Britain’s Supreme Court has allowed Scotland to become the first country in the world to set a minimum price for alcohol, after a five-year legal battle.
The measure is intended to bring down levels of drinking and related harms in the country, but is likely to only affect those on low incomes, critics argue.
The Alcohol Minimum Pricing Act, first voted for by Scottish MSPs in 2012, proposed a 50p per unit limit on alcohol, meaning that a 70-centilitre bottle of whisky could not be sold for less than £14.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) challenged the law, but in a unanimous judgement, the seven Supreme Court judges said Wednesday the legislation did not breach European Union law.
Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, tweeted: “Absolutely delighted that minimum pricing has been upheld by the Supreme Court. This has been a long road – and no doubt the policy will continue to have its critics – but it is a bold and necessary move to improve public health.”
“Minimum pricing is so unjust because it targets the bottom of the market only,” commented Sam Bowman, Executive Director of the pro-free market Adam Smith Institute.
He explained: “Now, rich people cause problems when they drink; rich people spend more money on alcohol than poor people, and they actually drink more than poor people – but this policy does nothing to affect middle class and rich people.”
Karen Betts, SWA chief executive, said they “accept” the court decision in a statement, but also took time to highlight how it could damage their industry and exports.
“We will now look to the Scottish and UK governments to support the industry against the negative effects of trade barriers being raised in overseas markets that discriminate against Scotch Whisky as a consequence of minimum pricing, and to argue for fair competition on our behalf.
“This is vital in order that the jobs and investment the industry provides in Scotland are not damaged. At home, we hope to see an objective assessment of the impact of MUP [minimum unit pricing].”