By Rory Reynolds
HEALTH secretary Nicola Sturgeon has laid into opposition parties over their decision to block the controversial Alcohol Bill, saying they will “pay a heavy price” for their actions.
Speaking on the morning that Labour announced they would prevent the bill from being passed at Holyrood, Sturgeon said those who oppose the Alcohol Bill “will have a lot of explaining to do” to communities in Scotland.
Yesterday Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray sunk the SNP administration’s plans to pass the bill, describing the proposal to introduce a minimum price on alcohol is “hugely flawed”.
But Sturgeon hit back saying: “I think Labour are making an enormous error of judgement here.
“They are putting party politics ahead of public health, they are effectively telling the BMA, the RCN, chief constables of our police forces and a growing number of people in the Scottish population that they are wrong.“And they don’t think this is the right thing to do.
“They are on the wrong side of the argument and they’ll pay a heavy price for it.
“I would predict the weight of the evidence for minimum pricing to be overwhelming, but it is for MSPs to decide.
“And those who block these proposals I think will have a lot of explaining to do to people in the communities that pay the price of alcohol misuse every single day.”
The health secretary also dismissed suggestions that the bill would be ineffective in tackling problem drinks such as Buckfast as “absurd”, insisting that cheap beer and cider were the real problem.
Buckfast – which has been linked to anti-social behaviour and violence – would be exempt from minimum pricing under the Alcohol Bill, because it already costs around £7 per bottle.
She said: “Buckfast is already, strangely perhaps, a very expensive drink.
“It retails at something like 75p a unit, it also accounts for less than one per cent of the alcohol we consume in Scotland.
“So I don’t think a policy that targets the majority of drinks that cause all of these problems should be ruled out on the basis that it doesn’t target a drink that accounts for less than one per cent of what we consume.
“I think that would be an absurd way to look at this.”
Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Harry Burns also said that minimum pricing is the best way to tackle alcohol abuse and the issues linked to it.
He said: “At the moment Scotland has one of the highest levels of alcoholic liver disease and death rate in the world, and specifically in western Europe.
“Not only do we have a lot of people dying of alcohol related causes , but we have a lot of social disruption through broken families, domestic abuse and violence in our communities.
“Its really important that we reduce the amount of alcohol being consumed and increasing price the of alcohol is the quickest most effective way to do that.
However Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Robert Brown MSP said that a change in culture was the only way to tackle Scotland’s binge drinking scourge.
He said: “We are clear that minimum pricing is not the answer to changing Scotland’s troubled relationship with alcohol. It’s almost certainly illegal and will have, at best, a marginal effect on those who abuse alcohol the most.
“It’s now obvious that the SNP can’t get minimum pricing through the Parliament.
“They should drop these proposals now so that we can get on with tackling the real meat of the issue, which is bringing about a complete culture change in Scotland in how people view alcohol.”