Alcohol deaths: Scotland's minimum unit price policy could make a difference if SNP actually made it work – Kenny MacAskill MP

You’d expect a government that fought long and hard for a groundbreaking policy to want to make it work effectively.

Most supermarkets are stacked high with alcohol that is self-medication for some and too tempting for others (Picture: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

You’d also expect them to want to maintain progress in an area of social harm, especially one that’s long bedevilled Scotland and where another social ill of drugs is wreaking carnage. But not this Holyrood administration, as recent alcohol death statistics confirmed.

Lockdowns magnified societal problems and those with challenges have had them compounded manifold. Home drinking became the norm, though it had long been for many of the heaviest drinkers. But supermarkets piled high with booze was self-medication for some and just too tempting for others.

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A minimum unit price for alcohol was brought in to save lives and reduce the low-cost, high-strength addiction experienced by so many. It was working and lives were being saved. But it only works if you operate it correctly and sadly that hasn’t been done.

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Instead, the SNP simply sat on their laurels having been praised for implementing it in spring 2018 and have done little else to address Scotland’s still difficult relationship with alcohol.

Yet minimum pricing was a policy a long time in the making. First proposed by the SNP minority administration of 2007-11, it was shamefully obstructed by opposition parties.

But the idea – supported by both the health and justice sectors – seemed perfectly reasonable, even sensible to the electorate. As a result, opposition parties paid a heavy price in the next election.

Despite then having overwhelming public and parliamentary support, it still took years to implement. The intransigence and obstinance shown by craven politicians was continued by the Scotch Whisky Association pursuing legal challenges at every level, fighting tooth and nail for the right to sell cheap drink to whoever, irrespective of social harm.

When it finally came in, the rate was 50p a unit but that had been set years before. Ireland’s now invoking minimum pricing but at a rate that would be 65p if applied here.

To make the existing Scottish policy work effectively, the rate must be at least that, as the deaths tragically show.

It’s not the minimum pricing policy but it’s implementation that’s failing.

Kenny MacAskill is the Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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