Scottish government: know your limits

Posted on June 21, 2016

The Scottish National Party (SNP) government has become the embodiment of all the worst aspects of the nanny state. If ever there is a hare-brained, illiberal scheme to clamp down on our personal lifestyle choices, the SNP is bound to be at the front of the queue to implement it. When it comes to booze, for example, the SNP has already passed legislation to introduce minimum unit pricing, so that whatever your favourite tipple, it must cost at least 50 pence per unit of alcohol. Only EU single market rules have so far prevented the law being put into action.

But the latest teetolatarian measure is both odder and potentially even more illiberal than minimum pricing. The idea is to put a limit on the amount of alcohol that any particular shop can sell. As a first step, the plan would require all businesses, from large out-to-town supermarkets to corner shops, to declare how much alcohol they sell so that the authorities can determine how much is being bought and where.

As one commentator told the Morning Advertiser: 'It is government rationing the alcohol supply to the public - one step away from prohibition.' If sales limits are introduced and a premises reached its annual limit, it could be forced to stop selling alcohol for the rest of the year.

Restricting sales in this manner will have little impact on heavy drinking, but it will cause massive inconvenience to regular consumers. The hardcore boozers - the ones for whom alcohol is a significant health problem - will simply hunt around until they find a suitable store to carry on buying. If all else fails, they will turn to black market booze or simply stock up to avoid problems - if the government doesn't impose personal booze rations, too.

And how would such a law affect pubs? Will we find that Christmas is cancelled as bars run out of annual allowance in the middle of the festive season? Will a few establishments stagger on through to Hogmanay only to be forced to tell revellers they can't buy another round till after the bells?

Such practical difficulties - never mind the threat of legal action by outraged businesses - suggest this plan may not get far. But legislative stupidity has never stopped the SNP before.