The Scottish Government’s might need to rethink its plans to impose a minimum price for alcohol after the European Court of Justice said it might not be legal.
The SNP wants to force retailers to charge a minimum price of 50p per unit, but the court said such a move would be contrary to EU law if other policies including higher levels of alcohol duty wouldn’t be effective in reducing consumption. The rules would mean a typical bottle of wine couldn’t be sold for less than around £4, a litre of hard cider would cost at least £4 and a six-pack of Stella Artois would cost at least £7.50.
The minimum price of a bottle of 40% ABV whisky would be £14. You might think that’s low compared to the cost of a single malt, but the Scottish Government’s own impact assessment found that 72% of all whisky is sold for less than the proposed minimum. The industry was unsurprisingly concerned. Today’s news will be seen as something as a victory.
‘This ruling opens the way to moving the debate on and allowing us to address alcohol misuse with practical measures that actually work,’ said David Frost, the Scotch Whisky Association’s chief executive. ‘Alcohol-related deaths have fallen by a third over the last decade in Scotland, which suggests we are already on the right path.’
The Scottish Government appears undeterred though. ‘This ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union indicates, importantly, that it will be for the domestic courts to take a final decision on minimum unit pricing,’ said its health secretary Shona Robinson. ‘While we must await the final outcome of this legal process, the Scottish Government remains certain that minimum unit pricing is the right measure for Scotland.’
Reducing the negative impacts of alcohol consumption is a totally reasonable aim, but the SNP need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Now that oil is below $40 per barrel, the whisky industry is an increasingly important asset.