Tuesday 7 June 2011

Strange, strange bedfellows

Via Dick Puddlecote, who got it via Freedom2Choose Scotland, I am left reeling in disbelief at the venality and rank stupidity of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association who have called for huge increases in the price of alcohol.

Supermarkets would be forced to charge a minimum of £10 for a bottle of wine under plans outlined by Scotland's pub bosses yesterday.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) has urged ministers to dramatically hike alcohol in a bid to save bars from closure.

Its proposed £1 a unit 'minimum price' would send bills soaring for families. A can of standard lager would cost at least £1.76 and a bottle of whisky would rise to £28.

Now, I don't live in Scotland and, as things stand, it looks like I never will, but does the SLTA really believe that the way to draw drinkers into their boozers is to shaft them with extortionate drinks prices at the off-license? This bone-headed proposal has to be the most transparent attempt to co-opt temperance rhetoric for commercial profit since Coca-Cola came out in favour of Prohibition.

It's always been obvious that once a minimum price was set, it would rise ever upwards until alcohol was unaffordable to most people. Earlier in the year, I commented that:

With the principle now in place that the state has the right to decide how much a product should cost, there will now be a continuous campaign to create a minimum price per unit. Once that it done, every scare story about 'Booze Britain'—whether true or not—will be accompanied with a squeal from fake charities to increase that minimum price. Forever.

What I didn't expect was for the demands for a higher minimum price to arrive before the legislation has even been put before parliament, let alone that it would come from the a faction of the drinks industry.

Here we have yet another interest group that thinks it can save its own skin by throwing its customers under the prohibitionist steam-roller. It really is pathetic the way the pub industry is trying to portray their grog-shops as some sort health club these days. According to the SLTA...

"the only safe environment for the consumption of alcohol is within our licensed premises." 

Nothing cynical or self-serving about any of that, is there? And, actually, I take issue with the idea that it is safer to drink in a crowded room full of drunk strangers than it is to drink at home in front of the telly.

And you can save all this social responsibility clap-trap while you're about it. This is a scene repeated in every pub I go to...

"Vodka and tonic, please."


"Yeah, go on then."

I'm not complaining about this. You hardly need to twist my arm to get me to order a double and some of those drunk strangers are lovely people, but pubs are not community centres and they are not there to promote healthy living. Anyone who tries to portray them as such is heading for a fall when the temperance nuts point out the disparity between the myth and the reality. You're the pub industry, for God's sake. You sell a known "carcinogen" and "poison" as far as these people are concerned. Do you really think you can be friends with them?

And how about this sanctimonious twaddle from the SLTA website?

The cost of alcohol abuse to Scotland is simply unsustainable in economic and social terms and the newly appointed first Minister has already pledged to re-introduce legislation to bring in minimum pricing, as a priority...

Reports from Childline and other leading children’s charities have long highlighted the cost to our families when alcohol is widely abused in Scottish homes and the new parliament offers the chance to effect serious changes, and everyone involved has been invited to contact their MSP’s to demand this change. 

Look at the compassion! Can you see their furrows of worry? Won't somebody please think of the children? I can just picture these guys holding hands with Don Shenker as they frolic in a meadow. But wait, what's this? Don Shenker has turned around, stabbed them in the back and is running off laughing maniacally. Who could have seen that coming?

The SLTA even has a special website where they lobby to get their competition closed down display their deep concern about alcohol abuse. It's called Level the Playing Field. Does that phrase ring any bells? It should, because it's exactly the same phrase used when the anti-smoking lobby demanded that there could be no exemptions to the smoking ban. It is also the rallying cry of every self-interested protectionist lobby group in history.

As I have said before, there is no way of levelling the playing field between the off-trade and the on-trade because they provide two completely different services. The off-trade sells alcohol. The on-trade sells an experience and an environment. The public understands that the two are different which is why we have traditionally been happy to pay significantly more for a drink in a pub than for a can of lager in a shop.

Since 2006, however, the experience of being in a pub has become much less pleasant for a large minority—and frequently a majority—of Scottish pub-goers. It has, indeed, become so unpleasant and pointless to be in a place where a drink can't be combined with a smoke that many of these people have chosen to experience it much less often, if at all.

In fairness to the SLTA, they have never denied the devastating effect of the smoking ban. They opposed it at the time and they continue to call for it to be amended.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association said the law change had resulted in the closure of hundreds of pubs and the loss of thousands of jobs.

Its chief executive, Paul Waterson, said the predicted upturn in new customers attracted by smoke-free pubs had "simply not materialised".

It goes without saying that the SLTA aren't saying this because they're keen defenders of civil liberties or property right. As with all industry lobbyists, they're worried about their bottom line and the smoking ban has—contrary to the routine lies of the tobacco control freaks—been very bad for business.

But even if we accept that opportunism goes with the territory for corporate lobbyists, the SLTA's attempts to punished drinkers—ie. their own customers—for exercising free choice is particularly loathsome. Do they really think we're going to reward them for treating us like this?

You cannot bully people into going where they don't want to go. Even if the price of a supermarket pint was the same as a pint from the pub, many people would still rather drink at home with a cigarette than go out and drink in the street—which, for them, is what the 'pub experience' now consists of.

As Belinda says, the prospects of minimum pricing working while Scotland shares a border with England are nil. Although the thought of rum-runners and bootleggers hurtling up the A1 is an amusing one, the sad truth is that the Scots will then appeal to the 'level playing field' and demand that the rest of the UK follows suit. Which, knowing the greed and cowardice of the political class, is exactly what will happen.

Is there any aspect of the pub debate that is not a cess-pool of cant and hypocrisy? If I see one more politician who voted for the smoking ban crying crocodile tears about the state of the pub industry, I may throw up. CAMRA are no better, climbing into bed with both the anti-smoking brigade and the temperance lobby in their crusade against any pleasure that doesn't appeal to overweight, middle-aged Jethro Tull fans. Alcohol Concern are, it goes without saying, paid shills and neo-prohibitionists whose world would fall apart if they told the truth for one day. The pub industry, almost to a man, switched sides on the smoking ban as soon as they realised that exemptions for private members' clubs would adversely affect their business. And the SLTA, one of the few groups to have taken a consistent stand against the ban, now wants to torment their customers until they take their rightful place standing outside empty pubs in the rain.

A plague on all their houses. It's got to the stage where I'm now officially on the side of Tesco's. How the hell did that happen?


Anonymous said...

Now then....where DID I put that recipe for potato 'wine'? I must have it somewhere.......

Anonymous said...

I quite agree with you Junican.

It's time to bypass the lot of them.

Brewing was one of those home skills and should be again, it would serve them right for messing us about.

I don't have a recipe for potato wine, but I do have an excellent one for parsnip, any good?


Curmudgeon said...

Hey, stop picking on overweight, middle-aged Jethro Tull fans!

Curmudgeon said...

If you increased the price of off-trade alcohol, but kept the price the same in the on-trade, it wouldn't necessarily lead to a single extra penny being spent in pubs, as there are numerous reasons for the ongoing shift from on- to off-trade, most of which are nothing to do with price. See this post from a couple of years ago.

Incidentally, my local Tesco are currently selling 500ml bottles of Courage Best (3.8% ABV) for £1.89, which effectively IS £1 a unit.

Anonymous said...

It can't be done, because of homebrewing and home wine making.

Bill Gibson said...

Ironic in a way, that the SLTA turn to the Dutch Bar Owners for advice on the Smoking Ban then proceed to back Minimum Pricing when it was a judgement in the Dutch Courts that gives a presidence that such actions are illegal under EU Law.


I met with the President elect from the SLTA this morning when he claimed that the figures had been taken out of context. Unfortunately, the organisation still supports the Scottish Government even although I pointed out to him that such measures were considered illegal.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to free trade and the idea of market setting its price through constant competition and marketing efforts. Why must everything be price controlled - is this Soviet Union and more Five Year Planning or the alleged free-market should be the deciding factor.

nisakiman said...

"Vodka and tonic, please."


"Yeah, go on then."

Only in the parsimonious UK would you have that scenario. Where I am, a standard measure is more than a UK double. Serve up a UK single measure to a local here and he'd walk out of the bar in disgust. And never come back.

Truly, the UK is beyond redemption.

Bill Gibson said...

Scotland has such an abundance of water


In measures described last night as "arrant nonsense", some training companies preparing staff for the new laws have warned the traditional prompt may be deemed irresponsible.

Instead, bar staff are being advised it would be better simply to ask "what would you like?", or "what can I do for you?"

It is also understood that trainers are telling staff that if a drinker is looking for a refill, he should be given a glass of water.

Anonymous said...

"overweight, middle-aged Jethro Tull fans"

There's a strip in Viz called "The Real Ale Twats" :-)

Excellent, scathing post. Inevitably, we'll inherit the laws test-run by that other country.

Is Buckfast wine? If so, there'll be a revolution in the offing.

Ian B said...

Excellent post, except the Jethro Tull thing, which is rather cruel. I've got some Tull albums. And long hair and even a beard. But I'm not a real ale twat. I think.

But in a nation which is on the verge of setting up the Progressives' two century old dream- an overt, genuine Ministry Of Public Morals with no limit to its remit- on the back of this ludicrous moral panic about childrens' clothing and the increasingly wearisome paedohysteria- all one can really say is that we're in for some very hard times ahead.

Either this is the official death of the last remnants of liberal society, or it's the last gasp of puritanism that will crash in a great liberal reaction at some future point.

There's no way to tell. But things don't look so good right now, and my personal outlook is pessimistic. I hope I am wrong.

Ian B said...

The training of bar staff as moral guardians is also very redolent of the American style, which is really par for the course as the USA is the ideological heartland of all this bullshit.

James Higham said...

With the principle now in place that the state has the right to decide how much a product should cost, there will now be a continuous campaign to create a minimum price per unit.

It's near impossible for the impecunious to afford any sort of alcohol, even cheap plonk. Dire situation.

David C said...

Great post! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

HEY! Chris! Saw a comment on a Daily Mail article about smoking mothers tonight from....guess who? Rollo Tommasi. "Bangkok, Thailand".

Anonymous said...

Further, I knew that I had seen RT recently, but could not put my finger on it.

On Leg Iron, would you believe!

"""PT Barnum said...


"A fantastic idea... and put down the rest who don't have the traceable markers. [...] Dogs in public are like cigarettes in public... A health hazard and environmental menace.

- Rollo Tommasi, Bangkok, Thailand, 24/4/2011 4:54"""

So that's yourself, Frank Davis, Leg Iron, smoking stuff on the Mail...Is he also in Australia, NZ, USA?

Anonymous said...

But wait! I err. The LI RT was spelt 'Tomasi' and not 'Tommasi'. I seems that there is 'Tomasi' in Thailand who is a pop singer or something, and it is to the pop singer........oh what the hell! What does it matter?

Fredrik Eich said...

Alex Salmond, was on woman's hour just now, endlessly repeating the mantra that booze is cheaper than water. There is a simple solution for that, just introduce a minimum unit price for water, it wouldn't bother me because I never touch the stuff (unless it's mixed with coffee or booze). He also wants to get rid of sectarianism with five year prison terms for crimes such as singing sectarian songs at football matches. Five years in prison for singing a song, sounds reasonable to me.
Still, his neo-prohibitionist agenda will be easier to support with the help of Scottish publicans.

Anonymous said...

Las bit re Rollo. Frank Davis thinks that his IP address may be Edinburgh - so if it is the same person, he is pretending to be from Bangkok. Nice one, Rollo!

@ Fredrik.
And so we see another untended consequence of the smoking ban - swingeing penalties for trivial offences. Got away with it once - why not use it again?

Fredrik Eich said...

BTW I asked Rollo on VGIF (in a round a about sort of way) if he was the same Rollo from the daily mail and he said that he was not. I believe him. The other Rollo has a different style but I wanted to make sure!

Anonymous said...


It is all very odd.
There is a Rollo Tomasi (one 's')who is into pop music and who seems to be based in Bangkok, but may not be.
There is also a Rollo Tomassi (two 's'es), said to be based in Bangkok, who comments here and there re smoking.

But I agree. It really does not matter - for all we know, Debo Arno may also be commenting here and there under an alias.

It annoys me sometimes when I see a comment headed up 'Dr. X', or 'XXX MP', or 'Sir xxx'. The only sense that one can make of these things on the internet is NOT TO BELIEVE any of these claims of special status. There is no special status on the net. Everyone is an individual, always assuming that a specific blog CAN be written and definitely confirmed to be the blog of, for example, an MP.

I call myself 'Junican', which is made up of syllables from my daughters' names. I know of only one other 'Junican', which is a female from an Asian country. She (I think that it is a she) has totally different interests - our paths do not cross.

Rollo is odd because of his intimate knowledge of smoking related studies. Chris Snowdon is an author and Dave Atherton is a director of F2C. They have made it their business to study these studies.

How is it that Rollo knows so much about these smoking related studies and is a fervent smokophobe? It makes no sense to think of him as just any other commenter. He must have some angle to be so knowledgeable.

Of course, we welcome him. Few smokophobes dare venture into the real world.