For some time now it has been the policy of the SNP to tackle the drink problem in Scotland by introducing a system of minimum pricing.
It is not a policy that I agree with for a couple of reasons.
As the Scottish Government has no power to tax, the extra money will simply go to the shops who sell the drink. As Tesco would say "every little bit hurts" and the increase in cost will not put people off buying drink, or at least very few. Those who steal to get drunk will simply steal more; those who take it out of the household budget will spend less on clothes or worse food, in order to afford their drink. For most of the heavy drinkers, drink is a compulsion, an addiction, not a pleasure.
But the arguments for and against have been rehearsed on this forum on numerous occasions and the point of this post is not to repeat them in detail. There is, however, an interesting new development. Labour in Scotland has until now taken the stand that this is a bad idea; that it will penalise moderate drinkers, that it will hurt the drinks industry and that it will antagonise some of their core vote. So today it finds itself in rather a difficult position. It appears, according to the lead story in the Scottish edition of the Daily Telegraph (but not to be found online), that Mr Brown is going to put a minimum price for alcohol into his manifesto for the next Labour government in England.
To be fair to both SNP in Scotland and Mr Brown in England, the Chief Medical Officers from the two countries have backed the policy, as I think, have the BMA, the NHS Federation and the Royal College of Physicians. In light of this Andy Burnham, the English Health Minister has developed a series of policies to bring minimum pricing into effect. They still have to be presented to the Cabinet, where it is said that Mr Mandleson is strongly against them on the basis of them being politically dangerous.
Clearly this puts Mr Gray in an embarrassing position. He is faced with the choice of an embarrassing U-turn or taking a position which is opposed to his English bosses'. It will be interesting to see which one he takes and how many of his already divided shadow cabinet he can take with him.