The Scottish Government will be committing a “failure of leadership” if it refuses to take immediate action to increase the minimum unit price (MUP) of alcohol, former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has insisted.
The MP, who is now a member of Alex Salmond’s Alba Party, added his voice to calls for such a rise in MUP – which was introduced in 2018 after the Scottish Government fought off a lengthy legal challenge to the policy.
With alcohol deaths rising in Scotland again, MacAskill said that “bold action” is needed from the Scottish Government to tackle this “growing scourge”.
He has now written to health secretary Humza Yousaf, urging him to increase minimum pricing from its current level of 50p a unit to 65p.
The East Lothian MP made the plea in the wake of figures earlier this month showed that 1190 alcohol-specific deaths were recorded in 2020 – a rise of 17% on the previous year and the highest total since 2008.
MacAskill said: “Not acting would be a failure of leadership on the part of the Scottish Government and I urge the Health Secretary to take this vital step to save lives.”
The Alba MP added: “The Scottish Government must take bold action to tackle this growing scourge of alcohol deaths in Scotland.
“Minimum unit pricing was meant to mean fewer deaths, fewer admissions to hospital and a reduction in crime. If it is to work effectively it has to be set at the right level.”
He called on ministers to take “immediate steps” to up the charge, adding that groups such as Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) had already made similar calls.
MacAskill said he was proud to have been part of the administration that passed legislation for minimum pricing, with Scotland being the first country in the world to bring in such a policy.
But the MP added: “The success of MUP depended on it being set at the right level. The impact of price inflation, in the eight years since Parliament passed the legislation, mean that it is no longer as effective as it was intended to be.
“There is now a crying need to set minimum unit pricing at an appropriate level. The failure to do so will only undermine our efforts to reduce alcohol-related harm.”
MacAskill added: “Warm words and yet another review will simply not cut it. We cannot simply wait for the evaluation of minimum unit pricing by Public Health Scotland which will not report until 2023. We need urgent action and we need it now.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We continue to keep the level of the MUP under review, and will consider all relevant emerging evidence.
A range of factors will need to be taken into account including the impact of the pandemic on the economy, people’s incomes and alcohol affordability.”