Being a northern nation, so long as alcohol has been readily available, Scotland has always had a drinking culture. It’s not done us much good either, according to a recent study, Saltcoats and Prestonpans have some of the shortest life expectancies of anywhere in the UK.
You know when our national drinking is a problem when drinking culture merges with popular culture. A search on Google Images for “Buckfast” produces numerous images of “tonic” as well as its namesake Abbey in Devon. In between these pictures, however, include an number of pictures which went viral on social media – including a gift wrapped bottle for sale in an east end off-licence, a birthday cake, and a sign in another off-licence’s door telling prospective customers that there has been no delivery of Buckfast and “not to abuse the staff.”
The Wikipedia page on the drink tells us, it’s nicknames range from the brilliantly descriptive “Wreck the hoose juice” to the rather sneering “Coatbridge Table Wine.” The name “Buckfast” is often associated with anti-social behaviour, as nicknames like “Wreck the hoose juice” suggest – relaunching the policy, Nichola Sturgeon told the BBC “it is shocking that half of our prisoners now say they were drunk when they committed the offence” – indeed it is. However, it is equally shocking that the proposed 50p per unit minimum pricing law would see no effect on the price of Buckfast, which contains 11.25 units of alcohol and would have a minimum price of £5.62 under the new law. It currently sells for around £7. Oops.
“So what,” you might say, “Buckie isn’t the be all and end all in drink related crime.” Absolutely, but it’s a major factor in youth crime. A Freedom of Information request by the BBC to Strathclyde Police found that Buckfast was referred to in over 5,000 crime reports – 10% of these involved a weapon. In a survey at Polmont and Cornton Vale Young Offenders’ Institutions, 117 offenders stated that they had been drinking Buckfast before they committed their offences.
Since this shows that the potential benefits in terms of crime are somewhat exaggerated, this leaves us with the benefits to the health service, and Scotland as a healthier nation, as the sole benefit of this bill. Now, the NHS and Scotland will benefit as less drinking means less drink related injuries and diseases. So a lower cost to the NHS, means their stretched resources can be spent elsewhere.
But who else benefits from this? Drinks retailers, especially the big supermarkets, will see margins increase. Tesco’s own brand cider, currently retailing at £2 per two litre bottle, will increase by £2.67 to £4.67 – that’s a 133% increase. This raises two questions: Do we want businesses to benefit from this? Who will minimum pricing affect?
Unlike an increase in alcohol duty, which would be paid to the Treasury in Westminster and affects all alcoholic drinks, minimum pricing will only really affect the cheapest drinks. Those who buy the cheapest drinks will be affected, and the people who buy the cheapest drinks usually tend to be the less well off in society, those who can least afford the increase regardless of how much they drink.
If this scheme was to fund improvements to the NHS, I would agree with it – the ends most definitely justify the means.
Minimum pricing only affects the lowest priced alcoholic drinksInstead we’ll have a system where fatcat shareholders line their pockets at the expense of those who can least afford it. Now where have I heard that before?