It is unfortunate that this historic affirmation of Scotland’s distinctive political culture has been marred by so much comment based on near-perfect ignorance of the minimum unit pricing (MUP) measure and the wider strategy of which it is a part. It is truly remarkable that, in an age when it has never been easier to find information and check facts, such huge numbers of people simply don’t bother.
I readily acknowledge that, initially, I was very sceptical about MUP. I never doubted that it was well-intended – unlike some of the more wild-eyed zoomers who managed to convince themselves that the entire apparatus of government in Scotland had been fallen prey to the plotting of a particularly dour and puritanical religious cult determined to render the nation drier than a Tory’s tear ducts. But I had grave doubts about any attempt to change Scotland’s relationship with alcohol through price-based measures.
Where I differed from what was surely a large majority of those commenting on social media in the wake of the announcement that the Scotch Whisky Association had failed to block the legislation is that I was open-minded enough to listen to the arguments. I didn’t automatically assume that I knew better than all the experts whose research and knowledgeable opinions informed that legislation. Crucially, I was prepared to question my own assumptions, prejudices and preconceptions.
The arguments were powerful. The evidence conclusive. The plan both reasonable and promising. But, for me, the ‘eureka moment’ was when I recognised the stupidity of conflicting messages telling young people in particular that alcohol is potentially very harmful, while supermarkets trivialise strong drink by selling it like sweeties. How could we expect children to take the warnings about alcohol seriously when it is being marketed as a mere confection?
I also took the trouble to learn how the measure would operate in practice. Something which woefully few people seem to have done. The Scottish Government’s strategy was published all of eight years ago. It is freely available, readily accessible and easy to understand. And yet, as a despair-inducing perusal of comments on Facebook and Twitter will confirm, there are still any number of people insisting that MUP is a tax that will add fifty pence to every drink and other equally nonsensical stuff.
This is massively disappointing. Part of the legacy of the first independence referendum is a certain conceit of ourselves as more politically engaged and aware and astute than is generally true of voters across the UK. This may be true. But the appalling drivel being talked about minimum pricing suggest we’ve still a long way to go.
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