The Scottish Information Commissioner has been urged to launch "an intervention" into the SNP Government's decision to maintain its minimum alcohol pricing policy beyond April given the rise in alcohol-related deaths.

Shona Robison, Deputy First Minister, has confirmed that minimum unit pricing (MUP) will increase by 30% from 50p to 65p per unit of alcohol.

That means a 700ml bottle of Scottish whisky will now cost a minimum of £18.20, while a bottle of vodka or gin will have a minimum price of £17.07.

The policy is subject to a sunset clause, which means it will lapse unless renewed by the Scottish Parliament by the end of April 2024.

If Parliament agrees, the new increase will take effect on September 30 2024.

Annemarie Ward, CEO of FAVOR UK (Faces and Voices of Recovery) has called on the Scottish Information Commissioner, who oversees freedom of information (FOI) laws, to launch an investigation to "help the public understand" how the decision was reached.

Alcohol-specific deaths are now at the highest level in 11 years, according to figures published by the National Records of Scotland (NRS). 

Ms Ward believes the evaluations of MUP have neglected to examine “the migration towards inexpensive alternatives like 20p street valium.” 

She said: “I firmly believe that the implementation of MUP is having detrimental effects, leading to fatalities.”

She compared her request for an inquiry to a decision by Commissioner David Hamilton to launch official action into the Scottish Government's use of informal messaging.

Nicola Sturgeon told the UK Covid Inquiry last week that all her pandemic-related WhatsApp messages were deleted during "routine tidying up" of inboxes.

Mr Hamilton said that the inquiry had raised "significant practice concerns" over how ministers used messaging services such as WhatsApp and would officially launch an "intervention" to make practice recommendations.

In her letter to Mr Hamilton, Annemarie Ward writes:  “On balance, the Scottish Government considers that MUP delivers public health benefits proportionate to the potential impacts of the policy on business, industry and the alcoholic drinks market.

"The Scottish Government is therefore proposing that MUP is continued beyond 30 April 2024.

The Herald: Annmarie Ward

"In the exact same way as your recent intervention in relation to the use and retention of informal communications using tools such as WhatsApp, the public need to understand how the decision to continue MUP was reached, this is the only way to maintain public confidence.

"Understanding how decisions are reached is how public trust in decisions are secured."


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Minimum Unit Pricing rise - How we got here

Favor UK has backed calls for a public health levy on alcohol sales as a method of funding vital support services including rehabilitation beds.

Last year, a report by Public Health Scotland said MUP had prevented hundreds of deaths and hospital admissions, however, it said there was "limited evidence" that it reduced consumption among the heaviest drinkers.

The report said the policy had prevented roughly 150 deaths and 400 hospital admissions per year on average from alcohol.

Though, in reality, the number of alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland rose from 1,120 in 2017 - the year before MUP - to a 13-year high of 1,255 in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available.

The mortality rate also climbed by 9% over the same period, from 20.5 to 22.3 deaths per 100,000.

Nevertheless, PHS said that the picture in Scotland would have been even worse without MUP.

Ahead of the announcement, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (Shaap) which represents frontline doctors, said there was "clear evidence" that minimum pricing had helped tackle alcohol-related harm in Scotland.

Chairman Dr Alastair MacGilchrist said the value was now too low "to work at its optimum in saving lives."

A spokesman for the Scottish Information Commissioner confirmed it had received the letter from Ms Ward and said he would be responding in due course.