While many of us have been tucking in to plenty of booze over the festive season, spare a thought for our dour puritanical friends in Holyrood. Their Christmas didn't come early when the Court of Justice ruled against the SNP's minimum pricing policy, which was legislated for as long ago as 2012, but has yet to take effect.
This issue raises some interesting questions. For free market types such as frequent these pages, the ruling against the price-fixing of booze will probably come as a relief. Believers in the power of the invisible hand (famously observed by a Scot, let us remember) will argue that artificial interference in the price of almost anything will cause distortions which might be worse than the original problem. Efforts to hold down the price of toilet paper in Venezuela, recently, famously resulted in a national - er - shortage.
Localists may argue that the Scottish Parliament should bloomin' well be allowed to bring in whatever crazy policies it bloomin' well likes. That is also an interesting topic for discussion. Should a distant court staffed with (mostly) foreign judges be able to tell the sovereign will of the people of the Kingdom of Scotland that they need to have a bit of a re-think? Do national governments - even those run by the excellent Ms Sturgeon - need to be overseen by the adults in Luxembourg? Or having signed up to a rules-based system should we accept the rules come-what-may? Could the voters of Scotland change the framework of the EU if they wanted to move from a market-based, free-trade approach to something else? One could argue probably not, without leaving the Union. At what point can a democratically-enacted constitution become undemocratic?
All of that is before we have even considered whether setting a floor price for booze is even a good idea!
In practice, those affected by a general increase in the price of booze are likely to be those on modest incomes. In other words, a minimum unit price is regressive: it hurts the poorest more than it hurts the richest. A bottle of decent plonk may already have a unit price above the minimum, but a tin of cheap cider may not: so the family struggling to make ends meet will pay more for the same consumption or have to cut back. The aim of the policy is, of course, "tackling alcohol misuse and reducing the harm that cheap, high-strength alcohol causes our communities" in the words of the Scottish Health Secretary. But will a floor price achieve that? At the margins it may cause some people to reduce their intake, but it might also encourage others to switch spending from something else to alcohol. It is not barking mad to wonder whether people may reduce their consumption of fruit and veg in order to keep their booze supply constant.
And if alcohol consumption doesn't collapse under the weight of the new system, then where does all that extra revenue go? Most of it will end up in the pockets of the manufacturers. While some of it will eventually end up in state hands directly and indirectly, the chief beneficiaries appear to be the people who make the products which are apparently in need of curtailment. How is that for a perverse reward? We won't even get sidetracked by considering smuggling and the black market.
The Court of Justice suggested that a more straightforward approach may be to use the tax system. I haven't looked to see whether the recent devolution of extra powers to Holyrood would allow the Scots to have a different level of booze tax than the rest of the UK, but it surely would not be difficult to arrange if not. The main advantage of hiking the tax would be more money for the government to fritter away, sorry, recycle into programmes with some social or economic benefit.
There is always one good thing to come out of controversies such as these: they get people outside the politically-engaged minority to think about stuff that effects them. The free flow of a good selection of booze at sensible price points is probably only pipped, in terms of its essentialness to the smooth running of this island, by the availability of a decent data signal.