Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Alcohol Bill - a missed opportunity to make a difference

Before I get started on the issue of Minimum Pricing, let's for a minute look at one positive thing that the Liberal Democrats have brought to the Alcohol Bill which will go through its final stage today.

Had the SNP had their way, it would have been illegal for anyone between the ages of 18 and 21 to buy alcohol at all from an off licence. That was such an illiberal measure and I'm glad that my party was first to campaign against it.

I think there are some good things in the alcohol bill which will make it onto the statute book - the end of BOGOF offers and other silly promotions. Before I write further on this, I did do a Hypocrisy Test on the ridiculously cheap bottle of Bailey's I bought the other day - and, in fact, it works out at 58p a unit of alcohol, much above the 45p per unit.

If it were just Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon who were banging on about minimum pricing, that would be one thing. The fact that the measure has the support of experts in the field makes it much more credible. The arguments against it, particularly in that it will make it more expensive for the poorest to buy booze, are spurious, I think. I don't get the logic of that when all political parties are more than happy to see punitive duties on cigarettes.

The SNP have come in for often warranted criticism in their term of office that they spend all their time whinging about Westminster stopping them from doing what they want and failing to use the powers that they do have.

Here we have a rare example of them finding a way through using the powers at their disposal and what happens? Universal opposition.

On this one issue, I really think that a deal was possible, particularly as ministers were willing to make concessions, such as a sunset clause.  As I wrote last month not all Scottish Liberal Democrats were happy with the line taken by our MSPs.

I'd like to think that there would be a last minute change of heart, and that minimum alcohol pricing would at least be given a go, but that's probably in the realms of fantasy. The Bill as passed is not going to be bad, but it could be so much better.

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