The UK’s coalition government has announced proposals to introduce minimum unit pricing on alcohol sold in England and Wales. But with it being a devolved matter, Northern Ireland doesn’t have to follow.
Nevertheless, the NI Social Development Minister and the Health Minister have joined forces to announce their intention to launch a public consultation on the issue. Although there is already a wrinkle evident
“I am meeting the Irish Minister for Justice and Law Reform Dermot Ahern in Dublin in the first week in February. Our discussions will include opportunities for minimum pricing on the island of Ireland given there is so much cross-border trade including purchase of alcohol.” [NI Social Development Minister, the SDLP’s Alex Attwood]
“Minimum unit pricing was rightly rejected by MSPs because it is effectively a tax on the poor,” the opposition Scottish Labour Party Health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said in an e- mailed statement.
A point on which Brendan O’Neill would undoubtedly agree
As John Stuart Mill argued 150 years ago, any hike in the price of “stimulants” that is designed to make them less accessible represents an attack on individual liberty. He described moralistic price rises as a “sin tax”. “Every increase of cost is a prohibition, to those whose means [do] not come up to the augmented price”, he wrote. “To tax stimulants for the sole purpose of making them more difficult to be obtained is a measure differing only in degree from their entire prohibition, and would be justifiable only if that were justifiable.”
What we have in minimum alcohol pricing is a prohibition on the kind of boozing that Cameroons and Cleggites consider immoral: the cheap and speedy consumption of lots of drink with the aim of getting temporarily wasted. Such drinking might not be the high point of human civilisation, but it should not be punished and possibly even banned simply because it doesn’t conform to some political squares’ idea of what a proper night out is. This is prohibition through the backdoor, targeted at those whom the political classes consider to be reckless and self-destructive.