Friday, 12 November 2010

Minimum Alcohol Pricing

In a disappointing move, the Opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament have combined to thwart the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol. Their arguments were far from compelling and it is unsurprising that they are being heavily criticised. They have left themselves open to the charge that they only opposed minimum pricing because it was an SNP proposal, with Labour already having advocated this policy in England before the Westminster election.

Having listened to the debate, an Opposition politician actually said that we should not introduce it because there was a lack of evidence that it worked. That is because it is an innovative proposal which has not been tested on a similar scale before. The SNP were even prepared to introduce Minimum Pricing on a trial basis to allay such fears yet the Opposition parties still voted it down.

The idea that we should cast aside an idea solely because it has not been tried before is very depressing. Imagine, if you will, a world where that kind of thinking predominates. Would President John F. Kennedy have pledged that the Moon was humanity's new frontier? Would Martin Luther King have had a dream? Would we have electricity and light? How about roads or cars? Radar? Television? Hot and cold running water? My point is that it is innovation that moves humanity collectively forward and to reject ideas out of hand because they are untested is both pitiful and counter-productive.

Alcohol misuse has become such a grave issue in Scotland that even the British Medical Association (BMA) have weighed into the debate, urging the introduction of minimum pricing. It has backing from the vast majority of health professionals and the police and a significant academic study in Sheffield which modelled the likely impact found huge savings for Scottish society would accrue, both from not having to treat alcohol related conditions in later life and through less admissions to hospitals resulting from drunken violence. It would not only cost the NHS less, it would make Scotland a safer place to live. It is telling to look at where the batle lines are drawn. Drinks manufacturers on one side with Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats and on the other side the SNP, backed up by practically every medical professional you could care to name, up to and including the Chief Medical Officers from all the constituent parts of the UK and the Police.

The other argument advanced was that we should sit back and wait for Westminster to act on the issue. Given that one of the first acts of the Conservative / Liberal coalition was to reduce the price of cider by 10p I am sure I will be forgiven for not holding my breath to see what they come up with to tackle Scotland's relationship with alcohol.

This was a dark day for Scotland. There was a real opportunity to get to grips with this problem once and for all. The Opposition Parties in the Scottish Parliament put party political point scoring ahead of the lives of the people of Scotland and I hope they get their just desserts for this dereliction of both principle and duty.