As Amber Lights readers will be aware, I have opposed Scotland’s minimum pricing policy from Day One.
I regarded it as ill-conceived, and driven by a government keen to be seen “doing something” about Scotland’s love of the bottle but without thinking it through.
However, supporters of the policy—and I do not doubt their sincerity—believed among other things that it would drive down consumption, lead to fewer road accidents and stop the inexorable march of pub closures, as the price gap between pubs and off-licences would shrink.
Interestingly, it now seems that consumption has barely been affected, if anything it has risen, and my personal observation is that the pub closure problem remains. In recent weeks I have driven past three long-familiar pubs—at Scone, Balbeggie and Forfar—and sadly noted their signs were down and in one case the windows boarded up. Minimum pricing has not been a salvation.
A pub-owning couple in their sixties also told me that they did not expect their children to take it over and doubted if anyone else would buy it as a going concern. Why?
Several reasons—the smoking ban puts off some pub-goers completely and those who want a puff go outside for ages and don’t refill their glasses.
The breathalyser—and the fear of it—means many people sip one drink for an hour or more and forego their second to keep themselves well under the limit—just in case they are stopped.
Even whole groups who come by car with one designated driver on soft drinks tend to ca’ canny just to be on the safe side.
Town pubs, most of whose customers tend to live within walking distance, generally do better but they have to work hard to survive, especially if there’s a new Wetherspoon in the area.
I suspect, too, other factors are at play. In the past, pubs were where friends met and talked after work, caught up on gossip and told or heard the latest joke. Now so much of that happens online or on a smartphone.
That said, there are pubs doing well amid the current difficulties, usually by offering something special, be it good food, good cheer or good value—or a blend of all three.