THE Scotch Whisky Association last night refused to accede to demands made in the Scottish Parliament that it should accept the judgement of Scotland’s highest court and allow the Government to proceed with its plans for minimum unit pricing on sales of alcohol.
Speaking in the Holyrood main chamber yesterday, Health Secretary Shona Robison said she was limited in what she could say due to Parliamentary rules on cases that were still before the courts – the Association has the right to ask Scotland’s top judges for permission to appeal against their verdict to the UK Supreme Court in London.
The minister asked that the Association stop any further court action, saying: “While we respect the right of the Scotch Whisky Association to seek permission to appeal the judgement, I hope they will accept it, enabling us to get on with his life-saving policy.”
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The Association’s chief executive, David Frost, is resigning to become special adviser to UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (see P.15) and it is not known how this will affect the group’s stance on MUP.
However, a spokesperson for the Association last night told The National: “We haven’t reached a decision yet. There’s a lot to discuss with our legal advisers and members.”
The Health Secretary was replying to a question by James Dornan, the SNP MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, who asked what the Government would do following the Court of Session decision.
The minister replied: “The Scottish Government intends to implement minimum unit pricing as soon as possible – the order bringing minimum pricing in must first be laid in draft in the Scottish Parliament for approval before it can be made by Scottish ministers.”
Under the plan for MUP, a price of 50p per unit of alcohol would be set, taking a bottle of spirits to at least £14, but also making strong cheap cider and other wine-based drinks more expensive as they are deemed to be the ‘drink of choice’ for problem drinkers.
The MUP policy was overwhelmingly backed by the Scottish Parliament four years ago, and has the strong support of the medical profession, but the Scotch Whisky Association and others in the drinks industry went to court claiming it was in breach of European trade law. Last week the Court of Session ruled that did it not breach European law.
Robison added: “Just today we have seen the publication of alcohol-related hospital statistics which show that the rate of admissions remains four times higher than it was in the early 1980s, adding further to the need for this life-saving policy.”