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Minimum alcohol price? It’s only the beginning

If anyone in the Scottish drinks and hospitality business thinks that this week’s introduction of a minimum unit alcohol price is nothing to worry about, then they are in for a rude awakening.

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  

3 Comments to Minimum alcohol price? It’s only the beginning

  1. We know, but short of actually shooting every one of these sanctimonious puritans, what do you suggest we do?
    The meeja is with them – journalists simply parrot the prohibitionists’ arguments without actually challenging their ‘data’. The politicians love them, cos they get to feel virtuous and get nice headlines in the Guardian. And no major party has the guts to stand up against them.
    I don’t vote for them, but thousands of others will, because they are voting for other things and don’t realise how stupid and dangerous Sturgeon, Davidson and all the rest of the short-termists actually are.

    CS Lewis described the mindset – ‘Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the apporval of their own conscience’. These lobbyists will never stop, because they know better than us. Or rather they believe they do.

    Give us a real choice and campaign for our liberties and we’ll vote for it – the Brexit vote showed that. And the reaction of the elites in politics and the media show exactly how much they care for our opinions.

    • FYI Mr Melville…as editor of Daily Business, far from parroting the prohibitionists I have argued against MUP for some years as a blunt instrument to tackle a complex problem.

      • I appear to have struck a nerve.

        Mr Murden,without wishing to be offensive, one or two honourable journalists (I do not deny there are such) are a drop in the ocean.

        The BBC, Sky News, far too many once-respected newspapers (The Guardian, The Scotsman, the Times, Daily and Sunday Mail, the Express and FT all bear their share of the blame here) spend far too much time critically pushing the party line of their political preference without actually examining the nuts and bolts of policy.

        Whether it be alcohol laws, or Named Person Schemes, wind farms or fishing,farming, or double jeopardy, there never seems to be a journalist or news organ that CONSISTENTLY demands evidence and analysis of politicians’ reasons for their policies.

        Let me give an example: how large a wind farm is needed to replace the 2.4 GW capacity of Longannet (closed in 2016)? How many turbines? Over how large an area? How often do they need replacement bearing in mind that Longannet ran for over 40 years? How much will they cost to install, or in subsidies? What will be the impact on wildlife?

        I have never seen these obvious and basic questions asked by a major paper,and as for the TV, you’re having a laugh. But as a competent journalist, shouldn’t you be asking these very questions? Regardless of your position pro- or con- the closure?

        If you will not hold the politicians to account – and too few of your colleagues will or do – who else do we turn to?

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