Last week, Scotland’s alcohol problem and how to tackle it was making headline news with the SNP & New Labour unveiling rival proposals which looked remarkably similar.
Minimum Pricing is a key plank of the SNP’s Alcohol Etc (Scotland) Bill which is going through Holyrood at the moment. Other proposals revolve around the regulation of licensing of premises and the sales of Alcohol, but the minimum pricing per unit is the proposal which has grabbed most of the headlines. While this proposal has received its strongest backing from medical professionals, most of the critics have so far concentrated on the harm to the pockets of “responsible drinkers”. I would have thought that any criticism would have concentrated on whether this proposal will work.
Where minimum pricing will work is in making the likes of “White Lightning”, “Mad Dog 20/20” and other cheep drinks much more expensive. Depending on what you think the problem is, this will have two effects. On underage drinking, this may mean that less drink is purchased. However, this might also mean that in order to “finance” drinking habits youth crime might well see an increase. Shop keepers might be under more pressure to sell. With over-age drinking, an addict still has to “finance” their habit, so again a spiral to debt, unpaid bills, possibly crime, leading to possible family breakups, will ensue.
One of the jibes made by New Labour has also stuck, namely why should supermarkets profit from minimum pricing? New Labour believe that minimum pricing will deliver £140 million in extra revenue for alcohol retailers. The UK wide “floor price”, proposed by Scottish Labour similarly does not spell out where the money raised is to go (the Treasury black hole?) with more police and to the NHS being vague ideas. It would be the sensible option for the money to go towards addiction treatments.
The problem with tinkering with the price of alcohol is that for many people, it is seen as a silver bullet for Scotland’s problems. It is not. Minimum pricing will fail because as well as not being a good enough deterrent to drinking, there are no other measures in place to tackle Scotland’s drink problem, and perhaps more pressing, its underage drinking problem. Scotland is a dark, damp miserable place at the best of times. For many people, drink is a way out. We should be looking at why “Scotland” is an alcoholic, before adding to its problems.