Aim This paper provides a historical overview of licensing law in Scotland. It seeks to put important contemporary policy developments into their historical context and to draw attention to key themes in licensing policy debates across the United Kingdom.
Design Based on a survey of statutes, commissions of enquiry and consumption and retail data, this paper draws together historical evidence to present a synopsis of Scottish licensing history.
Settings The article focuses on Scotland, but also discusses UK-wide licensing policy over a 250-year period.
Findings Scottish licensing has diverged from licensing in England and Wales and has addressed some historical licensing weaknesses, including problems of accountability, overprovision and systemic oversight regarding off-sales. Distinctive features of current Scottish legislation include public health protection as a statutory licensing objective; local Licensing Forums and Licensing Standards Officers; a requirement for explicit policies on the ‘overprovision’ of licensed premises; mandatory restrictions on price promotions in the on- and off-trades; and limitations on opening hours for off-licences.
Conclusion Scotland has developed alcohol policies several times addressing long-standing licensing weaknesses throughout the United Kingdom. Some Scottish alcohol policies have later become the norm in England and Wales.