Scotland’s controversial justice minister, Kenny MacAskill, is this week expected to propose a ban on off-licences selling alcohol to under-21s, in a wave of tough new measures to curb drink-related crime.
Drinks industry bodies are waiting nervously for MacAskill, who believes in a hardline approach to tackle teenage drinking, to announce his alcohol strategy for Scotland on Tuesday.
It is widely anticipated the document will include a plan to ban off-licences from selling drink to those under 21. The legal drinking age in pubs would stay at 18. Proposals on minimum pricing and scaling down promotions are also believed likely.
If confirmed, the move could damage off-trade sales and catapult Scotland into the premier league of European countries with the most restrictive alcohol policies.
“We anticipate a range of suggestions and proposals that will have a big impact on retailers,” Fiona Moriarty, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, told OLN.
She said a ban on off-trade sales to under 21s would wrongly “demonise and mystify alcohol” for young people. “They’d be better off spending time and money on educating young people.”
Students' unions are also gearing up to oppose any attempt to ban sales. An online petition has been started by the group Coalition Against Raising the Drinking Age in Scotland (Cardas).
Alcohol-related crime and health problems cost Scottish taxpayers £2bn per year, the Scottish Executive claims.
MacAskill defended his position in an interview with OLN last week: “We are looking at minimum pricing so the onus would be on the supermarket and not the supplier.” He said alcohol was not just another commodity, adding: “Action has to be taken on how it is priced and how it is seen and laid out within a store.”
Industry critics accuse the minister of putting headlines before sensible solutions. Gavin Partington, spokesperson for the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, said an under-21 ban would create “huge anomalies” and “doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny”.
A consultation period will follow this week’s alcohol strategy announcement. Its progress will be watched closely across the UK as the government in Westminster prepares a separate strategy to tackle alcohol-related crime in England.
Partington said: “Everybody will be watching Scotland carefully. There’s clearly a precedent for measures adopted in Scotland to be carried south of the border.”