Saturday, 22 October 2016

Back from the dead

Off-trade drinkers in Scotland will have been dismayed by the recent verdict from the Scottish courts that minimum alcohol pricing may indeed, contrary to a previous EU judgment, be legal. The issue is well summed up by Christopher Snowdon with his usual aplomb and there’s very little that I can add.

It’s almost certain that there will be an appeal to the Supreme Court, but if the verdict is overturned it will inevitably be seen by the SNP as another example of Westminster interfering in Scotland’s affairs. It’s richly ironic that, while the SNP continue to have a love affair with the EU, its trade rules stood in the way of their flagship policy.

It’s worth pointing out that a 50p per unit minimum price would affect the majority of alcohol sold in the off-trade, in volume terms. It certainly isn’t something targeted at a small minority of unusually cheap drinks, as often suggested.

To be honest, part of me rather wants the Scots to go through with it and find out the hard way what a damaging and counter-productive policy it would be. It would do nothing to curb problem drinking while encouraging criminal activity in the form of bootlegging.

36 comments:

  1. It’s tempting, true, Mudge, to sit back and smile whilst the Scots forge ahead with this much-cherished project and then watch the fallout. But the trouble is, despite all the problems which you so rightly point out will ensue, they’d never, ever admit to its having been a huge mistake and reverse it – that’s just not what politicians, and especially the tight-lipped ilk of the SNP, ever do. No sir-ee. It would be trumpeted as a huge success, statistics would be conjured out of thin air within weeks showing that there’d been an immediate and drastic reduction in liver failure, or heart disease, or strokes, or cancer (or whatever else they’re blaming on booze at the moment), youth drinking would be “proved” to have gone into a decline, off-sales would be claimed not to have suffered at all and the whole question of illegal alcohol sales would be quietly swept under the carpet. And of course, all the health zealots south of the border would lap up this resounding “success story,” and the inevitable question would arise: “In the light of the huge health benefits enjoyed by Scotland following the introduction of minimum pricing, is it not time that England (and Wales and N. Ireland, natch) followed their example?”

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    1. Indeed, which is why I say "part of me". Inevitably it would be used as an example despite the likely total lack of evidence, just like plain tobacco packaging in Oz.

      The same has been done with cutting the drink-driving limit, which is held up as something that should be followed south of the border. That now makes me extremely unwilling to set foot in the place, as I don't want to be banned from driving for doing something in Scotland that is legal in England.

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  2. Aaaaaaggggghhhhh!!!!! Ice in whisky!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    1. Sorry to disappoint you, James, but my usual habit with whisky is to have one chunk of ice per single measure...

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  3. What drinks would be significantly affected by a 50p per unit minimum price. Nothing I drink comes so cheap so perhaps there is some scope for me to economise, even if such a price were imposed. :-)

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    1. I'm sure a trip to your nearest Aldi or Lidl would give you plenty of ideas.

      But, basically, any bottle of wine under £4.50, any bottle of spirits under £14, any 440ml can of lager under 88p.

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    2. Aldi or Lidl? I use Waitrose myself. Do people really drink wine at £4.50 a bottle?

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    3. Only if it's a genuine offer. At that price you're drinking around 20p worth of wine.

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    4. My wine of choice is Morrisons Italian table wine, which costs £3.90 a bottle.
      https://groceries.morrisons.com/webshop/product/Italian-Red/287221011
      To me it tastes fine and I prefer its relatively low strength of 12.5 abv (considered normal 30 years ago). With a 50p minimum it would cost at least £4.69. for someone sticking to the recommended 21 units a week, this represents an annual extra "tax" of £92 - not insignficant to those on low incomes.

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  4. Time to open a booze warehouse in Carlisle

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    1. Especially if the Scots vote for independence and to remain within the EU!

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    2. They can vote to stay in the EU as many times as they want, but they're leaving it with the rest of Great Britain, and if they ever end up as an independent country, won't ever be allowed to join for the various reasons that they never seem to grasp.

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    3. @Cookie - Carlisle ASDA is right next to Junction 44 of the M6, so very handy for White Van Man picking up stocks and heading north. No doubt they'll be extending their Tennents Lager and Buckfast section.

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    4. "if the Scots vote for independence and to remain within the EU!"

      Not an option that's on the table. Which is why my prediction is that, despite Sturgeon's bluster, there won't be a second Indyref before we leave the EU.

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    5. The very 1st question on Frau Merkels Brexit agenda will be the price of Aldi Steinhauser lager. £3.99 for 6 330ml 1.6 units a bottle, 41.3p a unit. Merkel is a renowned lover of the lout. Scotland ain't getting in the EU if Sturgeon wants to kybosh the lout.

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    6. It's still not 100% certain that the UK will actually leave the EU. The referendum was only supposed to be "advisory", and there is already a legal challenge to May's unilateral decision to implement Brexit without consulting parliament.

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    7. 'The referendum was only supposed to be "advisory"'

      Where did you get this bollocks from? It said on the ballot paper that "the government will implement what you decide".

      If somehow we end up not leaving the EU (which I hugely doubt) there will be hell to pay.

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    8. The exact wording was "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union" It did not state that the the government will implement what you decide.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_European_Union_membership_referendum,_2016#/media/File:2016_EU_Referendum_Ballot_Paper.svg
      If I asked you "Should I have pint of beer or a glass of whisky" would you regard you answer as binding on me?

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    9. The wording I referred to was in fact on the official government leaflet about the referendum. But it was crystal clear - "The government will implement what you decide".

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  5. We are leaving the EU and these people who can't seem to understand that such as Paul Bailey had better get used to it.

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    1. I quite agree that, just as Jaberwock means Jaberwok, Brexit means Brexit. But having taken the decision to leave the EU the details of our withdrawal should be thoroughly discussed between business, financial institutions, industry, University and - above all - parliament. Allowing a single unelected person to use Royal prerogative to set the terms of our withdrawal is the very antitheses of regaining democracy.

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  6. You are quite right to say the referendum result is not binding, but there is no precedent for a UK government to ignore a referendum result. (EEC as was 1975, Scottish & Welsh devolution 1979, Metro mayors at various times, Voting reform not long ago, Scottish independence a couple of years ago although it looks like they want another go at that one) It would be political suicide to ignore a clear popular vote, regardless of whether you agree with it or not.

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  7. Anyway, this isn't a politics blog, so can we please stick to discussion about Scottish minimum pricing? Any further general comments about the EU will be regarded as off-topic and removed.

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  8. Scottish minimum pricing is a political issue

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  9. Of course, but it is a specifically drink-related political issue.

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  10. To be honest one reason for favouring devolution of as much power as possible to local levels is that it teaches the electorate to engage brain before voting. The SNP would seem to be an especially extreme form of this, and I am still not convinced that Sturgeon has all that much control over what her party says or does.

    So, moves to reduce the size of grant they receive from England and raise their own taxes are a good idea, because this will then teach them and their electorate all about things like the Laffer Curve and why independence can be a bad thing at times. Similarly if they want to go and foster a culture of bootlegging, home-brewing and rampant lawbreaking then very well, off you go and the best of luck with this "developing higher intelligence" thing.

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  11. The price differences with English supermarkets won't be big enough to encourage bootlegging. Obviously people on the border will cross over to do their supermarket shop and people travelling for other reasons will probably bring back a few slabs of beer.

    The main risk is the usual health campaign slippery slope - there'll be calls to increase the minimum price whatever the outcome.

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  12. Don't agree.

    Slab of 20x440ml cans of Carling. £11 in England, £17.60 in Scotland.

    Litre bottle of Bell's. £15 in England, £20 in Scotland.

    It rapidly adds up.

    And discount stuff in Aldi and Lidl is even cheaper than that.

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  13. The gamble is this a comment on politics or on point? We'll see

    If Scotland leave the UK but join the EU then it is likely they get the Euro & Schengen. Eire opted out of Schengen alongside the UK, so as to stay in a prior arranged agreement for free movement with the UK that dates back to to the formation of Eire. Scotland would likely need to sign up to the lot.

    Border controls north of Carlisle would kybosh the booze warehouse. Depending what duty free allowance the Scottish government allowed its citizens.

    So maybe best to hold fire on the warehouse until after the 2nd, 3rd, 4th Indy ref. Then maybe after 2nd, 3rd Brexit ref or however many are required to get the answer Paulo would like.

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  14. How would the minimum pricing be implemented? By increasing taxation or by compelling the manufacturer or wholesaler or retailer to increase their price?

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    1. It's compelling retailers not to sell below the minimum price. The Scottish government have no powers over alcohol duties.

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    2. So the retailers will be the main beneficiarys of this. They will loose volume but their overall profit will increase considerably

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    3. And the drinks producers to some extent. In effect it's legalising a price-fixing ring.

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  15. My local Polski Sklep will sell you four 500ml cans of 7% "Mocne" beer for £4. With a 50p/unit minimum price, that would be £7. I thought the SNP wanted to foster European co-operation!

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    1. Increasing the profit of a Polish shop keeper from 50p to £3.50 can only be regarded as a comradely gesture from the Scottish government. :-)

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  16. It is curious that a nation whose main export is 70 degrees proof liquor should be so uptight about alcohol consumption :-)

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