'We want a minimum alcohol price' - Lib Dems in U-turn on SNP policy
The new leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has announced a policy U-turn by saying he will back renewed SNP plans to impose a minimum price for alcohol.
Willie Rennie said the proposal, which was opposed by his party in the last parliament, is necessary to fight Scotland's unhealthy relationship with drink.
The minority SNP government failed to win over the opposition when the legislation was brought before MSPs last year. However, after winning a majority in May's Scottish election, SNP ministers can push the law through without help from other parties.
Mr Rennie plans to seek the support of party members at the next Scottish Liberal Democrat party conference.
He said: "Alcohol misuse continues to blight the whole of Scottish society, wrecking individual lives and harming families and communities.
"I have seen and heard the terrible impact when I am talking to people on doorsteps.
"I believe that radical action is needed, and will therefore support moves to introduce minimum unit pricing in Scotland.
"The UK government has announced plans to ban below cost selling of alcohol south of the Border. This will not apply in Scotland.
"Instead, the majority SNP government plans to reintroduce a minimum pricing bill and I will work positively with ministers on this."
• Stuart Waiton: Turnaround shows a lack of any solid principles
Mr Rennie added: "There will be no quick fix to Scotland's alcohol problem. Ultimately we must focus on changing Scotland's culture of drinking to excess. This will require broad action across society.
"Minimum pricing should be part of that action."
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "I am delighted that the Lib Dems now see the importance of setting a minimum unit price for alcohol as part of a strategy to tackle Scotland's relationship with drink.
"There is a growing consensus for such a policy, including from all four UK chief medical officers, the BMA, the police, the pub trade and some influential alcohol producers."I hope that other parties in parliament see the importance of such a step and back the Alcohol Minimum Pricing Bill, which will be included on our first legislative programme."
In the previous proposals, the government wanted to set a 45p price per unit of alcohol.
Ms Sturgeon had said the effects of alcohol cost Scotland 3.5 billion a year and can make life a "misery".
In the first year of such a policy, there would be 50 fewer deaths, 1,200 fewer hospital admissions, 400 fewer violent crimes and millions of pounds saved in healthcare, Ms Sturgeon told Holyrood's health committee last year.
But in heated parliamentary exchanges in November, Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem MSPs combined to defeat the plan in a 76-49 vote.
At the time, Lib Dem health spokesman Ross Finnie said: "The SNP has failed to make the case for minimum pricing, which is why Liberal Democrats voted against it."
The plan was backed by the two Green MSPs and one Labour MSP, former health minister Malcolm Chisholm.
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