The Scottish health minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned the country's whisky manufacturers that she will fight any legal action taken by them against her plans to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol north of the border.
The SNP Government intends to implement a 50p per unit minimum price on alcohol, in a move which will be contested by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) in the European courts.
Despite the announcement of the legal challenge, Sturgeon remains confident that the policy will succeed, following in the footsteps of similar policies targeted at cigarette smoking.
The SWA represents distillers in Scotland, but has been prompted to consider a legal challenge after seeing a leaked letter from a minister to David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister. The Coalition Government is also seeking to impose a minimum price on alcohol in England and Wales, but the leaked letter warned Mr Cameron that such a move was likely to fall foul of EU rules on free trade.
Gavin Hewitt is the SWA's chief executive.
"It was ruled as a barrier to trade by the European Court of Justice more than 30 years ago and the court of justice has invariably ruled since that minimum pricing is an illegal restriction on trade," he said.
The SNP policy on minimum pricing secured strong backing from all the major parties in the Scottish Parliament, after Scottish Conservatives said they would support it providing the law contained a 'sunset' clause allowing its repeal after six years if the policy was shown not to be working. The policy is also supported by the police and the medical profession.
Sturgeon, however, believes that the policy will be implemented, but accepts that the legal challenge could mean that it might not be in force until spring 2014, a year later than planned.
"We firmly believe that minimum pricing meets the legal tests required and we will vigorously defend this legal challenge," she said.