Friday, 11 June 2010

Disappointing… But still time to win the argument

Yesterday I said that during the debate on the Alcohol Etc. (Scotland) Bill, I hoped that MSPs would step back from the debate about details and support the principle that addressing the affordability of alcohol through minimum pricing is a crucial part of the solution to our problems with alcohol.

The debate happened yesterday morning and, while there was general agreement on the need to tackle Scotland's damaging relationship with alcohol, the means to do so were, as expected, the subject of heated debate. This debate focused mostly on minimum pricing- although the lack of detail on the proposed social responsibility levy came under criticism from opponents too. Nicola Sturgeon offered assurances that a price would be named before the Bill process is finished, but this didn't seem to be enough, with the Conservatives lodging an amendment calling on the Government to delete the provision for minimum unit pricing at Stage 2 of the Bill.

Malcolm Chisholm spoke against his Labour colleagues to say that "I believe that minimum unit pricing must be part of the mix of measures and, indeed, is the glue that holds that mix together. Some people have highlighted culture as the problem, but price is a key part of culture. I do not believe that culture can be effectively changed without dealing with the dirt-cheap prices that are a roadblock to culture change." When all other Labour MSPs voted in favour of the Conservative amendment, Malcolm voted against. This is the kind of clear talking and ability to look beyond partisan politicking that we need to see more of.

Bill Kidd MSP quoted from my letter that I sent to all MSPs, while others took time to reply to me prior to the debate. However, it’s always good to get a mention in the Chamber, and in fact the churches were referred to several times throughout the debate. Our role in urging MSPs not to walk away from the need to look wider than the details, however, remains important- perhaps more than ever after yesterday's debate.

The Conservative's amendment which was successful makes the outcome of this debate only a qualified success. While I welcome the fact that enough MSPs were able to support the Bill for it to progress to Stage 2, I am concerned that if minimum pricing is deleted from this Bill, then what is the alternative? This is not about party politics. This is about the need to protect individuals from the serious health consequences that accompany the over-consumption of alcohol in Scottish society. The time for feet dragging and party politicking is over, we need to unite and take bold steps to tackle this scourge on our society. I'll be watching with interest.

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