Friday 3 May 2013

MUP in Scotland

As you’ll realise if you’ve been able to see anything in the news today apart from the (reliably predicted) UKIP surge in the local elections, the challenge to MUP in Scotland brought by the Scottish Whisky Association and others has been rejected by Lord Doherty.

Plenty has been written about this already by other people (just check the Twitter feed of Stephen McGowan).  What I wanted to do at this point is think through how this relates to what I said the other day about industry involvement in the policy-making process.

Fundamentally, thinking back to my view of the appropriate role of the industry, this ‘petition’ was an attempt to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.  I understand the motivation – to mitigate any effects, avoid setting a precedent, and take a symbolic stand against regulation – but the judgement basically makes precisely this point: all the evidence and arguments have already been discussed, and the decision has been reached on the basis of a perfectly reasonable process.

The whole debate is structured around whether the action is reasonable and proportionate to the problem.  Notably, the idea of there being a ‘problem’ of ‘excessive consumption of alcohol’ is taken as given.  (There would certainly be some mileage in a detailed analysis of how class is understood in this judgement.)

For the industry – and in fact for England in general – this is a great opportunity.  Although the two countries are not identical, this offers that rare opportunity in policy-making: a pilot project with the opportunity for simultaneous comparison.  We can have a look at how MUP works in Scotland, with the English as a (rather unscientific) control group.  Of course, the Canadian case already offers comparisons between different areas with different systems, but if we’re honest a comparison closer to home will always have more impact.  There will of course be complications, such as the economic recovery potentially advancing at different rates, and the fact that we start with somewhat different longer-term trends in consumption, but the comparison should still be instructive.

But this doesn’t mean that the industry should be preparing all the ways to rubbish the evidence from the Scottish case.  First, some research suggests that regulation might benefit both public health and the industry.  Second – and to my mind more importantly – if England did wait and see before implementing MUP (as seems likely even if this isn’t for scientific reasons), the lull would give the industry the opportunity to set aside their attempts to rubbish the evidence on public health, and instead develop and communicate all those arguments that they have thus far strikingly failed to do.

So here’s to a genuinely informed, intelligent, rounded debate…

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