The SNP's Scotland would drive you to drink... until they ban it - Brian Monteith

Looking at the perverse priorities of Scotland’s politics – where our SNP/Green government continues to prioritise the Holy Grail of secession to the exclusion of saving our failing public services – one could be forgiven for reaching towards that cherished bottle of single malt.

How much longer will alcoholic drinks be allowed to remain on display in shops if a ban on advertising is in place?
How much longer will alcoholic drinks be allowed to remain on display in shops if a ban on advertising is in place?

Or maybe your tipple of solace is one of those new-fangled gins flavoured with unpronounceable exotic roots found only under a boulder in Papa New Guinea? Or you might even just go for the obscenely-priced zero alcohol of the bog-standard spirits brands because you know you will be driving or have a job interview the next day.

Well, I have a simple message for you. Enjoy your favoured alcoholic relief while you can – because our Yellow and Green political puritans are coming after your pursuit of alcoholic recreation. And they will not be satisfied with temperance, oh no, nothing short of prohibition in Scotland will eventually do.

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Why do I make this surely exaggerated claim? Two reasons; first the SNP/Green Scottish Government showed its hand last month when it launched a consultation on banning alcohol advertising in Scotland, and secondly, we know the route map from the past and current treatment of tobacco by today’s neo-puritans – and the assault against advertising of alcohol products will be almost identical, other than be delivered at an even faster pace.

Typically, in its zealotry – for it cannot be described any other way – the SNP/Green proposals for banning advertising of alcohol in all its forms includes areas where the Scottish Parliament has no jurisdiction (such as broadcasting and internet) and will be comprehensive, including sponsorship, display or sight of alcoholic products in shops and restaurants, their branding and other instances of presentation of foods that include alcohol.

I am not exaggerating to argue this will impact even on the advertising of any Christmas Pudding or festive foods with alcohol in their recipes (as I have known of similar instances under existing alcohol promotion restrictions). The covering-up of the presentation of wines, beers and spirits in not just large retailers such as supermarkets but also on the shelves of small retailers such as corner shops, chippies and petrol stations will require businesses to make a huge investment. Prices will undoubtedly have to go up but recovering the cost is unlikely.

Not only is this a gross restriction of commercial activity but it would also undoubtedly impact significantly on possibly Scotland’s most successful business sector – the manufacturing of beers and spirits, from traditional Tennent’s to craft beers like Brew Dog et al – from blended and single malt whiskies to standard gins and vodkas or flavoured and craft variants.

Scottish life would become unrecognisable and the ability for new brands and new trends to develop would be extinguished.

One of Scotland's successes in the seventies and eighties onwards was to grow the size of the single malt market as sales of blended whiskies faced greater competition from the trend towards lighter flavoured vodkas and rums – while more recently the success has been in the flowering of Scotland’s gin distilling and craft beer production.

Scotland was already the UK’s largest producer of gin thanks to Diageo moving production from London to Cameron Bridge but the still growing modern trend for specialist gins has seen significant investment in Scotland and many, many successful businesses growing from nothing. Likewise the growth of new craft beers has seen the arrival of some world-beating brands after losing ownership of established names such as McEwan’s to the huge international beerglomerates.

These successes could not have happened without advertising.

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Just how do politicians think a new drinks sector or brand name is launched where previously it did not exist without the aid of advertising to communicate the news? How does one company lay claim to offering a particular flavour or other advantageous distinction against a competitor’s brand without the ability to place a display advert or 48-sheet or electronic bill poster?

Beyond the obvious restriction of commercial trade there is the more obvious point that we have politicians considering further infringements on our personal freedoms to make informed choices about what is right for ourselves. The argument is made we must protect children but this is just a cover for removing the information of what is available to buy and at what price, what is new and might replace the traditional – even if it is a product that might contain less alcohol than existing products.

We even have the idea being promoted that branding of zero alcohol versions of existing well-known brands – say 0.0 per cent Gordon’s Gin – could not be allowed because it would implicitly advertise the brand of Gordon’s regular 37.5 per cent strength gin.

It would be easy to dismiss such extreme proposals as the collectivist mission to tell us how we should conduct our lives were it not for us witnessing the mission creep of regulations that engulfed tobacco. First it was basic advertising, then where displaying products in larger shops only, but within only a few years the bans had grown to include every form of branding, right down to plain packaging and the imposition of restrictions on small shops. Eradicating purchasing tobacco is the next step.

Faced with the taxpayer-funded infusion of prohibition activists into Scottish Government agencies and the public sector I fully expect the opposition at Holyrood to be muted and take the shameful approach of settling for some limited restrictions that will concede the principle of the bans – commencing Scotland’s slow decline into complete prohibition.

With the puritans’ minimum pricing of alcohol failing to prevent alcoholics drinking alcohol they are now doubling down to increase their authority further – with the vast majority of moderate consumers paying the price. I shall return to this subject again, but meantime must ask, who is going to lead the opposition?

Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments and editor of ThinkScotland.org