AN EPIC legal battle over how much Scots pay for alcohol finally comes to a close this week, with the drinks industry accused of letting hundreds of people die during the process.

The UK Supreme Court will rule on Wednesday whether minimum unit pricing (MUP) can be introduced in Scotland, more than five years after MSPs approved the policy at Holyrood.

Intended to improve public health by linking the price of booze directly to its strength, the plan has been resisted every step of the way by the drinks industry.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has been the public face of the fight, although the biggest impact of MUP would be on cut-price strong ciders and vodkas.

A minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol would mean a 12.5 per cent bottle of wine would cost at least £4.69, a bottle of strong cider at 5.3 per cent at least £4.67, and a 70cl bottle of 40 per cent whisky would be £14.

SNP ministers estimate it could save around 500 lives a year by reducing intake.

The drinks industry claims such pricing is “disproportionate as a matter of EU law”, and restricts the free movement of goods and impacts on the sale and marketing of wine.

However, as with Big Tobacco’s opposition to plain packaging, there are suspicions the drinks industry is trying to stop Scotland setting an example to the rest of the world.

Last year, after a reference to Europe over whether the plan restricted free trade, Scotland’s highest court ruled MUP was legally sound, but the SWA appealed to the Supreme Court.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “The SWA have pursued this case to the bitter end. They have relentlessly put the pursuit of profit over the health of Scots. Hundreds of Scots have lost their lives while they have done so. Let’s hope Scotland’s interests win out over those of global corporations.”

The SWA said the issue had always been about “the competitiveness of Scotch”.

A spokesman said: “The Scotch Whisky industry is the first to acknowledge that promoting responsible drinking and tackling alcohol-related harm is of paramount importance.

“Whatever the Supreme Court’s decision we will continue to work in partnership with the government and the voluntary section in order to do this.”