Giving it a go

Brian Taylor
Political editor, Scotland

  • Published
50p in wine classImage source, PA
Image caption,
Consumers will soon be paying 50p per unit of alcohol

Not sure if you caught the rather splendid discussion on the "Call Kaye" programme this morning anent Scottish Government plans to introduce a minimum price for alcohol, to be set at 50p per unit.

There were the customary deterrent arguments in support of the proposal. No less potent, I should stress, for being now rather familiar given that the plan was thwarted during the SNP's days of minority rule.

There were the customary arguments against: that it won't affect the hardened drinkers, that it punishes the moderate toper and that it, indirectly, puts money into the hands of the supermarkets.

I was, however, most impressed by the caller who said, in summary: "Why don't we give this a try and see whether it works?"

That, in essence, is what Scotland is about to do. For, despite continuing opposition from the Labour Party, this measure will carry. We are in the SNP's majority days now.

Further, the Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has promised a review after six years. If there is no discernible evidence of progress then, it is presumed, the scheme will be abandoned.

That promise was sufficient to entrench the new-found support already on offer from the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives who dropped their previous opposition.

To the politics then. Is there any substance to the often-voiced complaint that Labour is only opposing this scheme because it was dreamed up by the SNP? Because they want to deny the Nationalists their "smoking ban" moment.

Yes there is, to some extent. Or perhaps it might be argued that the vehemence of the opposition is, even subconsciously, driven by partisan concerns.

But that is very far from the whole story. Listen to Jackie Baillie and Dr Richard Simpson. They oppose the measure because they think it may miss the target while other initiatives in the field of education and justice, they argue, would be more effective.

Panoply of powers

Plus consider. This will now become law. It would now be easier, in terms of discussion at Holyrood, for Labour to row with the tide of support.

Is there then any substance in the occasionally-voiced argument that the SNP is pursuing this issue because it helps to highlight the Scottish Parliament's lack of powers over alcohol duty, the customary path for altering the price of drink?

Perhaps a fragment - at least in terms of the arguments which are sometimes placed before the public. If only, Ministers will say, we had the full panoply of powers.

But only a fragment. Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues are much, much more motivated by a desire to tackle a significant health, social and justice problem in Scotland.

They are much, much more driven by medical advice to the effect that this particular measure would be effective.

Setting aside the conspiracy aspects for a moment, I think we are back with Kaye's caller this morning. Scotland is about to try this to see whether it works.