The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) believes policies like MUP – and a cut in tax specifically on pints served in pubs, which it is calling for ahead of the UK Government’s Budget in March – can encourage people to drink in the regulated setting of the pub instead of drinking cheaper supermarket alcohol at home.
But CAMRA fears uprating MUP – which is due to come into force on 30 September – won’t have an impact on its own to encourage pub-going and to safeguard the future of hundreds of community locals at risk of permanent closure due to crippling business rates and a possible return of Scottish government plans to ban alcohol advertising.
CAMRA Scotland director Stuart McMahon said: “Our pubs and social clubs are a vital part of our social fabric, bringing people together and helping to tackle loneliness and social isolation. But too many are being forced to close due to crippling costs, with pubs in Scotland shutting up shop at a higher rate than elsewhere in the UK.
“Sadly, the Scottish government doesn’t seem to understand the importance of protecting our local pubs as community meeting places and as a safe, regulated place to enjoy a pint with friends and family, with all the wellbeing benefits that go with it.”
Too late to get them back
McMahon continued: “Once our pubs have closed down or have been converted into flats or shops, or demolished altogether, it is too late to get them back for the communities they once served.
“That’s why we are calling on the Scottish Government to bring forward an action plan to protect and promote pubs as a force for good in our society and to recognise the mental health and wellbeing benefits of drinking responsibly in your local.”
Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA) chief executive Emma McClarkin also wants to see action from the Scottish government. She said: “The decision to press ahead with a significant increase to MUP is disappointing, especially during a cost-of-living crisis.
“The vast majority of people consume alcohol responsibly and this increase will put further pressure on strained household budgets.
“The evaluation also showed no substantial evidence of the policy working. The future introduction of a DRS (deposit return scheme) will also interact with MUP, particularly lower strength products such as beer and likely distort consumer behaviour, which has not been considered.
“We strongly advise the Scottish government to reconsider the increase at this time and instead look towards targeted interventions which have a proven record in tackling alcohol misuse.”
SLTA welcomes move
However, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), a long-time supporter of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, has welcomed the announcement to retain MUP in Scotland.
It has fully supported the principle of a MUP for alcohol and commended the Scottish government in 2011 for its efforts to tackle the problem of “cheap booze” and the consequences of irresponsible promotions in Scotland.
The SLTA said controls on pricing continue to be the foundation for other complementary policies to be effective in cracking down on irresponsible pricing and promotions.
SLTA managing director Colin Wilkinson said: “Scotland has long had a challenging relationship with alcohol and the link between low prices and increased consumption is clear.
“The sale of cheap alcohol has been a major factor in many people developing alcohol-related problems so a proportionate increase in MUP make absolute sense.
“Pubs and bars provide a controlled and safe environment for people drinking alcohol whereas people drinking at home are not necessarily aware of how much they are drinking.
“The retention of, and the proposed increase, in the level of MUP will help avoid a return to the days of deep discounting and irresponsible promotions that were particularly seen in supermarkets where alcohol, on some occasions, was being sold cheaper than bottled water and below cost as a loss-leader.
“The 50p level was approved in the Scottish Parliament nearly 12 years ago so we believe that with rises in inflation since then, it was time to increase MUP from September 30.”