Political communication in the case of the Alcohol Bill in Scotland. Methods of ensuring the minimum pricing

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012

11 Pages, Grade: 1,3




1. Introduction

2. Analysis

3. Analysis of the SNP's strategy

4. Conclusion

Reference list

1. Introduction

On November 25th2009 the Alcohol (Scotland) Bill, which is defined by Scottish government as a package of measures to reduce misuse of alcohol and the harm caused by it in Scotland (TSG 2011), was introduced to the Scottish Parliament by SNP's deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon MSP, who also held the post of Cabinet Secretary of Health and Wellbeing (TSP 2011).

In this analysis the focus will be directed on the proposal of a minimum price per unit of alcohol sold, which is one of the provisions in the Alcohol Bill (TSG 2011).This analysis aims to show how different key actors tried to influence MSPs’ decision in favour of minimum pricing by portraying different strategies which were used in this debate.

First of all it is important to explain why the debate about the provision of minimum pricing is a crucial process within the Alcohol Bill. Despite the logical explanation of the benefits of this provision for social health as well as for Scotland's budget and the strategic usage of evidence, which will be explained in detail later, the provision was surprisingly not implemented due to the rejection of the oppositional parties. In this context the question arises of how a provision, which had the needed backing from diverse institutions and stakeholders, had to yield to the pressure of the oppositional parties. However, this work will only briefly outline possible processes which might have had an impact on the final decision. The main objective of this work is to describe the methods which were used to ensure the minimum pricing rather than to investigate why the provision was not passed.

2. Analysis

The opposition parties agreed on the importance of the Alcohol Bill and admitted the direct link between the price of alcohol, consumption and harm (Health and Sport Committee 2010), but the debate about the proposal of minimum pricing can be distinguished as a "...dispute between two or more parties, ... over the allocation of resources ..." (Wolfsfeld 2003, p. 217). The resource in this case would be the possession of power to decide whether the minimum pricing should be implemented or not. Since the SNP Government requires the support of the Liberal Democrats if minimum pricing is to stay in the Bill (In Focus 2010), the oppositional parties automatically have certain power over the SNP. The "... ongoing conflict ... over a political issue" (Wolfsfeld 2003, p. 81) of minimum pricing is about the struggle over power of the meaning and is therefore carried out on the level of 'cultural dimension' (Wolfsfeld 2003).

Before starting to analyse the key actors and their strategies, it is vital to understand what meaning the external environment has to the debate and why the issue of minimum pricing is on the public agenda in the first place. The Alcohol Bill was designed and introduced to address special trends and developments in Scotland. The behaviour of the alcohol industry could be highly disapproved as a result of its marketing strategies and low prices on alcohol. An excellent example of such behaviour would be the promotion of cheap prices for beer and cider in supermarkets during the World Cup (In Focus 2010a). So the proposal of minimum pricing captures the 'spirit of the time' (Wood 2011) and addresses relevant issues which concern the public and the government.

On governmental enquiry, in-depth research of Scotland's relationship and culture to alcohol was conducted on the micro-level, for example by Young Scot Youth Commission on Alcohol; and also on the macro-level, such as "Model-Based Appraisal of Alcohol Minimum Pricing and Off-Licensed Trade Discount Bans in Scotland" by the School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield (Health and Sport Committee 2010). The latter research supplies the supporters of minimum pricing with relevant arguments and provides a justification for putting the issue on the agenda. The arguments focus on threats of alcohol consume, accompanied by the low prices of alcohol in Scotland and on opportunities provided by minimum pricing. Some of these arguments, which are relevant to the strategies used by the supportive key actors, will be introduced in the following chapter.

Key actors and their agendas

From the debate over minimum pricing per alcohol unit, a number of key actors can be extracted. The SNP party in the Scottish government is one of them. The party classified the minimum pricing as a necessary measure which has to be undertaken in order to 'reduce alcohol consumption and related harm' and as the 'most effective policy amongst other policy options' (TSG 2011). The issue of alcohol consumption is framed as a national problem and not the problem of individuals, so the benefits of minimum pricing will be felt accordingly by the whole society (TSG 2011). The SNP also relied on further framings of the issue: minimum pricing as a 'life saver', as 'crime prevention' and finally as provider of 'financial savings' (Health and Sport Committee 2010a). The framing was introduced by Nicola Sturgeon, who also introduced the Alcohol Bill. The arguments in favour of minimum pricing, which the SNP includes in its agenda, are: minimum pricing is effective in reducing health, crime and employment harm; heavy drinkers will be affected mostly instead of moderate drinkers and the policy could save a huge amount of money in NHS, crime and employment costs (Alcohol Focus Scotland). The SNP is a dominant group in this debate because of its political status and resources - therefore it is an ‘insider’ (Davis 2003).

Another supportive key actor in the minimum pricing debate is the national charity "Alcohol Focus Scotland", which sets its objective on reducing harm caused by alcohol. AFS follows the evidence which was provided by the government. In the course of the debate it builds a coalition with SHAAP (Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems) and British Medical Association (BMA) in order to support and promote minimum pricing. Because of the importance of the issue to AFS as to the 'communicator' (O'Keefe 2003), it owns media-source affinity; possesses over economic capital provided by the government, but lacks in media capital. Thus the charity can be considered as an ‘outsider’ (Davis 2003).

The opponent key actors are the opposition parties (the Labour Party, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats), who are ‘insider’ groups in this debate; and pressure groups The Scotch Whisky Association and Wine and Spirit Association, who possess over few resources but should be considered as ‘outsider’(Davis 2003). Their agenda was made up of arguments such as: minimum pricing poses risk of job losses in the drink industry; it is a penalisation for moderate drinkers and tax on poor and involves contraventions with EU trade law and UK competition law (Alcohol Focus Scotland a). The issue of minimum pricing was reframed as 'job threatening', 'illegal' and 'not convincing' (Health and Sport Committee 2010a).

The roles of the 'authorities' and 'challengers' (Wolfsfeld 2001) change in the course of the debate. In the time between the 1st and 2nd stage of the Alcohol Bill, it might be claimed that the power relations between the two core groups are obvious: the SNP is the authority and the opposition parties the challenger. However after the 2nd stage of the Alcohol Bill the roles change and the opposition takes over the role of the authority, whereas the SNP of the challenger. Since the proposal was not implemented, it can be claimed that pressure groups showed an excellent example how ‘outsider’ can rely on 'liberal pluralism grounds' (Davis 2003).

3. Analysis of the SNP's strategy

The objective which is pursued by the SNP is to establish its position in the public discourse as a legitimate source. Firstly we take a look at the resources the SNP party has in order to claim its legitimacy. Referring to reworked definition of Bourdieu's (Bourdieu 1986, cited in Ihlen 2009, pp. 70-77) capital, which can be put on a level of understanding and defining resources, the SNP party possesses different types of capital, which allow it to position itself in 'fields' (Ihlen 2009). The SNP does not require any special access to the resources - it is a high-profile public institution and has human, media and economic resources (Davis 2003) and hence gains the symbolic capital. The party is fully institutionalised and can assert itself through human capital and given structures which build stability of its position. The economic capital is also present, which flows for instance into independent research. The knowledge capital especially in terms of skills and experience in gaining media coverage is given through the easy access to the media and professional human resources. The social capital can be found in governments successful attempts to find support and backing for minimum pricing by other organisations, stakeholders, endorsements and researchers (Ihlen 2009).

In the process of establishing legitimacy for the favouring of minimum pricing, the SNP uses 'opinion leaders' (McQuail and Windahl 1993) to underpin the credibility of its position and its sources due to its social capital. That way the public and the MSPs should be persuaded by the 'expertise' and 'trustworthiness' (O'Keefe 2009). Some examples of important opinion leaders are: Nicola Surgeon MSP, Westminster Health Select Committee, Trish Groves (BMJ deputy editor) and Dr Peter Anderson (World Health Organisation expert). Opinion formers like this are most likely to be received positively by the audiences (O'Keefe 2009).

Entman's (Entman 1993, cited in Hallahan 1999, p. 207) strategic media frame which was introduced by the opinion former Nicola Surgeon MSP emerges clearly: Alcohol problems in Scotland cost the government and the tax payers a lot of money and reflect negatively in economics and mortality rate. The forces which create this harm are cheap prices of alcohol. The guilty parties who are in charge of this harm are drinks industries. Finally minimum pricing is introduced as solution to the problematic situation, which will save a lot of money, improve economical situation in Scotland, safe lives and improve life quality of the population.

So using Weber's (Weber 1922/1968, cited in Weraas 2009, p. 304) principles of legitimation, a 'myth' of extraordinary alcohol problems in Scotland is given through credible sources, in consequence the privilege of justification of minimum pricing is comprehensible (Weraas 2009). The SNP can be defined rationally and traditionally as legitimate, because it is a political institution which was elected by the population, who believe in the views and beliefs of this institution. The charismatic reason for the legitimation is present in terms of heroic want to help and solve the problem of high consumption of alcohol and to reduce the harm done by it to the society.

Legitimacy of the SNP is one part of the ‘decoding process’ by ‘active audiences’ (Hall 1980). Another part of awaking public's interest is that the minimum pricing issue has to have news values and has to be created or ‘encoded’ (Hall 1980) in an appropriate way. Referring to the reworked version of Harrison's list of news values (Harrison 2006, cited in Brighton and Foy 2007, p. 9) the issue of minimum pricing is newsworthy: considering the macro-environment the issue appears to be relevant already; it is expected as a measure to fight alcohol harm in Scotland, but at the same time it is a new idea or way to reduce the harm of alcohol and it was framed in a way, which evokes personal interest of the public (Brighton and Foy 2007). Additionally the Alcohol Bill was already on the public agenda, so the journalists easily found a narrative between the issue and the already existing frames and presented the issue in a way, that the public could easily understand it (Wolfsfeld 2003).


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Political communication in the case of the Alcohol Bill in Scotland. Methods of ensuring the minimum pricing
Queen Margaret University
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ISBN (eBook)
political, alcohol, bill, scotland, methods
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Anonymous, 2012, Political communication in the case of the Alcohol Bill in Scotland. Methods of ensuring the minimum pricing, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/972396


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