Councillor Stephen Dornan, chair of Glasgow Licensing Board, said: “If we had the powers then we would take action. But there’s no way we are going out on a limb on this.”

Mr Dornan’s comments reflect growing unease about Mr MacAskill’s speech at an Alcohol Focus conference in Aviemore on Thursday when he backed banning drinks promotions in supermarkets and off-licences.

Until now government guidelines have been interpreted as being aimed at stopping happy hours and cheap booze promotions in pubs and clubs.

Mr Dornan said: “People front-loading and getting drunk before they head out is a real problem. We need to tackle this culture but the legislation is just not strong enough to deal with it.

“It’s all very well Mr MacAskill talking about the spirit of the law, but if it’s not written down in legislation then we don’t have the powers at our disposal.

“If we had the powers then we would take action but there’s no way we are going out on a limb on this.

“We would be challenged in the courts and we would get beaten, so it’s not going to happen. It’s easy to warn against being ultra-cautious but it won’t be his licensing board that will be brought before a sheriff.

“It won’t be his licensing board that has to pick up the court bill when sheriffs follow the letter of the law.”

Supermarket giant Asda accused Mr MacAskill of “moving the goalposts” on the guidelines. An Asda spokesman said: “To try to move the goalposts now that the legislation is in force is a recipe for chaos.

“The Scottish Parliament has called for a full debate as part of the forthcoming alcohol bill. That is the right way to proceed and not through a piecemeal approach that will merely increase costs and cause confusion.”

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association said the Scottish Government’s commitment to full parliamentary scrutiny for its alcohol proposals rang “hollow” when the Justice Secretary was encouraging licensing boards to take action against retailers “in contravention of existing government guidance”.

The Scotch Whisky Association claimed price controls were “likely to break both EU and international trade law” and the Irish Spirits Association said the minimum pricing breached EU competition rules by acting as a barrier to trade.

There was political criticism of Mr MacAskill from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservatives’ deputy leader, said he was worried that a “blanket” approach would penalise “responsible drinkers or responsible promotions”.

“We should target problem drinks and problem drinkers and we should make our existing laws work better,” he said.

LibDem justice spokesman Robert Brown claimed the government was trying to pass “complex and wide-­ranging legislation without proper scrutiny or consultation”.

He supported the banning of irresponsible promotions but added: “There must be no loopholes for irresponsible licensees to get round the ban.

“The SNP has been found wanting time and time again on the vital details of their policies and their constant desire to bypass parliament is simply unacceptable.”

There was backing for Mr MacAskill from Labour health spokesperson Cathy Jamieson who said the government’s alcohol strategy must include action to tackle alcohol-related violence.

She said: “Scotland’s hard drinking culture is a national disgrace and I fully support measures to prevent excessive discounting by supermarkets and off-licences.

“The government also needs a strategy to tackle antisocial behaviour. Labour has suggested alcohol treatment and testing orders to tackle problem drinking, a national mandatory Challenge 21 scheme to stop booze getting into the hands of children and tougher sanctions for those who break the licensing laws.

“We will look at any sensible ideas from any source that will reduce the level of problem drinking in Scotland, but we are still waiting for the SNP to bring forward a credible package of proposals.”

There was further backing from Jack Law, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, who said: “Alcohol has become ridiculously cheap and it is unacceptable that supermarkets’ profits should come before public health.”

SNP MSP Michael Matheson, a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee, said: “As a licensed product, alcohol should never be used as a loss leader or a marketing tool.

“In recent weeks supermarkets have been exposed selling 18 cans of lager for only £5, that is less than 16 pence per unit [of alcohol]. That is simply unacceptable.”