The Scottish government confounded the trade today by forging ahead with plans to go it alone on minimum pricing for alcohol.

Some flesh was added to the legislative bones today when Holyrood came up with the price it wants all those ‘problem drinkers’ north of the border to pay per unit. The magic number is 45p.

It seems there’s fire (if not firewater) in the bellies of Scotland’s lawmakers.

“For too long, too many Scots have been drinking themselves into an early grave,” thundered health secretary Nicola Sturgeon. “It cannot be right that a man can exceed his weekly recommended alcohol limit for less than £3.50.”

The new minimum price was announced just two days after an independent-ish report by the Alcohol Commission (backed by the Scottish Labour Party) concluded a ban on below-cost sales was preferable to minimum pricing.

The commission – whose members included former Scottish & Newcastle MD Jeremy Blood – also said a UK-wide solution to the problem would be better than Scotland ploughing its lone furrow.

As The Grocer pointed out back in March 2009, if Scotland’s prices get higher than elsewhere in the UK, a lucrative trade in cross-border shopping could result, with Carlisle becoming the new Calais and Belfast the new Boulogne.

The drinks industry rounded on the Scottish government today. Morrisons said the move would punish responsible customers; the Scotch Whisky Association branded the move illegal; and the WSTA said it would hit those on low incomes the hardest.

Even the Scottish Grocers Federation – whose members compete against the mults and arguably stand to gain most from the plans – were lukewarm on the idea, warning that it could boost the black market.

Still, the plans are not yet law. It remains to be seen whether the pricing floor will come in before May, when Scotland goes to the polls. If not, the public may finally get to have their say.

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