THE minimum price of alcohol in Scotland is set to rise by 30% later this year under confirmed plans to uprate minimum unit pricing (MUP).

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison announced at Holyrood on Thursday that the Scottish Government intends to continue MUP of alcohol beyond the policy's current expiration date of the end of April.

The level of MUP is also set to be pushed up from 50p to 65p from September 30. 

MUP – which was first introdued in 2018 – sets a baseline price per unit of alcohol in a drink.

Robison was speaking in place of Elena Whitham who resigned from her Government post this week. 

Robison said: “I can confirm it is our intention to lay draft orders before parliament to continue minimum unit pricing beyond April 30 and to set the price per unit at 65p."

She added: "Alcohol harm remains a significant issue in Scotland.

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"It continues to contribute to worsening health outcomes and the decision to continue MUP and to increase the price shows that Scotland continues to be world-leading in improving the health of the people in Scotland."

The proposal will be laid before Parliament on February 19 and MSPs will have to vote on it before it becomes law. 

The Scottish Government had intended to review the level of MUP two years after it was implemented, but this never happened due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS), said if Parliament does vote to uprate MUP, the Scottish Government should urgently look to peg the policy to a measure such as inflation going forward.

She told The National: "For some people it might seem quite a big jump, however, it’s clear MUP is genuinely a life-saving policy but the effect of it is being eroded by inflation and that’s why it’s so crucial the Parliament votes to continue the policy and uprate it from the autumn.

"In addition to this increase in the rate, we need to be ensuring this policy is automatically uprated going forward by linking it to a measure of inflation or to wage rises.

"What’s important is that MUP is linked to affordability which is what influences how much people are purchasing, so we need that mechanism to ensure we don’t have to wait six years for the rate of MUP to be adjusted."

It is understood the Scottish Government would need to bring forward separate legislation to automatically uprate MUP.

Douglas added: "We would hope they would proceed with that as a matter of urgency once Parliament has made a decision on whether to continue the policy and whether to uprate it."

In June last year, Public Health Scotland (PHS) published a report showing MUP had had a positive effect on health outcomes, including addressing alcohol-related health inequalities.

The report suggested  it has reduced deaths directly caused by alcohol consumption by an estimated 13.4% and hospital admissions by 4.1%, with the largest reductions seen in men and those living in the 40% most deprived areas.

It concluded MUP led to a 3% reduction in alcohol consumption at a population level, as measured by retail sales.

The policy came under scrutiny this week when Tory MSP Sandesh Gulhane clashed with the CEO of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, Justina Murray, at a health commitee meeting.

He claimed estimates on the number of lives saved by MUP are under “intense scrutiny” and sought answers from a panel of alcohol charity witnesses on how it had affected dependent drinkers.

Throughout his questioning, Gulhane repeatedly interrupted Murray claiming statistics produced to date were not significant.

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When Gulhane said the evidence around hospital admissions was not “statistically significant”, Murray responded: “I’m here as a charity CEO, I’m not going to start arguing with you over statistical significance. I think you should be focussing on the fact that MUP has saved lives."

Gulhane continued to criticise the fact the policy had not had a positive impact on dependent drinkers following the announcement in the chamber. 

He claimed MUP is not the "magic bullet the Scottish Government are continuing to laud". 

But Robison said the words of Murray earlier in the week encapsulating her feelings "very well indeed". 

Douglas also told The National: "This policy is about the over one million Scots who are regularly drinking over the lower risk guidelines.

"That means we are putting our health at increased risk both in the short-term through accidents and violence but also over the longer term with more chronic conditions like alcohol-related cancers."

Minor updates were made to the PHS report in August after the Scottish Conservatives submitted a complaint to the UK statistics watchdog.

Scottish ministers were accused of “cherry-picking” statistics to portray the positive impacts the flagship policy has had on alcohol deaths. 

Watchdog chairman Sir Robert Chote stated in his review that the findings in the PHS report were “communicated clearly and impartially”, but it found the wording may have suggested to readers that “most or all” of the studies referred to in the paper provided evidence on alcohol-related harms, despite it being just eight.

It added the “at a glance” document published by PHS did not include information about the level of uncertainty associated with the hospital and death reductions.