This week, the UK Supreme Court found in favour of the Scottish Government and unanimously rejected a challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association to the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012.
This is a massively important decision for the people of Scotland and one which has particular personal significance for me.
The Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament with the intention to set a minimum sale price per unit of alcohol in Scotland. It is hoped that this will reduce accessibility to cheap, high-strength alcohol which causes most harm in society.
Research by the University of Sheffield has shown that this policy would result in an estimated 81 per cent reduction in premature deaths attributed to alcohol. The Scottish Government’s own estimates say that alcohol-related deaths would fall by 120 per year, with alcohol-related hospital admissions reducing by 2000 per year, by year 20 of the policy.
The Scottish Government’s motivation has been clear from the outset – this measure could have significant benefits to public health. With figures showing that it is possible to exceed the 14 units per week alcohol consumption guideline for just £3, and National Records of Scotland stats confirming that there were 1,265 alcohol-related deaths in Scotland in 2016, it is clear that the affordability of alcohol is a major contributing factor to health and societal damage, particularly amongst problem-drinkers. It is in the deprived communities of Scotland where this devastation is most obvious. Rates for alcohol-related hospital stays are 8 times higher for people living in the most deprived areas of Scotland, compared with those in the least deprived areas.
Facts and figures don’t do justice to the stories of hundreds of families across Scotland whose lives are torn apart by alcohol abuse. I grew up in Easterhouse, in the east-end of Glasgow, where problem-drinking is rife.
My own Mother was an alcoholic. She drank cheap vodka and cheap cider – types of alcohol that would likely have been unaffordable to her with minimum unit pricing – every day. Problem-drinking meant that before the age of six I had experienced family break-up, social work intervention, the children’s panel, and ultimately, the death of my Mother.
There are hundreds of children across Scotland who are facing similar issues every day – and it is high time that the Scottish Government was allowed to protect these families.
The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Scottish Government should be commended for their steadfast determination in seeing this policy implemented despite five years of opposition from some in the drinks industry. Who knows how many more lives lost and ruined could have been prevented in this time.
The court’s decision is welcome news and a clear vindication of the Scottish Government’s position on Minimum Pricing. Public health should always be the paramount concern for any government and I am proud that Scotland will now be the first country in the world to implement a Minimum Pricing policy. This progressive and pioneering approach to Government and dedication to the people of Scotland shows why the SNP are now in their third successive term in government.
Ryan is an SNP member and President of the SNP student association at the University of Strathclyde.