn't use duty rates rather than minimum pricing. Raise the duty at retail outlets and reduce the duty at drinking establishments. Money goes to the taxpayer rather than the retailer.

And politcally it's less damaging as well as totally legal.

RMcGeddon said...'s because the Scottish Government doesn't have the power to adjust duty rates.
That's under London control.

Allan said...

Like you Subrosa, i am very sceptical about the Minimum Pricing policy, and like you I have posted on this previously (and debated with local SNP candidates in the local press). However the problem with the SWA's action is that it is motivated by greed. Nothing more, nothing less (which by the way is the same motivation for the Licencees Association's backing for Minimum Pricing, so let's not be any under any illusions that greed cuts one way only). I remain convinced that we will get a proper debate on Minumum Pricing through this, as the arguments here will centre on "free trade" and other ideals the SNP are wedded to thanks to their Europhillia.

RMcGeddon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barney Thomson said...

Sorry, I cannot bring myself to support the corporate might of the cartel-representing SWA, who are only interested in profits at whatever cost to society.

I find it difficult to believe that some people actually might enjoy the consumption of chemical "cider", cut-price cans of tasteless strong lager to which alcohol is added to enhance the strength, Coffey Still "vodka" which any East European would despise and cheap wine which tastes like it deserves the description. These are the only products which are likely to increase in price because of a 50p minimum price per unit.

JRB - if your favourite malt costs less than £14 a bottle, you're being ripped off.

RMcGeddon said...

Allan..I don't understand how the SWA are motivated by greed. They will make more money if the minimum pricing becomes law so how is it motivated by greed ?

footdee said...

"Since minimum pricing was proposed, I was against the idea for the reasons I've stated previously and I agree with the SWA that the policy would not reduce the number of problems drinkers."----------------really so you go against all the expert opinion from the people who have to deal with the results of cheap drink

RMcGeddon said...

People hate all that chemical stuff but it's all they can afford unfortunately.
The new minimum pricing laws will ensure they keep drinking that rubbish.
They would love to join you in a nice glass of Glenmorangie.

Barney Thomson said...

RMcG -

I agree. But you are referring to people who have varying degrees of alcohol dependency already with no appreciation of what they are drinking other than it gets them pissed. To them we can apply SR's suggestion - "What is needed is for current legislation to be used effectively, which would result in excessive drinking and the behaviour it can produce, becoming socially unacceptable".

That these people find themselves in their unfortunate situation is due in no small measure to the vision of cheap, glamourous escapism that the companies represented by the Scotch Whisky Association have been pushing for many years (bear in mind that these companies do not just produce whisky).

The hope is that a minimum price will bring about a change in attitude in the schoolchildren and other young people who currently regard alcohol consumption to excess as cool. It may even make the SWA's friendly cartel find that targetting them is no longer worthwhile.

You're right. I do enjoy the occasional Glenmorangie, though there are other malts that I prefer. I also enjoy good quality session ale and fairly priced wines. Maybe I'm a lost cause too.

subrosa said...

Excellent point EP. If I remember, Nicola Sturgeon said there was a point in the legislation which stated there would be a review in three years. I thought then 'Aye, to increase the price'.

subrosa said...

Great idea JRB. I'll save mine until tomorrow.

subrosa said...

I doubt if they'll attempt that either RM but I also doubt if they've ensured their proposals are legal.

subrosa said...

I understand small distilleries are also part of the SWA but I see what you mean ahdinnaeken. Someone had to question this though.

subrosa said...

Ah, that's the term I was thinking of Dick and you're spot on.

subrosa said...

Another good point Barbarian but see RM's response below.

subrosa said...

I would agree with you Allan, but someone had to question this and I really don't care who it is. :)

We do need a sensible debate and the SNP government need to stop quoting Canada (which has restricted outlets) and one 'model' study built purely around statistics.

subrosa said...

Who would suggest would be in a better position to make a challenge then Barney?

subrosa said...

Footdee, you're making an assumption there.

Are you saying cheap drink causes more problems than 'expensive' drink? Are the experts saying that?

It's a culture and over the years drunkenness has become socially acceptable. That's the nub of the problem.

Barney Thomson said...

SR -

You are making the assumption that a challenge is required.

I, along with the medical profession, the police, the Scottish Parliament and many other civic bodies, do not agree.

Why is a challenge required?

And if it is made, can it please address the concerns of the medics and police and not just be a legal delaying mechanism?

subrosa said...

Barney, I think all political proposals should be challenged. We have a useless opposition in the Scottish Parliament and no government should be able to introduce legislation without thorough debate and scrutiny.

The SP committees tend to split down party lines and therefore, with the present majority, they're ineffective.

This is not a dig at the SNP, it's a call for democracy.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

There was an interesting piece in the papers the other day saying that wine is classed as an agricultural product in Europe (ie, in the EU) that any kind of meddling with its pricing is completely illegal under EU law.

Also, the continental wine-growers association (whatever its real name is) is supporting the SWA in this action.

EU law will sink this in the end, I am quite sure.

Now, if Scotland were independent, that wouldn't happen, would it?

Strathturret said...

What part of democracy does SWA not understand?

This was part of SNP manifesto and they clearly won the 2011 Scottish election.

Every responsible body supports this sensible piece of legislation.

Shame on you subrosa.

subrosa said...

Aye WY, that'll be the Comite Vins I mentioned in the post.

When Scotland's independent we will need another tier of government to question all proposed legislation. There's nothing at present.

subrosa said...

Shame on me Strathturret? I don't think so. In all my adult voting life I've voted for the SNP but that doesn't mean to say I agree with every word in their manifestos.

As I've said I'm unhappy with this legislation because it will make little or no difference - until the cost is hiked up enough to be absurd. The 'sunset clause' will see to that of course.

Just last week the ONS put out a report saying hospital admissions had decreased in the past 5 years (those to do with alcohol). Interesting and a fact - not a model compiled by academics.

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