Wheelhouse hits out at Labour over ‘booze cruise’ idea

A South of Scotland MSP has said the leadership of the Labour Party must move quickly to distance themselves from members of the Labour group on Northumberland County Council, who have suggested the authority set aside cash to entice Scottish drinkers with an advertising campaign for discounted alcohol.

According to the Northumberland Labour Group, the introduction of a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol in Scotland this week has provided towns like Berwick with a “golden opportunity” to boost tourism.

But Paul Wheelhouse, SNP MSP for the South of Scotland, who lives in Berwickshire, said: “This is an utterly irresponsible idea from Labour. There are far better ways for a council to use their time and money than by promoting the sale of discounted alcohol, especially at a time when Northumberland faces severe cuts to its local police force.

“Since I was elected last year, I have had numerous discussions with local police officers, addiction specialists and health professionals, who are unequivocal in their support for measures to clamp down on binge drinking fuelled by the heavily discounted alcohol prices in supermarkets. Further, in my role on the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee, I have seen compelling evidence of the huge financial cost to the NHS and police caused by alcohol fuelled violence and the damage to people’s health.

“Northumberland is a wonderful part of England, and just like the Scottish Borders it is rich in its built and cultural heritage and blessed with a natural beauty that would attract any visitor. I would humbly suggest that it would be far better for councillors in Northumberland to promote those strengths than to think that cut price booze deals are what will bring Scots tourists across the border.

“This is hugely embarrassing for Labour and it should immediately be nipped in the bud by shadow public health minister Diane Abbott who has already called on the UK government to follow the Scottish Government’s lead and explore minimum pricing.”

Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith has also criticised Labour. He said: “The county council is engaged in a serious debate and responding to the government’s consultation about whether minimum pricing for alcohol, which is being tried in Scotland, could help deal with our grave alcohol-related health problems here in the north east.

“It sounds as if Labour does not take these problems seriously, which is pretty irresponsible.”