As I See It
Minimum alcohol price? It’s only the beginning
If brewers and distillers, including not just whisky but vodka and gin too, believe the new law won’t affect them a great deal then they have not been paying attention.
If our licensed cafés, bars, clubs, restaurants and hotels think they are safe because their prices are already higher than 50p a unit, then they need to get out more and listen to what’s happening in Scottish politics.
It is not just the off-trade that is the target, although they are in the cross-hairs this week, the whole drinks and hospitality sector will be drawn into the spider’s web of the neo-prohibitionists, and if you don’t believe me just look what happened to tobacco.
There’s a certain arrogance and complacency from some in the drinks industry that think alcohol is nothing like tobacco and will be treated differently. I can assure readers that’s not how many public health professionals see it.
One only has to look at the very close links between ASH Scotland, the anti tobacco campaigners, and Alcohol Focus Scotland, a similar quasi-temperance campaign to see where public health wants to go.
Read the ASH Scotland annual report and website and you find that not only is ASH Scotland CEO, Sheila Duffy, working with Alcohol Focus Scotland CEO, Alison Douglas “joining up knowledge around tackling tobacco, alcohol and diet/obesity” but the organisations share the same chairman, Mary Cuthbert.
The point is that the neo-prohibitionists are using the same template that the anti-tobacco campaigners developed to introduce restrictions gradually, but steadily until we get to the point that the drinks industry will suddenly be in the minority and on the back foot. You think it cannot happen in Scotland? Think again.
Glasgow built its wealth on tobacco; a hundred years ago in 1918 the Scottish Co-op’s factory alone was producing 24 million cigarettes a year. As recently as the 1980s factories in Glasgow and Stirling were employing over 1,200 people producing 160 million cigarettes a year. First the public health campaigners attacked taxes on fags and advertising, warnings became prevalent and over the years grew in size until now there is no branding at all.
Smoking in some then all railway carriages was banned, the same for buses – first the bottom deck then the top deck too. Smoking on short haul flights was banned, and then long haul flights followed. It was only a matter of time before smoking in enclosed public spaces – including ‘private’ businesses such as bars, cafés and even member-only clubs.
There are more bans coming too, we have them already for cars with children in them (with no prosecutions after eighteen months) next it will be in council housing property.
The technique is to expand the legal interventions gradually, it is called “the next logical step” and over time it divides different interest groups so they can be worn down and picked off.
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) opposed the smoking ban in pubs but was also against any exemptions for private clubs, fearing they would then take business away from public bars and lounges as their smoking customers queued up to join.
This divide and rule tactic of public health campaigners is already working in the drinks trade with the SLTA supporting minimum unit price legislation because its members face stiff competition from grocers and supermarkets.
Sadly it is a mistake, for the neo-prohibitionists in academia and campaigning charities already have the on-trade in their sights too. They have already done away with happy hours and other promotions and are now looking at restricting licences, with the aim to start reducing them.
Sceptical that there’s more to come? Already campaigners want the unit price increased to 70p. Then consider the Alcohol Focus Scotland manifesto drawn up for the 2016 Scottish Parliament election.
Here’s what it called for: increasing alcohol taxes in addition to minimum pricing; introducing prominent cigarette pack style health warnings on all alcohol products; introducing mandatory calorie, ingredient and unit labelling; removing alcohol advertising in public places (including billboards and public transport); phased removal of alcohol sponsorship of sports, music and cultural events; removal of alcohol cinema adverts from non-18 rated films and before the 9pm TV watershed; introducing a national policy to reduce availability of alcohol (limiting licenses); and, introducing a social responsibility levy (tax) on alcohol retailers.
That’s quite a package and while it may take ten to twenty years to do it they are playing the long game and can afford to, because it’s the taxpayer that provides that majority of the Alcohol Focus Scotland funding through a variety of local and central government sources.
Our Scottish government exists to be different and to pass laws to achieve that, so it funds groups like ASH Scotland (19 employees) and Alcohol Focus Scotland (15 employees) who then campaign and lobby their paymasters for more laws and more funding.
Drinks and hospitality are possibly our two most important and strategic manufacturing and service sectors, they make massive exports and successful tourism possible.
At every level they are important to Scotland’s economy. Minimum pricing of alcohol is just the beginning of attempts to rein it in. The industries need to unite and fight neo-prohibition together or they will go the way of tobacco.
Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish Parliament