It appears the Scottish Government are planning to set the minimum price for alcohol as high as 50p per unit.
Although I agree many people in Scotland have an alcohol problem, I remain unconvinced this is the answer. Some of the issues I can see arising are these:
- I buy very little wine in shops — normally I shop at Virgin Wines, which is based in England and therefore not subject to Scottish minimum pricing. I presume there are similar shops in England selling beer and cider over the internet, so won’t most Scots start buying their booze online? (By the way, if you want to join Virgin Wines, get in touch with me, and we’ll both get some extra wine!)
- It will become even more advantageous to buy wine and spirits on holiday abroad. Depending on what you like to drink, I guess the price difference will often pay for a plane ticket to Poland or other places where vodka is cheap.
- I like to brew my own beer, and it’s already cheaper than buying decent beer in shops. When minimum pricing gets introduced, my beer will be much cheaper than beer in shops. I have a feeling lots of students will start brewing their own beer soon.
- I imagine the supermarkets just across the border in England will suddenly see a huge influx of Scottish alcohol shoppers. I imagine students will hire a bus and fill it up with cheap booze.
- Although minimum pricing in theory should only affect the really cheap brands, anybody who’s worked in business knows that shops will make all alcohol more expensive. If they can sell cheap vodka at £15 (the minimum price for 750 ml of 40% alcohol), the average vodka that is currently retailing at £15 will of course suddenly go up to perhaps £20. The cost to an average household will therefore be much greater than predicted by the government.
Strange as it might sound, I think the minimum pricing is another argument in favour of Scottish independence: An independent Scotland could just have put up the excise duties, but that power is currently reserved to Westminster, so it’s not possible at the moment. Also, higher excise duties would have meant increased revenues for the state (rather than lining the pockets of the supermarkets, as is the case with minimum pricing), but because the state benefiting is not Scotland, the Scottish Government has no incentive to go for the excise duty option. (As far as I know, the only other place that has minimum prices at the moment is Quebec, which is politically quite similar to Scotland.)
I also have a feeling the Scottish Government isn’t altogether too unhappy about forcing supermarkets to operate with different prices north and south of the border, and border trade will reinforce the feeling that there is indeed a border already.