Members of the Scottish Parliament passed a bill three years ago to set a minimum unit price on alcohol in the country. However, the introduction of this pricing has faced a number of delays, most recently following an initial ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that stated the action may infringe on free trade rules in the EU. The advocate general of the ECJ, Yves Bot, did offer some hope to Scottish lawmakers, stating that the move could be legal if it were proven to be the only way to deliver the public health benefits sought by supporters of the bill. With experts believing that pricing has a crucial role to play in the shaping of alcohol consumption habits of the younger generation, many in Scotland see this piece of legislation as pivotal in the government’s fight against alcohol abuse.
Scotland has long enjoyed an unhealthy relationship with drink, according to the government and it is this relationship that they seek to change with the introduction of a minimum unit price of 50p for alcohol sold in the country. They initially ran into opposition from the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA), which argues that it would act as a trade barrier. This claim was rejected by Lord Doherty, a judge sitting at Edinburgh’s Court of Session, but the issue was referred to the ECJ last year following an appeal by the SWA.
Whatever the outcome of the deliberations of the ECJ, there is no doubt that MSPs are serious about tackling alcohol abuse in Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, believes that the preliminary ruling by the ECJ is positive news as it confirms that minimum unit pricing for alcohol is not something that the laws of the European Union automatically preclude.