The price of beer, wine and spirits is set to soar in Scotland as it becomes the first country in the world to impose a minimum price for alcohol.
The Supreme Court in Scotland today backed the controversial measure in what ministers in Edinburgh hailed as an ‘historic and far-reaching judgment’.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has mounted a legal challenge to try to halt the price hike, which it said is ‘disproportionate” and illegal under European law.
But seven judges rejected their challenge and gave the green light for the minimum charge to be introduced.
The decision paves the way for alcohol in Scotland to be priced at a 50 pence minimum per unit.
Michael Gove and Boris Johnson enjoy a pint while they were on the EU referendum campaign trail last year. The price of alcohol is set to rise in Scotland after the Supreme Court gave the green light to the government’s plans to introduce a minimum charge
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was ‘absolutely delighted’ at the decision but critics tore into it saying it will hit poor families hardest.
Chris Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the think-tank The Institute of Economic Affairs, said: ‘The Supreme Court’s decision today is disappointing, but we should be thankful that the legal action has delayed the implementation of this pernicious policy by five years, thereby saving Scottish drinkers hundreds of millions of pounds.
‘Minimum alcohol pricing is a policy that clobbers the poor and exempts the rich. Most of the beer, cider and spirits sold in the off trade will become more expensive under a 50p minimum price, but doctors and politicians can relax.
‘The champagne at their Christmas parties will not be affected.’
Members of the Scottish Parliament passed the legislation fie years ago but it has not been brought in due to the legal challenge.
Ms Sturgeon said: ‘Absolutely delighted that minimum pricing has been upheld by the Supreme Court.
‘This has been a long road – and no doubt the policy will continue to have its critics – but it is a bold and necessary move to improve public health.’
The SWA had brought a legal challenge to the legislation after the policy was passed, taking the case to the highest court in Scotland and the European Court of Justice.
The SWA said there were better ways to achieve the Scottish Government’s proposed 50p per unit minimum pricing plan.
But the Supreme Court unanimously ruled there was no breach of European Union law and that minimum pricing ‘is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.
Critics of the Supreme Court’s ruling say it will hit the poorest hardest – pushing up the cost of enjoying a drink for ordinary Scots while leaving the price of luxury drinks like champagne alone
Afterwards SWA chief executive Karen Betts said: ‘We accept the Supreme Court’s ruling on minimum unit pricing (MUP) of alcohol in Scotland.’
Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison welcomed the decision saying: ‘This is a historic and far-reaching judgment and a landmark moment in our ambition to turn around Scotland’s troubled relationship with alcohol.
‘In a ruling of global significance, the UK Supreme Court has unanimously backed our pioneering and life-saving alcohol pricing policy.
‘This has been a long journey and in the five years since the Act was passed, alcohol-related deaths in Scotland have increased.
‘With alcohol available for sale at just 18 pence a unit, that death toll remains unacceptably high.
‘Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families.’
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, pictured in Holyrood last week, welcomed the court’s ruling saying she is absolutely delighted
She said the Scottish Government would now proceed with plans to bring in minimum unit pricing ‘as quickly as possible’, with the Health Secretary adding she would make a statement to Holyrood setting out the next steps, including a time table for implementation.
Scottish ministers have prepared a draft order specifying a minimum price per unit of 50p, but neither the 2012 Act nor the order have been brought into force because of the legal proceedings.
A small number of countries, including Canada and Russia, and some states in the US, have a form of minimum pricing, according to the Institute for Alcohol Studies.
But Scotland will be the first nation to introduce minimum unit pricing.
It comes after figures showed there were 1,265 alcohol related deaths in Scotland in 2016 – a rise of 10 per cent on the previous year.
Alcohol misuse results in about 670 hospital admissions and 24 deaths a week – with the Scottish Government saying death rates are almost 1.5 times higher now than they were in the early 1980s.
And it estimated that alcohol misuse costs Scotland some £3.6 billion a year – the equivalent of £900 for every adult.
Research by Sheffield University has suggested a 50p minimum unit price could result in 121 fewer deaths a year after 20 years, while hospital admissions could fall by more than 2,000 a year by then.