A price worth paying

If you were an MSP, how would you like to be remembered?  This would be one of my essential questions, along with what can I do today to make a difference to Scotland and her people? 

Perhaps if more of our MSPs posed these two questions, we wouldn’t be in such a pickle over the Alcohol etc (Scotland) bill.   On Wednesday, a radical overhaul of the legal framework around alcohol consumption and purchase will be passed into law.  Nicola Sturgeon MSP, the Health Secretary, will make one final attempt to introduce minimum alcohol pricing but it is likely to fall.   Labour and Conservatives are focused on winning the battle of the day rather than seizing the opportunity to think big and deliver far reaching change for future generations.  Labour senses the chance to wound a stuttering government, to improve its own electoral chances next May, but I’m not sure the electorate will thank them for it actually.  We might all live and behave like individuals these days, but we do prefer our politicians to rise above our own petty foibles.  Sometimes we expect them to do what is good for us even when we don’t exactly know or appreciate what that is.  Subjecting an issue as big as alcohol misuse to a stairheid rammy somewhat reminiscent of an after hours party where the guests have all drunk too much and fallen out is the ultimate irony.

Lined up behind our politicians are the serried ranks of vested and special interests.  In the government’s corner, the health professionals, the police, voluntary organisations, celebrities, some manufacturers and even a former First Minister and in the opposition’s, the drinks industry, the retailers and the licensing trade.   The divide is reflected today in our Sunday newspapers’ coverage and treatment of the issue.  The chasm has existed throughout the bill’s process and the debate:  never the twain shall meet appears to have been the mantra.

Yet, one crucial voice is missing, and hasn’t really been listened to.  That of Scotland’s children and young people. 

Too often seen as the miscreants of alcohol misuse, they are its real victims.  The figures are frightening:  65,000 children growing up in homes where at least one parent is a problem drinker;  alcohol misuse cited as a contributing factor in one in three divorces;  a quarter of children on the child protection register due to parental substance misuse;  over 200 children a year speaking to ChildLine Scotland concerned by a parent’s drinking;  at least 900 children suffering the debilitating and potentially fatal effects of foetal alcohol syndrome, and thousands more with less serious health and disability issues which could probably be traced back to the mother’s problematic drinking before and immediately after conception, if anyone could be bothered looking.

Scotland’s love affair with alcohol does not extend to respecting our children’s right to an alcohol blightless childhood.  How many parents (including myself) could say hand on heart that they had never subjected their bairns to less than edifying behaviour because of their alcohol intake?  Never lost a day that should have been theirs to the sofa and duvet due to a hangover?  Not shielded them from the fall out at a family occasion – none too big nor too small – where excessive consumption has resulted in vicious, pointless disputes and worst of all, physical violence?  We raise our children to be in awe of alcohol and its status in our lives, an ever present commodity in good times and bad.  Little wonder then that younger and younger, they emulate us by imbibing and indulging, trying to secure their adult status by crossing this particular rite of passage. 

Every family has its alcoholic skeletons rattling in the cupboard and we are locked in a very unvirtual circle of misuse and abuse, passing our habits and mores onto the next generation to sustain Scotland’s place at the foot of the league tables that matter and at the very top of the ones that don’t.  The actual cost to our society – and to our collective pockets – is staggering:  hundreds of millions every year in lost productivity and output, to the health service, our justice system, on social work services, for emergency services.  Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) has even managed to put a price on the human costs of our behaviour. 

The bottom line is that as a nation, we can no longer afford to drink as we do.   It requires a package of measures to radically overhaul our attitude and to change Scottish culture.  Minimum alcohol pricing is a key part of that package.  To suggest that it is unfair to the poor – only when it suits Labour politicians it seems – is patronising and offensive.  The poorer you are, the more likely you are to be drinking yourself to death:  is Scottish Labour suggesting that this is somehow okay and that we as a state should not be taking steps to address that?  There is no point in a phalanx of public health professionals wagging their fingers if folk can still stagger out to the corner shop and stock up on rocket fuel to help obliterate the reality and paucity of life.  

There are occasions and moments in a Parliamentary life cycle that require our politicians to be at their best.  To put the slings and arrows of daily adversarial politics back in the quiver.  To acknowledge that there are times for tribal politics but that this isn’t one of them.  To think about the kind of Scotland they want to be involved in shaping and forming.  To ask themselves why am I here and what do I want to achieve?  To set aside narrow self electoral interest and focus on the interests of our communities and families, and above all else, our children.  To ask themselves what can I do today to make a difference to Scotland and her people?  On Wednesday, there should be only one answer.


10 thoughts on “A price worth paying

  1. Pingback: Welsh and Scottish Labour at odds over minimum alcohol pricing « A Burdz Eye View

  2. I wrote a year ago

    “The medical authorities and the police are behind the SNP proposals but I wonder if they would have any great effect.

    Under their proposals the price of Buckfast and alcopops would remain unchanged, a bottle of Jacob’s Creek wine would fall in price and a can of strong lager would go up from 90p to £1

    Whilst strong cider would almost double in price, and cheaper spirits would increase, there would be plenty of alternatives for consumers of these products.

    I wonder if perhaps the availability of drink is the main problem rather than the price?

    Here’s a radical proposal. What if drink had to be purchased from off sales and supermarkets between 11 am and 6pm? and an amount of forward planning was required?

    Only asking.

    I suppose Tony Tesco would have something to say about it mind you.”




  3. I welcome minimum pricing it’s everything else bundled with this bill that i have problems with it’s not a pick ‘n’ mix to my liking.I and along with fellow colleges have written to all MSPs to oppose the social levy.

    The Scottish Parliament Edinburgh EH99 1SP
    4 November 2010
    Dear …
    Alcohol (Scotland) Bill – Please oppose the Social Responsibility Levy
    The Alcohol (Scotland) Bill will be before MSPs for Stage 3 debate on 10 November and we are contacting you today to ask for your support in opposing proposals to introduce a Social Responsibility Levy in Scotland.
    As organisations representing business, tourism, pubs, hotels, restaurants, brewers, retailers, manufacturers and exporters we are united in our opposition to the proposals for a levy in Scotland. We believe a blanket levy will put an additional burden on Scottish businesses that are already paying inflated licensing fees, at a time of economic uncertainty, push prices up for all Scottish alcohol consumers, regardless of whether they consume irresponsibly and undermine the Scottish economy. The Government has not completed a regulatory impact assessment of the levy and therefore has done little to address concerns raised about the wider impact on the Scottish Economy that a levy could have. Not to mention that in 2005, the Scottish Parliament rejected proposals to introduce a form of social responsibility levies. At a time of financial constraint, when many businesses in Scotland are already feeling the pinch and paying increased rates, we do not believe further measures should be introduced to inflict another tax on the majority of responsible licence holders in Scotland.
    We share the concerns of the Subordinate Legislation, Finance and Health & Sport Committees of the Scottish Parliament who have also criticised the Government for the lack of detail they have provided about how a levy would work in practice. Scottish Ministers are asking MSPs to vote in favour of giving them local tax raising powers when they have failed to respond to repeated requests for further information about how the levy will work in practice. The Bill as drafted leaves a number of unanswered questions such as; how much revenue does the Government intend to raise from the levy; has the Government assessed the impact on business of a levy, how will the levy be calculated; how often will it be reviewed and what process will be put in place to ensure that parliament can debate and scrutinise any future proposed increases to a levy?
    The Bill continues to provide Ministers with very broad and vague powers with recourse to parliament only through the affirmative resolution procedures. It remains a major concern that such a proposal should not be enacted and tightly defined within primary legislation, contrary to the fundamental principles of taxation. The Scottish Government’s amendments to the Bill at Stage 2 are very minor, and in essence these clauses have not advanced at all
    since first presented to the Scottish Parliament in 2009 in the Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill.
    We do not believe that such flawed legislation is adequate in providing the clarity required by businesses operating in Scotland and it could act as disincentive for new business seeking to invest. Nor are the proposals compliant with the principles of good regulation which should be: transparent; accountable; proportionate; consistent and targeted only at cases where action is needed. We would therefore urge you to oppose the proposals in the Bill on the grounds that the policy has been ill-thought through and provides little opportunity for parliament to debate and further scrutinise the regulations.
    Yours sincerely
    Fiona Moriarty
    John Drummond
    David Lonsdale
    Patrick Browne
    Andy Willox OBE
    Jeremy Beadles
    Ms Ufi Ibrahim
    Abdul Qadar National Federation of Retail Newsagents

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  5. It seeme to me Abdul that you are missing the entire point of minimum pricing. Minimum pricing would create a level playing field between small retailers and large supermarkets. The supermarkets would not be able to undercut smaller stores – because they would no longer be able to sell alcohol at deeply discounted rates.

  6. Our national problem with alcohol isn’t about to be solved by any one simple measure. There are many steps which could be taken to begin to alleviate the misery wrought by booze, with education (at every level of society, to include schoolkids who don’t drink(yet) through to adults who do.) Other measures include the minimum pricing policy which the opposition parties voted down at holyrood a few weeks ago. This particular action has angered me a lot. Presented with an opportunity to take some positive action for the benefit of our people they conspired to drop one of the most effective measures available to the legislature in this matter. This isn’t just me saying this, the World Health Organisation say it too. Their report is referenced here:


    and further references to our love affair with the bevvy are discussed here:


    The closing paragraph of you post here is one I would echo and support strongly, I hope indeed that our MSPs of all parties come around to the same way of thinking when it comes time to vote again on the matter.

  7. Another case of handing responsibility of our children to the government to sort out.Where are the parents in this equation. What is needed is education at all levels and not more regulations. Can you say what has been achieved from the last lot of changes brought in the past two years other than an expensive upheavel and losses to small business.All it did was divert trade to the supermarkets who can run even more cheap offers.
    The social responsibility tax will again hit small business hard and unfairly. A bonanza for lawayers and courts deciding who is responsible for the Friday night mayhems.

    • I emphathise entirely with the situation of small retailers – they are not the problem or at least the biggest problem. Hopefully regulations on the social responsibility levy might be able to distinguish between mass and small retailers and charge less of a levy on small turnover. A reward system ie less of a levy for more responsible behaviour would be good too.

      Normally I would concur with your sentiment on the state taking over the parenting role but the point I’m trying to make is that the government needs to tackle parental behaviour to protect children from the worst impacts of alcohol misuse. That is entirely legitimate. If parents and other adult won’t behave responsibly through carrot approaches then the state must prescribe to try and tackle their behaviour. Cleaning up our act on alcohol should be focused on the impact on future generations and the fact that our children will end up paying the price for this and all other social ills. That should be the focus for MSPs.

  8. I agree. This is something the Scottish Parliament has the power to do to try to make a difference. I don’t see why we can’t even give it a try for a few years, just to see if it leads to less alcohol related misery.

    The SNP usually take pelters, and often justifiably, for failing to use the powers they have before whinging that all our woes are Westminster’s fault. On this issue, they have taken the initiative and brought forward a bit of evidence based policy, backed by a fairly major cross section of the community. It would be a great shame to reject it.

  9. Well said, Kate. I think the attitude of the opposition on this issue, particularly within Labour, has been shocking so far. Their arrogant disregard of all of the pleas from medical, voluntary sector and justice professionals has been utterly appalling.
    I too hope they can put aside their visceral hatred for the SNP for one day and do what is right for Scotland. We are used to the Tories objecting due to vested interests and dancing to their donors’ tunes, but to see the party that claims to represent working people opposing something that will have substantial benefits to them on a petty basis is unedifying to say the least. This is especially galling given they are opposing policies now being considred by their colleagues down south. Shame on them all if they don’t back these measures.

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