Thursday 8 February 2024

Another turn of the screw

In a move that will surprise no-one, the Guardian reports that the Scottish government are planning to announce a 30% increase in the minimum unit price for alcohol, from 50p to 65p. I have discussed this extensively in the past, so don’t propose to go over old ground again, but I will repeat what I wrote a couple of years ago:

Meanwhile, the Scottish government has released a report on the impact of MUP on homeless and street drinkers. This confirms that, to some extent, all the predictions made before its introduction have proved to be justified – a switch from cider to spirits, increased use of illicit drugs, especially cheap “street benzos”, consumption of “non-beverage alcohol”, an increase in theft and begging to fund drinking, and allocating a greater proportion of a limited budget to alcohol. As the old Russian proverb goes, “Daddy, now that vodka is dearer, will you drink less? No, my son, you will eat less.”

Maybe the policy, does, all things considered, have an overall beneficial effect. But it is certainly an indiscriminate blunt instrument that creates a lot of collateral damage. And, while it isn’t stated explicitly, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that at least part of the motivation behind MUP was to deter and denormalise alcohol consumption amongst normal drinkers of modest means. It is effectively a tax on the less well-off.

The report states that Scotland has experienced a 25% rise in alcohol-related deaths over the past three years, which hardly suggests it’s an effective policy. But is it a case of “ the medicine isn’t working, so we must increase the dose”? The question also has to be asked why a party calling themselves the “Liberal” Democrats are supporting such an illiberal policy.

The 50p rate did increase the price of many bottom-end products, particularly cheap cider, but it only nibbled at the heels of mainstream drinks. However, 65p will increase the price of most off-trade alcohol that people buy. A four-pack of Stella or Madri will be at least £5.26, a bottle of 13% red wine £6.38 and a standard 70cl bottle of whisky £18.20. It will also put a huge amount of money into the coffers of retailers by in effect legitimising a price-fixing ring.

As I said, the fact that the main impact will be felt by normal everyday drinkers is as much a feature of the policy as a bug. It will now not only be “screw the poor”, but screw the middle class as well.

It won’t affect any drinks sold in the on-trade, with the possible exception of guest ales in Wetherspoon’s after the CAMRA discount has been deducted. But it is completely delusional to imagine that this will drive any extra trade to pubs, and indeed it may well hurt them by putting more pressure on household budgets.


  1. Prohibition by a series of small steps. The capacity of some to delude themselves as it doesn't immediately affect them no longer surprises. They're coming for your pint of micromurk, Mr CAMRA Man.

  2. Ultimately if you control the price you control the market, a steady increase of the unit price will eventually decrease consumption, which I guess is what the policy was designed for.

    1. Yes, in broad terms it will reduce overall consumption, but the price elasticity of alcohol is well below 1, so a 10% increase in the price won't lead to a 10% fall in consumption. This is particularly true of heavy and dependent drinkers, who may well sacrifice other items of household expenditure to maintain the same level of alcohol consumption.

    2. Alastair February 2024 at 00:17

      I do not think I have registered properly. My apologies.
      I am afraid the ‘Liberals’ have a history of supporting temperance in Scotland.
      Supermarkets are the winners of course. Most alcohol is bought in supermarkets and drank in uncontrolled environments. If pubs close then supermarkets sell more drink AND the extra cost (compared to England) of drink in supermarket in Scotland is all extra profit for the supermarket chain. It is not as if the extra cost to the drinker is even going to the NHS.
      I have a strong suspicion that some politicians and organisations would be very happy to see some of the many smaller pubs found in Scotland’s towns and cities close. There did seem to be some glee at the suffering of the hospitality industry during lockdown and Scottish hospitality did not get the business rate reduction the English got.
      Sadly pubs seem to be seen as the problem when they should be considered part of the solution allowing alcohol to be consumed in controlled conditions rather than over drinking in homes, mates flats and public areas.
      There was also a, now deferred, plan by the Scottish government to ban alcohol advertising which could have gone as far as removing any branding from beer mats, pump clips, umbrellas etc.and cover drink isles in supermarkets in a similar way to cigarettes are.

    3. That's a very good point, and somewhat counter-intuitive. While MUP is often portrayed as favouring the on-trade against off-sales, in fact it represents a large subsidy to off-trade retailers, as it allows them to sell alcohol at well above the market price. Yes, 10% of the sales would be lost to cross-border sales, but they can make a lot more money on the remaining 90%. It also gives them much more incentive to promote alcohol by non-financial methods.

  3. Another added downside will be more porridge wogs south of the border hoarding the supermarkets.

    1. That seems unlikely to occur on a big scale due to the population distribution of Scotland. The vast majority are in the central belt and are at least a 90 minute drive from the border.

    2. Probably not worth it for a single individual. But Berwick is only 55 miles from Edinburgh, and if a group of friends clubbed together for a monthly trip they could say a lot. Plus most Scots will know someone who regularly travels to England for work, and so could pick up some booze while they are there.

      It's not going to destroy the Scottish off-trade, but it could easily reduce total sales by 10% - see here. Which of course would then be hailed as a victory for MUP.

  4. Professor Pie-Tin8 February 2024 at 16:39

    I hear there's a spot of rain back in Blighty.
    I passed this information on to Mrs PPT next to me but the elderly Thai lady walking up and down her back in expert massage manoeuvres meant all she could utter was a groan.
    Anyway, my holiday reading.
    Ian Skidmore's ' Forgive us our Press Passes. '
    Available via Amazon it's the memoirs of Skiddy, a long-forgotten but legendary North-West newspaperman.
    He was an unashamed piss head, fabulous story-teller even when they were not always true and with a Bishop as his best friend.
    A man who went to his grave with a thirst but in the knowledge he'd lived quite a life through the bottom of a glass.
    A reporter's Runyon.

    1. Professor Pie-Tin9 February 2024 at 16:03

      Reading Skiddy on the beach today I can across this paragraph about one of the reasons why he moved to Wales.

      " The late MD of Bass Charrington told me that the Bass at Ye Olde Bulls Head in Beaumaris was the best in Britain.It was."
      Now bear in mind this was probably 50 years ago.
      But I wonder ...

  5. Soon we will be drinking alcohol from unmarked containers with graphic pictures on them (just like cigarettes) and it will only be available from a limited number of strictly controlled places!

    1. So what? My smokes taste just as good whatever container they come in.

    2. So you're happy to be stigmatised by plain packaging? You're happy to be denied information about your chosen product? You're happy for the tax to be increased every year by well over the rate of inflation? Sounds like a prime case of Stockholm Syndrome.

    3. I am not stigmatised by the packaging. The fact that the government considers me a disgrace merely reflects my attitude to them over more than smoking.
      I am not denied information about my product. The retailer provides that and helps me choose.
      How do you deuce that I am in favour of above inflation tax increases: I am not.
      And the nearest I have been to Stockholm is Oslo :-)

  6. Lets be frank, drinking is very much a 20th century vice. It's hangovers and low productivity. The kids don't drink. It'll soon go the way of smoking and disappear.

    Embrace living in your pod, all alone, taking a mood pill and talking to chat bots as you order your Soylent Green drone delivery.

    Drinking a pint in a pub with people is nothing to miss, in the future you'll own nothing and be happy.

  7. Professor Pie-Tin10 February 2024 at 07:47

    Some people might balk at the idea of spending a week on the same beach sunbed doing fuck all.
    Me ? I love it.
    So far I've managed to avoid the temptation to indulge in pointless physical exertion on a long trek through Ko Samet's verdant hinterland in 100F heat and humidity.
    Not when our Thai beach boy ferries the first of the day's Changs to our unbrella-shaded home from home at noon on the dot.
    Doing sweet FA is extremely therapeutic although tbh having been retired and bone-idle for a number of years I'm not really in need of therapy.
    But in-between short bursts of reading and nodding along to Mrs PPT's melodic jibber-jabber without taking in a word she says there is time to ponder.
    A young fellow walked past with a pneumatic bimbo at his side. He was ripped. The sort of body that comes from hours of gym reps rather than hard manual labour. The type who would be useless in a scatter on the cobbles. Nevertheless he still had the body that even brought a brief silence to the wife's trilling.
    But the thing is he was covered from head to toe in shitty tatts - all barbed wire and royal flushes with a massive bird of prey on his tight pecs that you know will end up looking like a Booby when he gets mooby and middle-aged.
    And you think why ? Most women would already have you mentally unloosening their underwear just by looking at them so why do you want to pretend you're Lemmy ?
    The answer of course is that anyone over the age of about 21 who gets a tatt is a wanker.
    Pissed on holiday with your mates is one excuse.
    But sitting at your desk in the Nationwide Building Society imagining strumpets offering to straddle your face at the first sight of the fanged viper emerging from the top of your M&S boxers ?
    It's like really fat people hoping a Maori motif on their bicep will distract attention from their three pairs of tits.
    As you can see time passes slowly here on the beach and cogitating is the inevitable by-product of being a codger.
    Like why, after a week happily eating Thai street food with no ill-effect, did I wake up for the first time with the shits this morning after Mrs PPT insisted we eat at a " proper " restaurant last night at a nearby resort.
    These First World problems continue.

    1. M&S boxers? I'd say Calvin Klein. On the whole, very accurate description, I'd also mention flaming red hair on an ugly tattooed woman with hump in a neck, AKA "bison neck".

    2. Dear Prof, while your anecdotes can be very entertaining, some of them wander a long way off-topic, so I'm not inclined to approve the latest couple that you have submitted. Sorry!

  8. Professor Pie-Tin13 February 2024 at 12:49

    No worries Mudgie.I'm glad you did. I was rather fluted last night. 😉

  9. The Profs holiday musings are off topic, but very entertaining, if you are a depressed Scotsman, concerned at a rise in minimum pricing, don't worry, it could worse, you could be ripped but have a crap tattoo.

  10. "As I said, the fact that the main impact will be felt by normal everyday drinkers ..." Is drinking every day 'normal'?

    1. Drinking 10-50 units a week is certainly "normal". Whether people have a dry day a week is irrelevant.


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