FORMER Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill has called for supermarkets to pay more for the right to sell alcohol under efforts to combat misuse.

The SNP MSP, who led Scottish Government liquor licensing policy between 2007 and 2014, has declared that licence fees should be set according to how much alcohol an outlet sells.

Writing in The Herald today, Mr MacAskill said minimum unit pricing (MUP) is “vital” to “end the absurdity of a bottle of water being cheaper than a bottle of water high strength alcohol in a supermarket.”

But he said Scotland’s MUP legislation, currently being challenged by the Scotch whisky industry in Europe, must be accompanied by other measures.

Mr MacAskill writes: “The cost of a licence should reflect sales and consequent harm. It’s ridiculous to have a well-run hotel paying the same price for a liquor licence as a major supermarket retailer.

“A corner shop can sell much more in many ways than the local bar, so why should they pay the same licensing fee?

“The current levy imposed on major outlets by the Scottish Government whilst welcome does not address the underlying issue of volume sold.

"Those who sell the most should pay the most; and the revenues used to address the harm caused.”

Mr MacAskill argues that licensing laws must adapted to reflect how drinking patterns have changed in the last 20 years. He said the latest statistics showed that 72 per cent of alcohol sold in Scotland was from off-trade premises, compared with 49 per cent in 1994.

His intervention was welcomed by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), which said the current system for setting licence fees has proven to be ineffective.

SLTA chief executive Paul Waterson said the current system is unfair because small pubs can effectively pay the same size of licence fee as large supermarkets.

He said: “It is a very welcome intervention by Kenny MacAskill to say that those with those with the broadest shoulders should pay the most.

“It is obvious that with the supermarkets dominating the alcohol market they should pay far more than any on-trade premises.

“We agree that needs to be looked at.”

But the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) slammed Mr MacAskill’s proposal, insisting that its members already pay a wide range of taxes connected to its right to sell alcohol.

These range from licence fees to what it described as business rates so “exorbitant” that they are undermining retailers’ ability to invest and employ staff.

Spokesman David Martin insisted that the fee system should be based on a “cost recovery basis”, and said: “The Scottish Government is already in court at the moment over minimum unit pricing. I don’t think it really wants to end up in court as well over alcohol licensing issues.

“It has to be careful about how it uses the licensing system – it should be clear that it is based on cost recovery on the basis of administering that scheme, and not for any other purpose."

Under the 2005 Licensing Act, licence fees are levied on the basis of property rateable values. The system is designed to be cost neutral, with the amount raised by fees equalling the costs of administration.

But it has been criticised over a lack of transparency, with local boards accused of using funds raised through licensing to fund other services.

The Scottish Government has moved to make it mandatory for boards to declare “relevant income” from licensing under the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015.