Just three little letters but MUP - minimum unit pricing – has, in five short years, entered the everyday lexicon of Scotland.

Perhaps the public awareness of what is still a relatively new policy confirms what supporters claim is our country’s unhealthy relationship with drink?

Well, maybe, but taking a lead from those relationship counsellors suggesting “it’s good to argue,” we need to talk about MUP.

Ministers recently announced a 30% increase – raising the minimum unit price from 50 pence to 65 pence and adding pounds to the price of beer, wine and spirits – while insisting the rise is needed to take account of inflation.

In fact, analysis suggests Scots’ spending power, when adjusted for inflation, has risen by just 1% in the five years since MUP was introduced.

Given that, a 30% rise might seem not only disproportionate but punitive and, as ever, the harshest punishment is inflicted on the lowest earners.

MUP is another “world-leading” policy from the Scottish Government but would not be the first legislative innovation backed by a well-meaning all-party consensus at Holyrood that leads to unforeseen consequences; that does not, in fact, work; and needs to be reconsidered amid regret and recrimination.

It is easier to hike the price of alcohol than tackle the real issues driving some Scots to drink too much. It is easier to burnish “world-leading” policies than to seriously and strategically tackle the poverty and social deprivation that underpin our country’s drink problem.

The Herald: David Hume of GMB ScotlandDavid Hume of GMB Scotland (Image: GMB Scotland)

It is, frankly, easier for ministers to double down on a headline-grabbing but questionable policy like MUP than do the much harder yards, to plan and resource services proven to make a sustainable difference to the lives of Scots struggling with drink.

We are ready but still waiting to be convinced that MUP can make a significant contribution to public health but, in the meantime, we are already certain the poorest Scots, those more likely to drink cheaper drinks, are bearing the brunt of this one-size-fits-all policy.

Meanwhile, brewers and distillers predict MUP hitting sales and revenue as responsible drinkers cut back because of rising prices.

Read More: Why do some countries have cheap alcohol yet long life expectancies?

We fear that will mean increasing industrial unrest to secure fair pay and protect conditions; less investment; creation of fewer jobs; and the weakening of an economically crucial industry that underpins the finances of our country and our communities, particularly across rural Scotland.

In a letter to the UK chancellor last week, industry leaders warned rising taxes on wine meant ten million fewer bottles were bought in Britain in the run-up to Christmas leaving a £400m black hole in public finances.

Meanwhile, the letter notes, alcohol inflation is running at more than 8%, double the headline rate while the Office of National Statistics suggests rising alcohol prices is now a key driver of inflation. In Scotland, MUP is only adding to those inflationary pressures.

As the biggest union in the drinks industry, we care about protecting workers, their families, and their communities.

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We can, however, at the same time, care about the health of our nation and understand the need to protect Scots risking their health with drink. Public Health Scotland has, however, found no conclusive evidence MUP is doing that.

Five years on, ministers’ original ambition, that MUP would cut the intake of problem drinkers, seems wider now, aspiring to reduce the amount Scots drink generally.

The change in emphasis is possibly not unconnected to ministers’ own analysis suggesting drinkers with “limited financial or social support, may have experienced harm, such as withdrawal, reduced expenditure on food or increased intoxication possibly from switching to spirits as a consequence of MUP.”

Is such a policy needed when the most relevant trends are already moving in the right direction? When for a decade now, high risk drinking, binge drinking, drink-related hospital admissions, and alcohol-related crime have all been falling? When three out of five Scots drinkers enjoy a glass once a week or less?

Until the data is harder, until we know with certainty that problem drinkers are cutting back because of price, and, as importantly, that Scots’ drinking demands such heavy-handed intervention, then MUP risks inflicting real economic pain for health benefits that remain, for now at least, theoretical.

David Hume is GMB Scotland organiser in the drinks industry