PLANS to impose minimum prices for alcohol were dealt a potentially fatal blow yesterday as MSPs voted against the move amid claims that the proposals will penalise responsible drinkers and cost jobs.
• Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and Mike Russell in parliament yesterday. MSPs rejected the flagship drink bill. Picture: Greg Macvean
The Scottish Government pricing policy, which ministers have made the flagship of plans to tackle excessive drinking, was rejected at stage 1 of the alcohol bill at Holyrood.
An amendment from Tory MSP Murdo Fraser calling for minimum pricing to be removed from the bill was backed by a margin of 54 to 49, with 13 abstentions.
Labour and the Tories backed the amendment, with the Lib Dems abstaining. The SNP voted against, along with independent Lothians MSPs Margo MacDonald and the two Green MSPs.
The SNP's MSPs were then forced to vote for the bill, even though its key minimum price policy had been gutted from it.
The amended motion was approved by a margin of 98 to 0 and 18 abstentions.
Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems and Ms MacDonald voted in favour, but Tory and Green MSPs abstained in the vote on the main motion.
Health minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted that the policy would be brought back before parliament when stage 2 is debated by MSPs and said that the amendment had "no legal effect".
However, Mr Fraser claimed that the minimum pricing policy was dead in the water, with Labour and the Tories set to block the plans again.
He said: "This is the end of the road for minimum pricing.
"Now it's time for the SNP to put its plans on hold and sit down and work with the UK government and opposition parties on a joint approach which will have widespread political support."
Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson, speaking during the Scottish Parliament debate, compared the minimum price policy to the Poll Tax policy of Margaret Thatcher's government.
He said minimum pricing "fails", calling instead for efforts to change the drinking culture.
He said: "The cabinet secretary, and indeed most of the SNP supporting this, repeatedly talk about overwhelming evidence. "That, frankly, is dishonest. On the basis of a single econometric study, Scotland is once again to be used as an experimental laboratory.
The health minister said the government would press on with its minimum pricing policy.
Ms Sturgeon said: "The amendment that was passed has absolutely no legal effect and it is notable that fewer than half of all MSPs voted for it.
"The Scottish Government will, at stage 2, continue to seek to persuade members to support minimum pricing, which is backed by a huge range of experts in Scotland."