The Scotsman, 7 March:
SERIOUS concerns have been raised in Whitehall over the legality of plans by the Scottish Government to introduce a minimum price for alcohol.
The Scotsman has learned UK ministers have been briefed that the proposal announced by the SNP on Monday breaks European competition laws.
And with at least two major trade organisations preparing legal challenges to minimum pricing, there is concern that the Scottish Government's actions might see UK government ministers dragged through the courts.
Civil servants have warned UK ministers that the Westminster government is responsible for maintaining European regulations and it would be held legally accountable, rather than the Scottish Government, if ministers in Holyrood pressed ahead with the proposal...
But a senior Whitehall source told The Scotsman: "Basically we have been told minimum pricing is completely illegal.
"We are worried this will mean we will be taken to court as the responsible authority.
"The Scottish Government's proposal appears to be ill-thought-out and we don't even think it will work, because what is needed is a cultural change in Scotland and that is not going to be effected by making booze more expensive."
BBC News, 14 March:
The government's top medical adviser has drawn up plans for a minimum price for alcohol which would double the cost of some drinks in England.
Under the proposal from Sir Liam Donaldson, no drinks could be sold for less than 50 pence per unit of alcohol they contain.
It would mean most bottles of wine could not be sold for less than £4.50.
The proposal is aimed at tackling alcohol misuse and is set out in his annual report on the nation's health.
Harold Wilson was right: a week truly is a long time in politics. When Nicola Sturgeon and Kenny MacAskill suggest a minimum price on alcohol, it might breach European law. Yet the UK Chief Medical Officer is willing to look at the idea himself.
So the question is, has Sir Liam checked the legal position, and if so, why is minimum pricing legal when it's suggested by him and not the Scottish Government?
Here's another question: if he is on a sound legal footing, can we trust any Whitehall pronouncement about the supposed illegality of Scottish Government proposals ever again?
Perhaps the Government just doesn't see the need to keep Sir Liam's wings clipped. And if that's the case, then devolution is basically being exposed as a cheap sham of autonomy.
It's time for the real thing.
14 March 2009
The Scotsman, 7 March: