Today’s news that the Scottish government is planning to increase the minimum price of alcohol to 50p a unit rather than the previously-stated 45p has been welcomed by Willie Rennie and the Scottish Lib Dems, despite the largest impact of this falling on the poorest. Public health as the excuse for intervention in our lives in hardly a new phenomenon, but it’s always a disappointment when this is championed by those who lay claim to the liberal heritage. When challenged about the detrimental effects of MAP, the sunset clause of six years is highlighted as a good thing, whereby if the policy is not seen to be working it will be repealed (the Scottish Tories’ demand for support of the policy).
Yet there are already disclaimers woven into the narrative around MAP, talking about the low impact that it will have and how it isn’t a magic bullet… Given that the original stated price was to be 45p, the price has already risen – when the much-vaunted thousands of lives saved fail to materialise, the obvious reaction will be for that price to rise rather than to repeal the whole thing. Even if they were to accept failure, which as we all know politicians are infamous for, the damage would still be done in the short-term. I’ve written for LDV before about the impact of MAP on the poor so I won’t repeat that here, but the meat of the argument – that the poor would have to pay a higher proportion of their income in order to drink the same amount – holds true. It is an attack on the poor on mistaken ideological grounds, driven by ‘something must be done, this is something, therefore this must be done’ logic, as seen in this Daily Record piece. Sadly, the very valid liberal arguments against MAP, such as that made by the ASI’s Sam Bowman here are ignored as all agree for the sake of political expediency.
Collective punishment for the behaviour of a minority is not the liberal response – and let’s not pretend that forcing people to pay a higher price for alcohol isn’t ‘punishment’ simply because alcohol is not a luxury. This piece by Conservative councillor Simon Cooke sums it up well – politicians’ snobbery against the honest poor as decided by the middle classes who think that they know better. In my aforementioned LDV piece I spoke of ‘the stench of Tory moralising’ – I now feel that I should, if not apologise, certainly change that to the stench of politicians’ moralising. No party is above it, even the pseudo-libertarian UKIP.
So what can be done by those of us who still oppose MAP, when all the parties appear to be in favour of statist nannying? Apart from signing petitions, sadly, not much. England and Wales are planning a 40p price, so at least there’ll be cross-border activity and a boost to the economy as Scots flee southwards in search of cheaper booze! When the coalition is pushing ahead with dodgy policy like the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, there are many battles to fight – in the face of a patronising, paternalistic government, ultimately and inevitably losing the war is depressing indeed.