13 Jun 2010

Speech on Alcohol Minimum Pricing 5th. November 2009

There is no doubt about the need to take effective action to tackle the scourge of alcohol in families and communities throughout Scotland. I do not intend to go into the damaging effects that excessive alcohol consumption can have—they have been spelled out by other speakers and in many articles prior to today's debate. I hope that we can rise above our differences on the subject and come together to take effective action.

Although the cabinet secretary and her colleagues have made a well-intentioned proposal—and I commend them on the vigour that they have introduced to the alcohol debate—as we know, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. My concern about the debate today is that the SNP has not addressed many of the concerns and criticisms that have been levelled. I am here to be persuaded that minimum pricing would have a positive effect and achieve the desired result, but so far I have heard nothing to persuade me.

We heard today about the legal issues and I do not intend to go into them, but they undoubtedly need to be addressed. We heard of the worry about the damage to the Scottish whisky industry, not just in Scotland but potentially internationally. That needs to be addressed, although it is but one small part of the wider argument about tackling Scotland's significant alcohol-related health problems. Murdo Fraser rightly mentioned some of the damaging products that are available in our communities but would not be hit by a minimum pricing policy. That point needs to be answered.

I encourage the cabinet secretary and her colleagues to reflect on some specific issues. Michael Matheson mentioned cross-border trade and Canada, but there is a difference between what is happening in the Republic of Ireland and Canada. By my estimation, one could near as damn it fly from Glasgow to Toronto as quickly as one could fly from Toronto to Vancouver. Opportunities for short cross-border journeys are not exactly available in Canada. Recently, along with other members from this Parliament, I spoke to politicians from the north of Ireland and the Irish Republic. The TDs who represent border areas in the Republic said that something like over 60 per cent of all alcohol sales in Ireland are now made in the north of Ireland. Although the cabinet secretary and her colleagues might suggest that other shopping is done when people go to the north, it is

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nevertheless true alcohol is a major influence on that pattern.

The cabinet secretary, I and others who are well paid, have internet access and credit cards, have the opportunity to go online to do our shopping and have deliveries made from Carlisle to Glasgow. Such facilities are not necessarily available to the poorer in our communities so the policy has a prejudice in favour of the better-off. It would create the opportunity for booze runs to Carlisle, not only for those such as me with the means to do that, load up the car and have a day out. It would also create opportunities for those with white vans who sell tobacco illegally in our communities to load up and return to sell the alcohol along with the tobacco. Many such people are also associated with the drugs trade, so we should worry that what we do has the potential to reinforce criminality. We should also worry about the impact on Scottish retailers.

My final point is that the proposed policy will not put a penny towards paying for extra health or addiction services or putting extra police on our streets. Although I favour using pricing to limit the consumption of alcohol, in a country such as the United Kingdom it should be done on a consistent basis whereby there are no anomalies, it is done through taxation and the revenue is invested in the facilities and services that we need.

Even at this late stage, I appeal for consensus. This debate shows the best and the worst of the Scottish Parliament. It shows the best in that we can address fundamentally important issues; it shows the worst in that we take up entrenched positions and will not reach out to achieve consensus on a matter that vitally needs it.