Recently, in their Alcohol Bill, the Scottish National Party government proposed setting a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland, to combat the health problems associated with alcohol and drink-fuelled violence which costs the country around £2.25bn a year. However, the opposition parties have blocked the proposals, following pressure from the drinks industry. Opposition arguments revolved around breaches of European Union and international trade law.
Criticism of their action has been voiced by health campaigners, doctors and the Health Secretary as it was hoped that setting a minimum alcohol price would set a public health precedent that other parts of the UK would follow. Dr Brian Keighley, Chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, stated that “almost half of all deaths could be prevented by lower alcohol consumption”. In response to the criticism, Iain Gray, Scottish Labour leader, said he plans to set up a commission to look at alternative price mechanisms, such as a local sales tax.
Other parts of the Bill are likely to still go ahead. This could mean an end to alcohol promotions in shops, the imposition of a social responsibility tax, and a duty on licensing boards to consider raising the off-sales purchase age from 18 to 21. The Health Committee in the Scottish Parliament has issued a call for evidence on the proposed legislation and will begin scrutinising the Alcohol Bill shortly.