I FOUND myself very disappointed with your coverage of the minimum unit pricing case in Tuesday’s issue (Alcohol price challenge at Supreme Court, The National, July 25). Given the continuing cry for pragmatic governance and evidence-based policies rather than knee-jerk responses and political ideology, The National is the last Scottish paper I would have expected to see apparently siding with a massive multi-national drinks producer.

And that was certainly how your piece read. There was a lot from the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) and their barrister and almost nothing from the Scottish Government and the scientists who informed them.

Nothing was said about the extensive modelling undertaken by academics in Sheffield before the passing of the act, nor the experience in Canada where the introduction of minimum unit pricing has led to significant reductions in “overall” alcohol consumption. And it’s the word “overall” that is critical here.

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No-one is suggesting this will cure alcoholics and dependent drinkers overnight – that is not its purpose. The truth is many of us are drinking too much. Although per-capita consumption looks reassuring and may be falling, this average masks a worrying trend. If we drill down into the statistics we find that, almost without exception, regular drinkers are consuming more, sometimes significantly more, than the recommended guidelines.

Much of this is fuelled by a “stack them high, sell them cheap” approach by off-sales outlets, particularly supermarkets. Anyone working in any pub in Scotland will tell you trade has fallen off a cliff and that a significant number of their customers (particularly young customers) are already intoxicated before they leave the house for a night out. All of this is a result of alcohol sold at ridiculous prices by the off-sales trade. Sadly, many pubs – which, let us remember are far safer environments for alcohol consumers – have simply gone out of business, unable to compete in a very uneven market.

The spurious use of the Buckfast example is mischief-making. Certainly, consumption of this drink is problematic in some areas but it is a long way from being our only problem tipple. And it is perhaps worth noting that 50p per unit was the figure cited by some members of the Scottish Government when the Act was passing through the Scottish Parliament more than five years ago. I would be astonished if this figure wasn’t revised upwards when it finally becomes law. The SWA has based a good deal of its case on the impact on the poor. To that I would simply say two things. Firstly, it is in areas of multiple deprivation where we see the most damaging drinking patterns anyway. And secondly, if people were drinking in line with government guidelines, that annual cost under a minimum unit pricing figure of 50 pence would be under £400.

The Scottish Government is to be congratulated for its resolve and courage in facing down first the political schemers in the Unionist parties and then the might of big business. A couple of years ago the BMJ described the wining and dining which went into undermining the resolve of Westminster MPs and, ultimately led to their U-turn on minimum unit pricing. So well done to the SNP in facing down the profiteers. As for the SWA, they should hang their heads at delaying this vital legislation for more than five years at an enormous cost to the taxpayer.
Rowdy Yates
European Federation of Therapeutic Communities

Editor’s note: The National’s report was based on arguments raised in court by counsel for both sides and included the point made by the Lord Advocate that the Scottish Government’s strategy is based on expert evidence from Sheffield University.

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Valour of 51st Highland Division should be honoured

THE film Dunkirk is a truly excellent and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The failure 
to portray any Commonwealth soldiers is disappointing, and while much has been made of the “Dunkirk Miracle”, the rescue of 300,000 fighting men from French beaches, many people remain ignorant of the fact (although the story was covered in detail by 
The National last month) that 
as the evacuation was being completed, Scottish troops were launching an attack on the Germans elsewhere in northern France. 

The offensive by the 51st Highland Division on the Somme was only partially successful and the Argyll and Sutherland battalions in particular suffered heavy casualties.

The only sensible option for the Division was evacuation back to Britain. Its commanding officer, General Victor Fortune, recommended an immediate retreat to Le Havre, but this was refused by London due to the Division being under French command and the hope that its presence would stiffen the military resistance of the French.

The French were already starting to blame the British for the disaster befalling their country. The British Expeditionary Force, they argued, was a half-hearted effort and, at the first opportunity, it had retreated. For Winston Churchill, the continued presence of the Highland Division in France countered such accusations.

After a week of further retreat Fortune was finally given permission to evacuate. By then, Le Havre had been cut off and a desperate plan to evacuate the Highlanders from the small fishing port of St Valery failed. Fortune surrendered and 10,000 Scots ended up in German POW camps, often forced to labour in mines, quarries and factories.

We should remember the valour of the 51st Division in France. Ill-equipped and out-gunned, they fought with outstanding discipline and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. The least we can do as Dunkirk takes to the big screens is to use this opportunity to honour their memory.
Alex Orr
Edinburgh

REGARDING Julia Pannell’s Long Letter on Brexit – she omits to mention the most pertinent fact of all: that Scotland voted to remain, by a fairly conclusive 62 per cent to 38 per cent.

Surely the real “assault on democracy” is the fact that Scotland – as the SNP rightly repeat as often as they can – faces being taken out of the EU when it voted to stay in, just as Scotland has so often had to stoically endure Tory governments it didn’t vote for. When she says: “we voted to come out altogether”, the “we” she refers to is presumably the “British people”, whose “will” we are so often reminded has to be “respected”.

Granted, Scotland is, alas, still part of the UK, but what about Scotland’s will being respected for once; surely any independence supporter would concern themselves with the result of Scotland’s vote first and foremost over the UK vote as a whole?

To propose otherwise is hypocrisy of the highest order. Before we even begin to address the “deep concerns over the lack of democracy evident in the EU”, we surely need to address the even more glaring lack of democracy evident in the UK.

I’m sorry to hear Julia has been shoved on the scrapheap but she’s also entirely wrong on immigration. Scotland needs as many immigrants as it can if it is ever to make a success of independence.

Scotland is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants! I do not agree with the CAP but then surely it’s better to be on the inside influencing change, than throwing the toys out of the pram and walking away.

Anyone who wilfully rejects freedom of movement and ideas rarely paralleled in human history has a depressingly one-dimensional view of what Scotland is and what it could be.

I’m personally sick and tired of hearing that the SNP’s “love affair with the EU” cost them seats at the recent General Election; anyone who voted for the Conservative and Unionist Party (or indeed the Labour and Unionist Party, as newly christened in The National) clearly can’t even grasp the concept of independence. Perhaps what at least partly cost the SNP seats is the fact that the Tories spent exponentially more cash on their campaign.
Brendon Griffin
Edinburgh