The 1st May 2018 was an historic day, we’re told. This was the date that minimum unit pricing (MUP) of alcohol came into force in Scotland. The SNP government spent the day congratulating itself for ensuring that Scotland was the first country in the world to introduce MUP, despite having spent years telling us that Canada had already introduced it, and its success there was part of the “evidence base” used to justify its introduction in Scotland. The other part of the “evidence” was the speculative numerology provided by the now-infamous Sheffield University alcohol pricing model.
That numerology produced some very specific predictions about what MUP at 50p per unit would achieve in Scotland. In the first year alone, it is supposed to achieve the following results:
· 60 fewer alcohol-related deaths
· 1300 fewer alcohol-related hospital admissions
· 3500 fewer alcohol-related crimes
· A reduction of 3.5% in alcohol consumption per head
· A reduction of 7% per head for “harmful drinkers”
So, 354 days to go and counting…
How will the achievement of these outcomes be measured? NHS Scotland is charged with overseeing this evaluation, but the anti-alcohol zealots from Sheffield and Stirling Universities will conduct much of the research. The academic reputation of the Sheffield University group depends on the real-world outcomes of MUP in Scotland vindicating the years of research and lobbying effort they’ve put in to this. The alcohol research departments at these universities have been lobbying for MUP since 2009, so I expect this to be little more than an exercise in the kids marking their own homework.
And hard on the heels of MUP in Scotland comes the announcement that the UK government will produce a new alcohol strategy, and they have commissioned Public Health England (PHE) to evaluate minimum pricing. PHE is little more than a four billion pound a year lobbying group which, since its inception in 2013, has been campaigning for MUP. If Big Alcohol produced research casting doubt on MUP it would immediately be called-out as a conflict of interest. But Big Temperance? They just get away with it.
What is heart-warming to see are the beginnings of the Scottish consumers’ revolt over MUP. Twitter is awash with images of Scottish consumers visiting supermarkets in Carlisle and Berwick on Tweed to buy slabs of beer not subject to minimum pricing. And online sales despatched from England are booming too – Amazon is reportedly doing a roaring trade! These sales appear to be for personal consumption, but how long will it be before White Van Man realises there’s a tidy profit to be made from giving Scottish consumers what their own government denies them?
There are elements of the on-trade in Scotland who think that the health lobby must be thrown some red meat, and if MUP appeases them that’s a price worth paying. But bullies always come back for more. Already health campaigners are calling for a ban on off-licence sales after 8 p.m., separate aisles for alcohol sales in supermarkets, banning new pubs and bars from opening in “stress areas” and the introduction of a Social Responsibility Levy to fund alcohol services. This levy is a tax that would be paid by all sections of the trade, not just supermarkets. Please remember the end-game here, which is to de-normalise alcohol use, reduce sales and availability from all sections of the trade, and achieve prohibition by stealth. It is not about tipping people out of the living room and into the tap room; it is most emphatically not about “helping pubs”.
When you look at the escalation of demands from the health lobby in Scotland just in the past week since the introduction of MUP, it’s clear that whether it works or not is almost beside the point. Minimum pricing is the thin end of the wedge, and now the hammers are out.