Legislation was originally approved in 2012 but had been tied up in court challenges until today's (Wednesday 15 November) Supreme Court decision unanimously ruling that such legislation doesn’t breach European Union Law despite initial uncertainty.
The measure was deemed a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” with ministers stating that a 50p-per-unit minimum would help break Scotland’s “unhealthy relationship with drink” by raising the price of cheap, high-strength drinks.
But what does this mean for pubs?
Tackling health risks
Rooney Anand, chief executive of Greene King, which runs more than 3,000 pubs, restaurants and hotels across the country, supported the decision. He said: “Greene King welcomes today’s ruling by the Supreme Court that minimum unit pricing (MUP) can be introduced in Scotland. We have, for a long time, made the case for introducing MUP in order to reduce the health risks associated with harmful drinking behaviour and its detrimental impact on society.
“The potential benefits of MUP are clear. This policy will restrict the availability of cheap, high-strength alcohol, which has been causing the most damage to communities across Scotland without impacting moderate drinkers who can continue to enjoy a drink responsibly.
“We hope the Scottish and the Welsh governments will now implement MUP as soon as possible. We urge the UK Government to look again at the potential benefits of MUP and examine how to implement this policy and reduce high-risk drinking behaviour in England in the near future.”
Reduce consumption in 'uncontrolled environments'
Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) chief executive Paul Waterson also welcomed the decision as a move to stop Scots drinking in unsafe environments. He said: “Cheap priced alcohol has turned Scotland into a nation of stay-at-home drinkers. Some 72% of total alcohol sales in Scotland are off-sales, 80% of this total is sold by supermarkets. When people drink in uncontrolled environments, alcohol-related problems increase significantly.
“Our market needed intervention to bring back price stability. The market could not correct itself – it needed robust government action. The only efficient way of doing that is by minimum pricing. We applaud the Scottish government for its policy.”
However, a theme emerging in responses opposing the decision was that the legislation punishes moderate drinkers and that the desired effects could be achieved by other means. Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) head of communication Tom Stainer explained: "While we recognise the Supreme Court's decision, CAMRA does not support minimum unit pricing because we believe it penalises moderate and responsible drinkers while doing little to support those who have issues with alcohol abuse.
“We think governments would achieve more by focusing on reducing beer duty and business rates to help pubs survive and continue to provide a vital community service."
Attack on culture and heritage
Opposition to the decision was echoed by Scottish spokesperson for Drinkers' Voice, Kenny Alexander, who said: “The poor, the young and the moderate majority are being made to pay the price for the excessive drinking habits of a few middle-aged and middle-class drinkers.
"It won’t be the ideologically driven Rioja-drinking medics and academics who have campaigned for this measure that will feel the pinch but the average men and women that enjoy the simple pleasure of a drink at a price they can afford.
“As a Scotsman, I feel that this decision, which will inevitably drive up the cost of whisky, is an attack on our culture and our heritage.”
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