I have never seen the point of minimum pricing. Scotland is not independent and doesn't have closed borders. A UK-wide policy on alcohol (perhaps restricting alcohol sales below the cost price) seems far more reasonable. But the Scottish Licensed Trade Association's suggestion that 45p per unit is not enough and should be more than doubled in order to keep pubs open is breathtaking.
The SLTA was one of many organisations to publish the results of a CGA survey in 2009. The survey showed a clear relationship between pub closures and the smoking ban in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. The piece carries the headline 'Smoking Ban To Blame For Pub Decline, Says New Research':
Oliver Griffiths, director of CR Consulting, said, “The decline of the British pub had started before the smoking ban but at a low level. The ban had a sudden and marked impact, accelerating the rate of decline.
“While it is not the only factor in the closure of pubs, the smoking ban is demonstrably the most significant cause of pub closures.”We are not just talking of pub closures. We are talking of a sudden decline in the viability of pubs within a very short timespan.
It is not clear how such a dramatic hike in the unit price of alcohol will encourage customers back into pubs, even if pubs are already charging more than £1 per unit, because it is evident from the research that it wasn't price that was the problem in the first place.
The Scottish Government states that over 20 years alcohol prices in the off-trade have remained static and below the retail price index (increases kept below the rate of inflation). The prices in bars and other licensed outlets have risen but affordability in general is lower than it used to be. In other words there has been no radical change in the affordability of alcohol in shops in the last twenty years and no reason to attribute the sharp drops in pub fortunes to supermarket prices.
Minimum pricing will be good for nothing but creating mayhem in a country where many people can't afford shop alcohol prices. As recommended by the SLTA, it will do communities even more damage, without any likely impact on the closure rate of pubs. The recommended £1 per unit might persuade people to be grateful for a minimum price of 45p, in which case the licensed trade will have done the SNP an ill-deserved favour.
The issue is that the smoking ban prevented most bars from providing effective hospitality to their biggest customers. This is what the Scottish Licensed Trade Association needs to persuade the Scottish Government, rather than encouraging it to flex its muscles in restricting its market competitors.