THE Health Secretary Alex Neil yesterday underlined his determination to press ahead with alcohol minimum pricing, saying he is fully committed to the “life-saving” policy.
With the UK government expected to ditch its plans to introduce minimum pricing, Neil indicated that Scotland would continue on its own path, opening up a major divergence in policy with Westminster.
This week Home Secretary Theresa May is expected to tell MPs that Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to introduce minimum pricing as a way of tackling problem drinking will not be kept.
Instead, UK ministers will seek to enforce a much more modest change, banning retailers from selling drink at very cheap prices in “loss leader” deals.
In Scotland, however, there is to be no retreat on minimum pricing – a far more radical policy which will put up the price of any drinks currently sold below a floor price of 50 pence.
“The forthcoming UK decision – whether they decide to proceed or not – has no impact on the Scottish Government’s approach to minimum pricing,” said Neil yesterday.
“Minimum pricing will begin saving lives within months of its introduction. That is why the Scottish Government remains committed to this life-saving policy.”
Creating distinct Scottish policies is consistent with Alex Salmond’s vision of independence, which would see the political ties between Scotland and the rest of the UK broken while retaining other links.
Last week the First Minister said independence would mean Scotland leaving the political union while remaining in five other unions – the EU, Nato, the currency, the Crown and the social union with England.
The UK government is about to abandon minimum pricing following concerns that introducing the policy would be seen as a bullying measure that would affect those without a drink problem.
The development of distinct health policies north and south of the border will also be evident when it comes to smoking.
Last week it emerged that the Westminster government has decided to abandon plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes, another policy which is being pursued with enthusiasm in Scotland.
In Scotland, plain packaging will be used as an alternative to the coloured designs, which are said to attract young people to tobacco products.
The postponement of the plans by the Conservative Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has raised questions about the role played by the Prime Minister’s adviser Lynton Crosby, an Australian public relations expert who has worked with the tobacco industry in the past.
The SNP MSP Bob Doris said the differing policies were an illustration of how Scotland can take its own political route.
Doris said: “It highlights the stark contrast between the good work of the Scottish Parliament – committed to improving public health and making Scotland a better place to live – and the UK government who are unable to even adopt the good ideas from north of border, despite talking about them for years.”