Minimum prices for alcohol a step closer as Lib Dems hint at U-turn
SCOTLAND took a step closer to introducing minimum pricing for alcohol yesterday when the Lib Dems indicated they may perform a U-turn on the issue.
The change of heart came as a Scottish Government conference in Edinburgh on alcohol abuse was told by an internationally renowned public health specialist that "the world is looking to Scotland to take a lead on minimum pricing".
Dr Peter Anderson, who advises both the World Health Organisation and European Commission, led demands for MSPs to back the SNP's proposal to bring in minimum pricing to tackle Scotland's love affair with booze.
Until yesterday, the SNP appeared to be alone among the major parties in wanting to introduce a minimum price per unit. Labour remains split on the issue, while both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives had said they would oppose it.
But after the alcohol summit – which was described by some in the alcohol industry as a "cheerleading event for minimum pricing" – the Liberal Democrats indicated that they were now open-minded on the issue.
The party had previously claimed minimum pricing would damage the Scottish whisky industry.
They refused to confirm they would definitely vote against minimum pricing if it was included with other measures.
It is still not clear what the minimum price would be. The Scottish Government previously indicated it might be 40p per unit, but delegates at the conference yesterday pushed for 45p or 50p to hit the cheap end of the market.
Liberal Democrat Robert Brown MSP said that minimum pricing "will not tackle deprivation levels that are at the heart of the challenge of alcohol abuse". However, when a spokesman was asked if the party would definitely vote against minimum pricing if other measures to help culture were included, he said: "It is too early to commit ourselves."
The 16 Lib Dem votes along with the two Greens would be enough for the SNP to get the measure through.
All the principal speakers at the event claimed minimum pricing was the best way to reduce drink-related problems.
Scotland's chief medical officer Harry Burns said he had been "an agnostic" on minimum pricing until he saw evidence on how the relative cheapness of booze led to a "mirror image" of consumption.
Dr Anderson told the conference that in Finland, alcohol problems increased dramatically when duty was cut.
He declared that Scotland should have the "courage" to introduce minimum pricing.
Peter Waterson, of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said supermarkets had to be stopped from using alcohol as a loss leader, describing the practice as "immoral".
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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