CAMPAIGNERS have accused the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) of “shocking arrogance” over its decision to appeal against minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland in the UK Supreme Court.
Alcohol Focus Scotland and SHAAP insisted the move to appeal the Court of Session ruling on minimum pricing for alcohol “beggars belief” and shows they only care about the profits of their member companies.
Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said she could not believe the “arrogance” of the SWA and described the appeal as “truly shocking and saddening news”.
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She added: “In appealing minimum pricing to the UK Supreme Court, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) are ignoring both the will of the Scottish Parliament and the Court’s decision.
“Twenty two Scots are dying because of alcohol every single week. Minimum pricing will save many lives and improve many more. In taking legal action, SWA members like Diageo and Pernod Ricard continue to put their shareholders’ profits above the public interest. When it comes to the nation’s health, we cannot allow the alcohol industry to call the shots.
“It is totally disingenuous of the SWA to say they are committed to tackling alcohol harm when they consistently block the single most effective measure to achieve that. They are borrowing from the tactics of the tobacco companies in delaying this life-saving measure.
“Minimum pricing could have been in place for three years now; three years of alcohol-related illnesses, crimes and deaths that could have been avoided. How many more people will suffer while the SWA delay this life-saving policy?”
Eric Carlin, Director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) also said it “beggars belief” that the SWA continues to challenge the Court of Session’s final decision that minimum unit pricing is legal and a vital component of efforts to reduce alcohol harms.
“They know that they will not win this case in London. Everyone knows that. Meanwhile 22 people die every week. One can only assume that their accountants have calculated that delaying the implementation of MUP will prolong, albeit for a short period, their profit-making from cheap booze, which damages the poor most of all,” he added.
The SWA said it has applied to judges in Scotland for leave to appeal to the London-based court. The move is the latest step in a prolonged legal wrangle over the Scottish Government’s proposals, which are aimed at improving public health in Scotland.
MSPs passed legislation at Holyrood in 2012 to bring in minimum pricing, which would initially be set at 50p per unit, but the long-running legal challenge has stalled implementation of the policy. SWA’s acting chief executive Julie Hesketh-Laird said its intention to continue the legal challenge was not taken lightly and follows wide consultation.
She said: “Given our strong view that minimum pricing is incompatible with EU law and likely to be ineffective, we now hope that our appeal can be heard quickly in the UK Supreme Court.”
The Scottish Government described the SWA’s latest move as “deeply disappointing” and said it is determined to implement the policy as soon as possible.
Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “The Scotch Whisky Association’s decision to appeal against last month’s emphatic ruling from the Court of Session is deeply disappointing.
“Their seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court is now the only stumbling block to minimum unit pricing being introduced.”
Ministers believe it is not inevitable that the appeal will proceed to the Supreme Court.
Leave to appeal has to be granted by either the Court of Session or the Supreme Court itself for the case to be heard there.
“I think the SWA may want to consider that minimum unit pricing was passed with the overwhelming support of the Parliament, has been tested in Europe, and has now been approved twice in the Scottish courts,” Robison added.
“We remain determined to implement this policy as soon as possible, and we’re confident that, like the Court of Session, the Supreme Court will find the policy to be lawful.”
The Scottish Government has consistently argued minimum pricing is the “most effective mechanism’’ for tackling alcohol misuse.
But the SWA claims it would be ineffective in its aims, penalise responsible drinkers, and is beyond the powers of Holyrood.