THE SNP’S inability to accept defeat with any humility or dignity was, once again, all too transparent this week. The opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice dealt a devastating blow to their flagship Jakie Apartheid Bill (Minimum Unit Pricing Bill). Yet, they’ve vowed to fight on to what can only be a humiliating and inglorious defeat. AhDinnaeKen reports:
By Longshanker aka @ergasiophobe
THE SNP’S legislative competence suffered humiliating rejection this week at the hands of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice.
Yves Bot’s legal opinion that the SNP’s proposed Jakie Apartheid Bill would only be legal if no other mechanism – such as increasing taxes – was capable of bringing about public health benefits, has effectively left the bill scotched on the rocks.
It isn’t a final ruling, but anyone with a modicum of political sobriety can see that the Nationalists moral temperance crusade against the drunken lower classes has lost. Even Tennent’s, one of the loudest and highest profile vested interest supporters of the Act, conceded defeat.
Paul Bartlett, the group managing director for C&C Group (Tennents ) in an interview with BBC ‘Pravda’ said: “I think that today’s ruling looks like that’s not going to happen or it’s going to be delayed.”
Despite the virtual finality of the legal opinion, the First Minister insisted on further diminishing her reputation as a ‘formidable politician’ by vowing to fight on.
She said: “Importantly, this initial opinion indicates it will be for the domestic courts to take a final decision on minimum unit pricing. The Advocate General finds that the policy can be implemented if it is shown to be the most effective public health measure available.”
Her statement unwittingly highlights the paucity and limitations of the unicameral system at Holyrood. If the Bill had been subjected to proper scrutiny and legal testing by a detached, objective and expert second chamber, it’s unimaginable it would have achieved Royal Assent in its current form.
As such, Sturgeon’s pronouncement is a tacit admission that the SNP legislators did not treat the bill rigorously enough or competently enough for legal enactment despite its Royal Assent.
That the First Minister was, and is, prepared to subject Scotland’s Court of Session to take on the role of legislative scrutinisers – the very role which the unicameral committee system is supposed to have undertaken – demonstrates the wilful recklessness, disrespect and contempt she holds the Scottish court, the Scottish Parliament, and the sovereign Scottish people in.
With luck, the final ruling of the European Court of Justice will be framed in such watertight language that Sturgeon balks at subjecting the Scottish Court to the degrading role of Holyrood committee by proxy.
Sturgeon has already seen the Court of Session rule in her favour after the initial challenge by the various alcohol bodies – notably the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) – failed in 2013. No doubt she was encouraged by that court’s findings when Lord Docherty ruled that “it was unnecessary and inappropriate to refer any question of EU law to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling.”
In light of subsequent events and the EU Advocate General’s opinion, the Court of Session’s initial ruling could justifiably be viewed with a modicum of suspicion by anyone not of an SNP bent – seeing that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) opinion had just completely contradicted the Scottish court.
Arguably, the “no other mechanism” test, which Sturgeon’s temperance bill would have to pass, has already been undermined by her own amendment implemented at Stage 2 of the bill’s progress through the Scottish Parliament:
“Amendment 2, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon MSP, will require Scottish Ministers to evaluate the effect of minimum pricing five years after it comes into force and report to the Parliament.”
In other words, the SNP had no realistic idea what effect the implementation of the Bill would have. The desired ‘effect’ of reduced consumption of cheap high alcohol drinks by problem working class drinkers was based on modelling crafted by a research department at Sheffield University – a system labelled by critics as “no better than a weather forecast”.
Hardly a reassurance to the casual supporter of Scotland’s MUP bill that it won’t be raining heavily on the SNP’s parade come ECJ judgement time. With no other precedent set by any free trading country in the world, with the possible exception of Canada, the outcome appears inevitable.
In Canada, there is a form of minimum pricing – not directly comparable to the minimum unit pricing proposed in the SNP Bill – known as ‘social reference pricing’. It was introduced to protect the Canadian beer industry from the devastating effect of cheap alcohol imports.
The Canadian system and its purpose also provides much needed context for the motivation behind Tennents support of the MUP Bill. You don’t have to be a cynic to come to a cynical conclusion.
The SNP Government made hay with research carried out in British Columbia which asserted that alcohol related deaths had gone down in the province in direct correlation to an eighteen per cent price increase.
But, as was later revealed by the SWA, the figures provided by Dr Tim Stockwell, director of the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addiction Research, were estimates based on a modelling similar to Sheffield University’s. Deaths were reported to have increased over the time period of the British Columbia price increase.
So, at best, it’s unproven that increasing the price of alcohol results in less deaths.
Also important is the SNP assertion that MUP would result in 60 less deaths a year: they’re sticking to that Sheffield University modelling figure. To AhDinnaeKen it has the same tone and believability as pre-IndyRef Nationalist assertions on currency and automatic entry to the European Union .
In other words it looks and feels like gesture politicking illiteracy: something sceptics have learned to live with under the current tedious wave of Nationalist euphoria affecting the voting population of Scotland.
Like the referendum, the opinion of the Advocate General has signalled a resounding defeat to the puritan will of the SNP. Like the referendum, the SNP is not willing to accept the defeat with anything approaching respect or an honourable outcome. And, like the referendum, the SNP has helped further diminish the role of civic bodies, whom many Scots previously trusted, such as the civil service and the courts.
The Scottish Court of Session, despite its acquiescence to the Scottish Executive in 2013, will have no option but to follow the ECJ’s definitive ruling whenever that may be.
It’s not set in stone yet, but one thing’s for sure, when the realisation dawns on the SNP that their flagship economic prohibition bill is deid in the water, the blame will eventually be placed on Westminster.