Minimum price could push wine to £6 a bottle
SCOTS could be forced to pay a legal minimum of £6 for a bottle of red wine or £17 for whisky under plans to tackle problem drinking.
Later this week, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether the Scottish Government proposals for a minimum price per unit for alcohol can proceed.
In 2012, Holyrood passed laws banning the sale of booze for anything less than 50p per unit, but implementation has been delayed by legal challenges.
However, The Scottish Mail on Sunday can reveal that if the plan gets the go-ahead from the Supreme Court, Scots could soon face a far higher minimum price.
Sources among the various health groups campaigning for higher alcohol prices have signalled the 50p minimum is years out of date.
One said: ‘To get the same impact now as 50p used to have, around 60-70p is about right.’
NHS Scotland estimates that in 2009, 77 per cent of alcohol was sold at less than 50p per unit. By 2014, this had dropped to 52 per cent. With inflation now at 3 per cent, that figure will have dropped significantly lower still.
There has also been an increase in drinking at home since 2012, which is likely to increase the focus on cheap supermarket drink.
The influential charity Alcohol Focus Scotland says it understands the Government will introduce a 50p per unit price next spring if given the green light by the UK’s highest court this week. Minimum pricing was predicted to prevent 60 deaths, 1,600 hospital admissions and 3,500 crimes a year. If it falls short of that, Ministers may decide the price is set too low.
Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: ‘It is heart-breaking that in the five years since the Scottish parliament passed the legislation we have lost so many people to alcohol who could have been saved.
‘We know the effectiveness of 50p will not be as great as it would have been five years ago, but the benefits will still be significant. The Scottish Government will want to consider when to review the minimum price rate, but that process has to be informed by evidence of the impact of 50p in practice.’
The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 contains a clause that says its success should be evaluated after five years.
But there are earlier review points that would allow the Government to increase the price after only a year or two. And the Government will also be urged not to drop its minimum pricing plans, even if the Supreme Court allows the Scotch Whisky Association’s (SWA) appeal.
Ms Douglas said: ‘If the Scottish Government loses, then consideration will have to be given to alternative options.’
Yesterday the Scottish Government declined to disclose how much taxpayers’ cash had been spent on the five-year legal battle.
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: ‘We are looking forward to the judgment of the UK Supreme Court on minimum unit pricing and, if it is the positive outcome we have worked for, we will move as quickly as is practicable to put the policy in place.’
An SWA spokesman said: ‘The policy puts £4 billion of exports at risk. These exports support more than 40,000 jobs across the UK.’
‘We have lost people we could have saved’