Alex Massie

Depends upon what you mean by “polluter pays”...

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Good grief:

THE Scottish Government is preparing to take on supermarkets and off-licences in the battle against alcohol abuse, forcing them to pay a levy under new plans to make retailers meet the social cost of the country's "bevvy culture".

Proposals for a "polluter pays" charge have been extended from pubs and clubs to include every shop that sells alcohol in Scotland, amid a growing perception among ministers and senior officials that retailers are fuelling crime and anti-social behaviour by selling liquor...

Details of the proposed levy will be announced in the spring and will be subject to public consultation, but Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, yesterday made it clear that off-licences and supermarkets were now in the firing line for the new measure. "The 'polluter pays' principle should apply across the board," he said. "More alcohol is now being sold in off-sales than through on sales. And the problems of binge drinking are not restricted to city centres – they're being felt throughout Scotland and in every age group.

"Somebody has to meet the cost of these consequences. It would be manifestly wrong to impose a 'polluter pays' levy only on pubs in city centres and not on supermarkets and off-licences in other towns and communities, if that's where we're also seeing problems."

What next? A special tax on chip shops? If Ministers are concerned by under-age drinking, mightn't it be a sensible idea to enforce existing laws rather than create new taxes? Just an idea. Or just ban booze? And if this is how we're now supposed to view perfectly honest retailers, then under this proposal, wouldn't it be possible to prosecute supermarkets for being accessories to any booze-induced act of criminal behaviour? Including, one would presume, murder? And shouldn't car dealers pay a "polluter pays levy" every time someone smashes up a car they've sold, inconveniencig everyone else and occupying vast amounts of police and emergency services time? Or,or, well, one could go on... But what's the point?

Meanwhile, elsewhere in this fair land:

Tolls have been officially abolished on the Forth and Tay road bridges after years of campaigning by drivers.

The final fee-paying motorists crossed the bridges at midnight before the charges, of £1 on the Forth Bridge and 80p on the Tay Bridge, were lifted.

Scrapping of the tolls was a major manifesto commitment by the SNP during the 2007 Scottish elections.

Legislation to remove the fee was given royal assent last month. It means Scotland now has no chargeable roads.

In this case, then, polluters don't have to pay... Ah, the sweet logic of government.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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