It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Alcohol is cheap in supermarkets, very cheap when on offer or bulk-packed. Which not only encourages binge-drinking and ‘pre-loading’ – often by minors – but allows problem-drinkers access to even more of the poison that’s killing them. Minimum pricing per can or bottle, as planned by the Scottish Government, would at least be some, small incentive.
Except that the cost of a drink to British consumers is already at a premium, with a report from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association earlier this week stating that 50 per cent of the price of alcohol in the UK is levied in duty, making us the highest taxed topers in Europe. And that tobacco has set a worrying precedent, with ever-higher prices causing an explosion of contraband and smuggling, particularly in deprived areas. And that First Person Sturgeon and her buddies seem intent on damaging one of the few industries in which her nation excels. Still, They Know Best.
That’s why they’ll be lining their lawyers’ pockets with fees paid by English, Welsh and Northern Irish taxpayers – as well as their own – to contest the Scotch Whisky Association’s Supreme Court appeal against their proposed legislation, which thankfully was allowed yesterday. To achieve what? Cross-border smuggling at Gretna Green? Hooch stills in the Highlands? A lift in solvent sales?
It’s no joke, really. In Russia, over the last week, 117 people have been poisoned by drinking bath oil laced with methanol, in the belief – due to a labelling error – that it contained ethanol and would work like moonshine. Seventy-one of them have died.
Why did they do it? Because they’re poor, and problem-drinkers, and they couldn’t afford ‘shop bought’, however low its price. And how has Putin reacted? The President who, two years ago, raised the price of vodka, both to increase tax revenues and combat alcoholism? He has suggested on the Kremlin website that perhaps the state could intervene to help reduce the price of drink for ordinary Russians.
Time, and the judges, will tell if Scotland is doomed to copy Russia’s vicious circle. But if the distillers lose, expect panic-buying at Cornhill-on-Tweed. And a boom in Badedas.