Scotland’s world-wide reputation as a hard-drinking nation is unenviable and not really one we want to carry through the 21st century.
It is a characteristic that has developed over many years and many generations, and it has proved hard to combat. There have been many educational and awareness programmes, but it would be fair to say they have not put much of a dent in it.
So yesterday’s ruling by the Court of Session against the Scotch whisky industry that plans for minimum pricing for alcohol do not breach European law is to be welcomed.
Many Scots pay a hefty price both personally and as taxpayers dealing with the consequences of heavy alcohol abuse.
From violence to domestic abuse and relationship breakdowns, health problems across the spectrum, including damage to unborn babies, absenteeism in the workplace and psychological harm to children at the mercy of parents who overdo alcohol consumption, the true price is immeasurable.
It is a fact that Scotland’s affair with alcohol is cultural – a recent Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that 44 per cent of non-drinkers perceived that others thought they were “odd” for not drinking.
Indeed, the view that someone is really boring “until they get a drink in them” is rarely if ever challenged.
In May alcohol sales in Scotland were found to be 20 per cent higher than in England and Wales – the equivalent of 41 bottles of vodka per adult, with alcohol sales up for the second year in a row, mainly due to people buying more alcohol in supermarkets and off-licences
With this backdrop there can be no argument against tackling the problem, and there is a broad consensus that increasing the price will curb alcohol intake, but the question has been how to implement it.
It has now been four years since the Scottish Government attempted to introduce minimum pricing.
Now in this important health battle it must be clear that there is huge support for Scotland’s prestigious and economically important whisky industry.
But the Scotch Whisky Association have had their view listened to and the decision has gone against them. Their recourse now would be to take their case to the UK Supreme Court in London. Something which it is to be hoped they will not consider in order to bring this long-running stand-off to an end.
Of course there are arguments against minimum pricing, in particular that it will penalise those on lower incomes who are as entitled as anyone else to use their disposable income as they see fit. There are other ways like increasing tax.
But those arguments have been made. There has been a huge amount of research on how to tackle it and of course there are differences of opinion, but some aspects are crystal clear. It must be tackled, and the sooner the better, and minimum pricing is one lever that is available, and now must be used. Action is better than no action.