MUP breached

I was listening to the 5Live breakfast show this week and heard a short but slightly tetchy exchange between host Nicky Campbell (a Scot), and BBC political editor Nick Robinson (an Englishman), about who can say what in relation to jokes about Scottish drinking habits.

As an Englishman, it would be easy to play up unfair stereotypes and talk about the fact that a “fight has broken out” between health and alcohol industry groups, or about what the Scottish Licensed Trade Association euphemistically called the Scots “uneasy relationship” with alcohol. But light jokes would mask a very important issue.

A group called SHAAP – Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems – has brought the issue of minimum pricing to a head. An angry statement from the group, which comprises the Scottish Medical Royal Colleges and the Royal College of Nursing, accused global alcohol producers of mounting “continued opposition” to minimum pricing; a move that it said should be introduced “as a matter of urgency”.

“Minimum unit pricing is opposed by a consortium of multi-national alcohol producers who, inaccurately, are framing this as a health v industry issue,” said SHAAP director Eric Carlin.

Their opposition, most vocally, is the Scotch Whisky Association. “It’s unfortunate that SHAAP continues to call for minimum unit pricing, the legality of which is being considered by the European Court, rather than focusing on steps that have been shown to be effective,” said their spokesperson Rosemary Gallagher.

Is minimum pricing a ‘health v industry’ issue? Not necessarily. Simon Danczuk MP, whom I spoke with this week, said he believes strongly in people being given the right to choose what they do and how they spend their money, with relation to alcohol, confectionery or tobacco.

But we have a vociferous health lobby that are taking their arguments to the home of the EU this week to “make the case for health” at a seminar in Brussels. Will the same mixture of fear and distrust of the public that has dogged tobacco lead to minimum unit pricing in Scotland being steamrollered through the appeals process at the Court of Justice of the European Union? We must wait and see.

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