ALCOHOL prices in Scotland are set to increase by 30% from September 30 this year as the Minimum Unit Price (MUP) rises from 50p to 65p.

The Scottish Government’s proposed hike was announced by Deputy First Minister Shona Robison last Thursday.

If approved, the policy would mean the lowest charge for a bottle of wine would rise from £4.69 to £6.09; a can of lager from £1 to £1.30; a bottle of whisky from £14 to £18.20 and a bottle of vodka from £13.13 to £17.06.

Last September, the Scottish Government issued a public consultation on its MUP to which 59% of respondents were against any further increase.

Few people in Scotland have enjoyed a 30% increase in their wages or income over the last five years.

Indeed, the last couple of years have seen the cost of living spiral out of control with increased prices for food, energy, mortgages and rent.

In that harsh economic context what’s the justification for putting the minimum cost of alcohol up by 30%?

The Scottish Ministers’ impact assessment on the price rise says: “Evidence shows that as alcohol becomes more affordable, drinking and alcohol-related harm increases, and that one of the best ways to reduce the amount of alcohol drunk by people in any country is by making alcohol less affordable.”

The MUP was first introduced in 2018 so alcohol hasn’t become more affordable.

Has the policy worked? According to a study published by academics at Glasgow Caledonian University in the Drug and Alcohol Review journal, there’s little evidence it’s had any impact on marginalised groups.

The authors conclude: “MUP is likely to have little beneficial impact on people experiencing homelessness without the provision of support to address their alcohol use and complex needs.”

The Scottish Ministers concede evidential difficulties with MUP: “On reaching a conclusion, ministers have considered the available evidence, including the limitations of available evidence, and concluded that on balance the evidence suggests that MUP has been an effective policy intervention that achieved its aims.”

Despite evidential problems, the Scottish Government wants to press on with a 30% price hike, it said: “Whilst deaths increased after implementation of MUP, the Public Health Scotland evaluation concluded that alcohol-specific deaths were lower than would have been seen if MUP was not in effect.”

Public Health Scotland’s (PHS) position has been criticised by some public health academics as being questionable conjecture.

There remains no conclusive evidence that alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland are lower because of MUP.

The actual data we have paints a different picture. The number of deaths from alcohol-specific causes rose in Scotland in 2022 by 2%, according to figures published by the National Records of Scotland.

In total, 1276 deaths were attributed to alcohol-specific causes in 2022, 31 more than in 2021 – the highest number since 2008.

PHS’s position relies on a study in The Lancet that drew its conclusions by postulating comparisons between Scotland and England.

Other academics have questioned the efficacy and reliability of such comparisons because we are not comparing like with like. Assumptions have been made and there is no causal proof.

Experts ask if MUP really works why don’t we see an overall reduction in alcohol related deaths in Scotland?

Our mortality levels are about the same as in 2010. So why a 30% increase in MUP?