Whisky firms optimistic on minimum pricing issue

THE Scotch whisky industry claims the recent opinion by the European Court’s advocate‑general that ­Holyrood’s plan for minimum alcohol pricing could infringe EU trade law has swung the issue in its fav­our.

David Frost: welcomes finding
David Frost: welcomes finding

However, David Frost, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), admitted that there “could be a lot of life left in this issue yet” as after the final decision of the EU court by early next year, it is to be looked at again by Edinburgh’s Court of Session.

“Then it is not impossible, depending on that decision, that there is a further appeal to the UK Supreme Court,” Frost added.

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He said the trade body had been pleased with the advocate‑general’s finding that the Scottish Government had not done enough to show increased alcohol duty would not be more effective in combating Scotland’s unhealthy rel­ationship with alcohol.

He added that as a result he believed at this stage the legal argument had “tilted in our direction”. By contrast, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that the advocate‑general’s preliminary findings last month did not rule out minimum pricing being introduced.

Frost also revealed that the SWA did not currently have any contingency plans in place if Britain votes to leave the EU in next year’s referendum.

“I don’t think we can sensibly do contingency planning at this stage when there is a lot of politicking going on,” he said. “EU membership is extremely important to our business model.

“However, even if Britain leaves the EU we have no doubt we would carry on being successful as an industry, just as was the case in any outcome of the Scottish referendum.”