SNP crackdown on discount alcohol is delayed by a year

THE introduction of minimum prices for alcohol will be delayed until next year, in a blow for the SNP.

Opposition parties yesterday forced the Scottish Government to introduce primary legislation from scratch for its proposals to tackle Scotland's problems with alcohol.

The move means that a plan to introduce minimum pricing by Christmas using existing laws and devolved powers has been scuppered.

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It is the second blow for the Scottish Government on one of its last flagship policies, inflicted by a union of Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats less than a week after an independence referendum was rejected on Thursday.

The Scottish Government had hoped to tag minimum pricing on to the 2005 Licensing Act, which is about to come into force, and make it a mandatory condition for off-licences.

But at a meeting of Holyrood's business bureau, where future debates and parliamentary business are decided, the three main opposition parties said all the proposals would be thrown out unless the Scottish Government introduced primary legislation.

This means minimum pricing cannot be rushed through and is unlikely to come into force until next year at the earliest.

It will also raise further questions about the legality of minimum pricing, which is already concerning the UK government and legal experts because of the possibility it breaks European competition law.

It had been thought that the SNP was avoiding new legislation to get round any legal challenges, as well as to speed up the measure.

Opposition party chief whips said that a major change, such as the one proposed by the Scottish Government, needed proper scrutiny.

Mike Rumbles, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, said: "It is ironic that it is Scottish Nationalists that are wilfully disregarding our national parliament and a key national industry. These are controversial measures that could have a devastating impact on the whisky industry."

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Labour's business manager, Michael McMahon, said: "It's not that we are necessarily against these measures, but we cannot have a sea change like this without proper parliamentary scrutiny."

Industry figures have welcomed the delay.

In yesterday's Scotsman leading business figures, including Iain McMillan, the director of CBI Scotland, Jeremy Beadles from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, Fiona Moriarty from the Scottish Retail Consortium and Campbell Evans, director of the Scottish Whisky Association, wrote demanding that attempts to bypass parliamentary scrutiny be stopped.

David Lonsdale, a director of CBI Scotland, said: "The ministerial proposals currently on the table have significant implications for consumers and businesses, so we very much welcome moves to ensure they are subject to the fullest debate and scrutiny by parliament."

A spokesman for the First Minister said: "The allocation of the Scottish Government's alcohol measures through the various processes of parliamentary scrutiny will be determined in due course when these matters are brought forward."


THE Lib Dems have been accused of having one of the shortest economic policies in history after their plan to reduce income tax by 2p was dumped.

Scottish leader Tavish Scott admitted yesterday the party is no longer pushing the policy which he only announced 176 days ago and it will not be on the agenda for this weekend's conference.

He said they had "lost the argument" on the measure which would take out 700 million from the Scottish budget and will only be re-introduced in the 2011 Holyrood election "depending on the economic circumstances."

SNP MSP Maureen Watt said: "This must be the shortest lived economic policy in living memory."