May 2, 2014 – The ongoing legal battle between the Scottish Government and the Scotch Whisky Association will be resolved in Luxembourg instead of Edinburgh after Scotland’s highest court referred the case to the European Court of Justice. The Court of Session’s ruling came in the SWA’s appeal of an earlier ruling upholding the government’s plan to set a minimum price of 50 pence per unit of alcohol. The government’s goal is to reduce Scotland’s epidemic of alcohol abuse by raising overall prices, but the SWA has long argued that minimum pricing violates European Union laws and would be ineffective in solving the abuse problem. SWA Chief Executive David Frost praised the ruling in a news release, saying that the case was eventually going to wind up in Europe’s highest court.
Meanwhile, First Minister Alex Salmond is being attacked by critics after he referred to Scotland as “a nation of drunks” in an interview with GQ Magazine published this week. Salmond blamed the nation’s alcohol abuse epidemic on what he described as a “lack of confidence, maybe, as a nation” — and said the minimum pricing plan would help improve public health and Scotch Whisky exports.
“I promote whisky. I do it on the argument that it’s a quality drink, has a worldwide cachet, that its recent great success in markets like China is about social emulation and authenticity, not cheapness. My argument is that if you are promoting it as authentic and of great worth, you cannot promote it from a nation of drunks.”
Salmond’s comments brought immediate and sharp criticism from Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democratic leaders. The Scotsman reports a Labour spokesman called the statement “jaw-dropping,” and added “You can imagine what Alex Salmond would be saying had a Westminster politician had made exactly the same comment.”
There is no timetable for the Luxembourg court to reach a decision, but cases typically take 12 to 15 months from referral to a final ruling.