Feature Alcohol and Public Health

Under the influence: Scotland’s battle over alcohol pricing

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g1274 (Published 06 February 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1274
  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist
  1. 1Colchester, Essex, UK
  1. jgornall{at}mac.com

This week the alcohol industry heads back to court in its latest attempt to overturn the introduction of minimum pricing in Scotland. Jonathan Gornall investigates how it has tried to influence opinion

SUTTON-HIBBERT/ REX

In December 2010, Christmas came early for Jackie Baillie, Labour’s health spokesperson in the Scottish parliament. Over the previous months, she had been at the forefront of a coalition of Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat MSPs in an all-out assault on the Scottish National Party’s attempt to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol in Scotland. Now the measure had been defeated in a 76-49 parliamentary vote, and Baillie and some of her colleagues were given crates of Peroni beer by grateful brewing giant SABMiller.

Some of the MSPs, including Baillie, were quick to donate the beer to good causes. “I was pleased to receive this beer from Peroni but decided to donate it to the residents at Whitefoord House [a forces’ veterans community],” she told the media. The SNP’s Michael Matheson denounced the gift as a “pay-off.” SABMiller, he said, had “lobbied MSPs extensively to block minimum pricing, and this is clearly Labour’s reward for a job well done.”1 2

That kind of thing, Baillie told the BMJ, “doesn’t have any influence. I just thought it was entirely inappropriate so I gave mine away, very publicly. The interesting thing for me is that other MSPs kept it.”

Whatever the thinking that lay behind SABMiller’s gesture, the company’s delight would be short lived. A shift in Scottish politics saw the SNP returned to power the following May with a majority—slender, but sufficient to force through minimum pricing.

Nevertheless, the alcohol industry’s experience of exploiting divided political opinion in Scotland would pay dividends when it came to undermining support for minimum pricing in England. Furthermore, the legal course on …

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