Friday, 1 January 2010


It was a dream that just wasn’t going to come true. After decades of repressive drinking laws, which were often blamed for the British malady of drunkenness, both Conservative and Labour governments have relaxed drinking laws so that they match those of our continental neighbours.

Laws have always been different in Scotland and England, but the principles behind them have been the same. Both Mrs Thatcher and Mr Blair felt that if the restrictive hours allowed for selling alcohol (introduced during the First World War) could be relaxed a little, then British people would not feel obliged to throw drink down their necks with such abandon, and a café style society would develop along the lines of that in France or Belgium.

It was a reasonable suggestion I suppose in fairness to both leaders. Why would British people be less capable of controlling their drinking urges than the French or Spanish?

However, for some reason it didn’t work. Official figures reported in today’s newspapers suggest that the cost to the NHS of dealing with drunkenness has doubled over the last 6 years. However, It is not clear whether that is UK wide or England only.

So.... what to do? The government in Edinburgh has put forward suggestions on minimum pricing for alcohol in an effort to stop the sale of alcohol that is sometimes cheaper than the water on their shelves. Loss leader alcohol deals are a way of pulling customers in. However opposition parties disagree that this would be effective.

Among other suggestions is one which on the face of it sounds good, but on analysis is filled with holes. It is that of charging people who are found drunk and incapable with the cost of their treatment. Good idea...sounds reasonable, you might think. They are draining the NHS, let them pay up. But of course you are left with the question of where you draw the line, and why a person who gets drunk and falls over at a certain cost to the public purse is any more culpable than someone who goes mountain climbing and needs to be rescued by helicopter. Both made the choice to do it and both cost us money. It’s also true to say that the tax take from alcohol (£13 billion in 2005/6)* is far larger than the amount spent on treating drunkenness currently £2.7 billion. It could reasonable be argued that drinkers have already paid handsomely to be rescued.

The government probably has no right to be nannying people to look after their health, although there is probably an obligation on them to ensure that people are aware of the dangers of over imbibing. The misery of cirrhosis of the liver should not be underestimated. We also need to take into consideration the right of those of us who prefer not to have to pick our way through last night’s vomit on our way to wherever we are going.

Perhaps we need to try to ensure that people who get into the state where they are lying half naked in the snow, understand just how disgusting they look. We turned around the culture of drink driving in this country from where almost everyone did it, to where almost no one does, by a series of hard hitting advertising campaigns. Can we do the same thing with this?

* The last fingures I could find.

Pictures from the Daily Mail.


  1. We live in the kind of society to which getting Drunk is the only logical response.

  2. Niko: There's nothing wrong with a few drinks, and a wee warm glow is great, but has to be more to life than getting so legless that you end up lying in the snow sleeping. Left alone in that situation you would die. It's sad if we think that getting THAT drunk is the only logical response. We've made a right mess of stuff if it is.

  3. I didn't say it was a good response.

    Whats the alternative?

  4. I've simply no idea Niko. I wish I did. It sickens me to see the mess we're in. It's through the generations, it can't be blamed on the young, or the old, or women or men ... it's across society.

    We really need our politicians to work together on this. All of them, without trying to score points, and together with health experts and police and social workers, a cross party solution must be found. Like that's gonna happen, but wouldn't it be a step forward for Scotland if it did?

  5. Perhaps if the state didn't persecute us by destroying our liberties, robbing us blind by taxation and actually took notice of what the people want instead of what politicians want then people wouldn't feel the need to get so paralytic in order to forget their woes and stresses.

    Sometimes drink is an answer, not a good one, but still an answer.

  6. It might help QM. God knows I wish they would butt out of so mucch.... But it's obviously something that has gone on for a very long time. During the First World War the government was obliged to bring in laws curbing the hours that people were allowed to drink, because of the propensity for workers to go to the pub and not come back. Bad when they were working on munitions and other necessaries for the war that was being fought.

    It seems to have been a way of drowning sorrows in this country for longer than could reasonably be blamed on Mr Brown or even Mrs Thatcher.

    I think it may only seem worse today because it involves women... Once upon a time they were too busy at home with children and cooking the man's tea to be out there lying on the ground drunk and dying of hypothermia.

    I honestly don't think that kind of drinking is the answer... a few pints yes... a bucket of Wkd, no!

  7. Poor education,living conditions, diet, prospects, weather and government. I'm always amazed that there isn't more drinking and drug taking in the UK. I mean why wouldn't you ?
    Our alcohol is more expensive than anywhere else I've visited in the world so I doubt if making it more expensive would help. Might make things worse with more crimes like shoplifting and muggings being carried out to get the extra money required.

  8. Hope in a future where you have input and influence is the only answer. Look around the world and wherever you find people marginalized and powerless drunkenness is the response.

  9. Danny, 1st Earl of the OzarksJanuary 02, 2010 7:35 am

    I have no answers whatever to the problem you describe so clearly. But I'm always skeptical about the skill (and motivation) of politicians who try to solve the problems of human behavior with governmental policies.

    In American politics.....not sure about the UK....there is a strong libertarian spirit (which actually meets on both ends of the left-right political divide.) The idea is that government should stay out of our lives, and not attempt to regulate personal behavior which does not directly harm our neighbors.

    On the other side, we have the "social cost" theory of governance. Most specifically in this example, there is an actual monetary cost to the NHS to treat the physical effects of alcoholism. So, the politicians can and do get involved. For another example, what possible justification can there be for the drug laws? Government can actually tell us what substances we can put in our own mouths??!! Outrageous!!! What permits politicians to pass such legislation? The social cost (in all its forms) that comes from drug use......and specifically of course the money cost to the NHS to treat the physical effects.

    In the good ole USA, it goes further.....OF COURSE. The left wing Democrats now want to tell us what foods we should eat. We must be healthy. We must have the proper body weight and muscle mass. Now how can politicians, under a written constitution which explicitly limits their powers, possibly make laws that mandate healthy eating? Why it's the social cost of obesity. Yea, that's it! That'll work! Unhealthy eating causes obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc, and taxes our health care system. And it increases medical insurance claims......and the insurance premiums go up......and that hurts everyone's pocket book. So, the politicians must devise their plans and policies to address the obesity "problem." The social cost theory of governance allows the politicians to do almost anything to us (OOPS.....FOR us I mean...LOL).

    Oh well, back to your actual topic. I have no idea what can be done about the alcoholism problem you describe. But I'm pretty sure that whatever the politicians do will be either irrelevent or detrimental. And, BTW, one bad thing about a government-run medical system (in my humble but sympathetic opinion) is that it so readily allows your politicians to apply the social cost theory of governance to try to force individuals to conform to their idea of acceptable behavior. It's certainly bad to have intoxicated people lying about on the pavement. But the politicians will not solve it with legislation about closing times or alcohol taxation.

    I agree entirely with your suggestion that some sort of public education is perhaps a better answer than governmental action. (Although I wonder if these people might be beyond the reach of a traditional public education program.) I mentioned that the libertarian spirit here in the states actually has components on both ends of the political spectrum. Like the left wing Democrats, the right wing Christian Republicans hate excessive government control. So my right wing Republican friends would tell me that government legislation cannot solve the problem.....that it rquires a change in the human mind and soul. I actually think they may have a point there.

  10. Such a shame that the Labour clique at Holyrood and the Tories and Lid Dems were so against the SNP’s attempt to answer this question. So, for the time being we will be doing nothing, just like the Labour/Lid Dem administration did for 8 years. At least London tried to do something, but the problem was always much worse in Scotland so it beggars belief that the last 8 years have seen nothing at all that might ever answerer this.

  11. Munguin
    There are laws up the ying yang to sort out drunken troublemakers who put other people aswell as themselves into hospital but the softly softly approach by the SNP, esp MacAskill, means we will always have drunken louts running amok. To pick on the price of alcohol as the main cause is probably the most pathetic and stupid answer to the problem that I have ever heard. Hurt the majority because our leaders fail to enforce perfectly satisfactory laws that have existed for a century.

  12. Anon: I think the most pathetic and stupid answer to the question is to do nothing.

    If the remit is within existing law why has nothing been done by Labour who are so keen on easy fixes? So we know what you don’t like but what do you suggest given that existing law is not working?

  13. Anon: The minimum pricing policy is designed to stop supermarkets selling cheap booze at below cost as loss leaders; it is designed to stop people being able to buy cider, for example, cheaper than water. The majority of people don't really drink that stuff. It will not affect the price of a bottle of wine or spirits or normally priced beer.

    If you are trying to blame the SNP for drunken louts running amok, can I remind you that the SNP has been in power for 2 1/2 years. What then is your explanation for the fact that this drunkenness was rife under the previous Liberal/Labour administration, and before that under a Labour Government in London, and before that a Conservative government in London. Indeed I'm pretty certain that it was rife under the Liberal administration around a hundred years ago.

    How can we stop the scenes, like the ones above using existing laws?

  14. Sunnert. Yep, I'm inclined to agree with that. A sense of hopelessness... we can’t change anything so why not hide under a blanket of alcohol... is all around us in the UK, because it is a UK-wide problem. In fact, despite what Anon might think, these pictures which I took from the Daily Mail, were of English town centres. It seems that the Labour Party’s policies don’t make life good enough for the English that they would want to actually “see” the New Year in.

    Some pride in “our” country might help. But we need to get kids to look at these pictures and see what an adult sees, and realise just how ugly it is

  15. Anon 1: Yes, I agree with that litany of charges.... everything except the rich is poor in this country. People have so little hope. They have been told for years to put up with second rate everything; they try to be patriotic but all they hear is of things that are better on the continent, in Japan, in America and now in China and South East Asia. But there is never enough money here. We must always be prudent. It doesn’t matter whether it was Vinegar Lips Thatcher or McCavity who is saying it.

    Then along come bankers and wreck the economy with their greed and stupidity. As if there was ever going to be a “no more boom and bust situation”. A schoolboy economics class could have told you that that was an impossibility. So suddenly there they are bankers with their caps held out, asking for more, and instead of the answer that everyone else has ever got... that there is no more and that we can’t afford it, we dump another 50 billion into their outstretched greedy little mitts so that they don’t have to deny themselves a bonus.

    Good answer. Of course, I wonder what the bets are that these two pictured even know that there is a banking crisis going on

  16. Danny:

    I don’t think really that the government can do much. Certainly stopping the sale of alcohol at dirt cheap prices may do some good, but I doubt it will have much effect. We can’t use the excuse of how much it costs our NHS in financial terms. As I pointed out in the article, that is FAR less than the receipts for taxes on drink. We are all being subsidised by drinkers and smokers.

    Some time ago in the UK although there were laws against drinking and driving, no one it seemed, paid much attention. Everyone did it, and people bragged about it. As far as I can make out there was a long-running campaign against this, showing just how anti-social it was to drink and drive. It was nothing to do with the financial cost.... more the human cost. It shamed people into responsible behaviour, and now I think it’s fairly rare to see someone drink and drive. It’s certainly nothing that you would boast about at work.

    Maybe we need to do something like that. A really good hard hitting campaign, showing what it is like to die of cirrhosis of the liver, but also the way that people see us... you know, girls looking a boys who are vomiting and saying “I’d never want to kiss that”... and boys looking at girls lying asleep in the snow with their clothes around their necks and making a putdown.

    If they realised just how totally unsavoury they looked (and to most teenagers that is important), they might just take a second look.

    For the libertarians who think we shouldn’t tell people how they can behave, I’d say fair enough if they do it in their own houses, quietly, but I have rights too, and I don’t want to have to pick my way over vomit, bodies, and the remains of takeout meals. I’d also like to be able to walk down the street without fear of drunken violence. For the big business Tories, I’d say just look at what this is doing to our Tourism business! And now that Thatcher got rid of heavy industry and Brown has wrecked the financial sector, what else do we have?

    But you're right, many of the people in this state may very well not be touched by any advertising/education programme, unless we beam it in subliminally while they are watching yet more reality tv.

  17. Danny, 1st Earl of the OzarksJanuary 02, 2010 3:15 pm


    We surely agree that any real solution involves some fundamental changes in human attitudes. (I love your reality TV idea...LOL.) And I also take your point that people should not have to deal with such human wreckage in the streets as a part of daily life.

    The libertarian view is surely a bleak one.....that it's futile to expect politicians and legislatures to deal effectively with such social problems.....and giving them the authority to even try is a dangerous exercise in political power. This attitude may flow from a distinctly American perspective.

    In the US, such problems are generally issues for non-partisan municipal governments....where Washington, and for that matter the state legislature, is a long distance away. The political parties usually stay clear of such issues in any meaningful way, except to point an accusing finger at the president come the next election campaign.

    Of course the municipal governments don't solve the problems either. The federal government does get involved with drug enforcement these days because drug distribution is interstate in nature, and a big money business laced with violence and murder. And the federal government did once get into the alcohol regulation business. We got national prohibition in the 1920's.....which caused consumption of the expensive illegal alcohol to spike upward, and made fabulously wealthy men of the mobsters who supplied it.

    Of course the government of the UK is fundamentally different in structure from that of the US. Maybe political parties and parliaments can actually do something about these social problems. But my guess is that it's a better political issue come election time, than it is a realistic hope for improvement.

  18. tris / munguin
    Firstly I'd like to say that all parties are to blame for the present predicament. I've always voted SNP but am now a non voter as my views on the EU, immigration, man made global warming ( scam )and most other areas affecting my life are the total opposite to the 4 main parties in Scotland.
    The idea that minimum prices on alcohol won't affect 'normal' drinkers who avoid cheap lagers and cider is quaint but patently ridiculous. When did any new law or tax not get extended over time ? I've never heard of any tax ever getting reduced as things were going just dandy.
    And supermarkets have been selling cheap booze since supermarkets first opened so to jump on that bandwagon and blame them is just daft.
    The truth is that the UK has the most expensive alcohol in most of the world and the most abuse of alcohol in the world. Haven't you ever wondered why ?
    Try visiting Krakow or Berlin or Barcelona. Cities with a vibrant nightlife and plenty of bars with outside drinking. Large groups of young people congregate but I've never seen any trouble. The reason is that the police have proper powers to arrest troublemakers and lock them up or give them hefty fines. Our police are now social workers who drive drunks home to mummy to sleep it off. The SNP are discouraging low senteces for minor crimes so the offenders are given cautions or asbos. And now superasbos. Do you really think that is a deterrent ?
    As I said previously there are sentences that could be handed out under the present sentencing system that are never handed out. If just a few troublemakers were dealt with properly and locked up for a proper time then news would trickle down and you would see less trouble. Unfortunately that will never happen so the silent, long suffering majority will be inconvenienced by incompetent ministers who are afraid to use their powers to punish.

  19. American municipal authorities being non partisan makes a lot of sense to me. Here they are as fiercely political as government at both country and “federal” level. Perhaps with less party politics our local councils would do a better job...

    I don’t think you can legislate against drink and drunkenness. As you point out prohibition was a serious failure in the USA (although it made some good movies, so there’s something to be thankful for!). Minimum pricing is not the answer, although if it stops some drinking and drunkenness, then I would vote for it. I heard that as of January 1, they have introduced it in Russia. It will be interesting to see what happens.

    I think we need to look at why people feel the need to spend half their lives in another world, and frankly it doesn’t seem to me that it is entirely down to bad government and poverty, although that may be a contributory factor. If you look along the northern parts of the world most cold dark countries appear to have this problem, regardless of the style of government ... Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Scotland, Greenland, Canada.... all report far higher misuse of alcohol than Spain, Greece, Italy, Albania, France.... It may well be a “dark/cold” thing....

  20. You make interesting points Anon, some of which I agree with fully... others not so.

    First I beg to challenge that the UK has the highest priced drink in the world. If you have ever tried to buy spirits in Iceland or Norway you would find that you need a mortgage... I do accept your point though that the prices are high here, and by comparison some of the Mediterranean countries are dirt cheap. Mainly I have noticed that it is the habit of consumption that differs. In France, for example, I have seen businessmen stop on their way to work and drink a Calvados with their coffee at 8.30 am. The may have a beer or wine with their lunch and a few drinks before during and after dinner... yet, as you rightly say, you never (almost) see drunkenness in the streets. In Britain you don’t have a drink till 8 pm, and then you get “tore in”. I never met a person in France who drank to get drunk; they all drank to enhance the enjoyment of their food. It is taught at school. Ahhh to be French!

    I agree that the police are far too lenient with drunks here, mindless of how these people’s behaviour affects the rest of the population (and the tourist trade). In France (I mention it often because I’ve lived there) they would indeed be lifted. But there is also a kind of shame that attaches itself to being drunk legless, totally out of it, like the pictures in my article. Yes, the Tories have said lift them and put them in jail. Fine. What jails? No one thought to build any jails over the last maybe 20-30 years have they? There is no space. Most police stations couldn’t put up more than a few people, and even big ones in town centres have limited accommodation, reserved for real prisoners.

    I know I sound as if I am pouring cold water on everything, but I seriously can’t think of anything that will work, except a huge mind change. When people realise just how disgusting they are lying half naked in the snow, then maybe they will wake up to the fact that they should stop doing it.

    While we encourage it... reality “stars”, actors, singers, footballers, all the people that kids look up to do it and they think it’s smart and cool... I bet we will be stuck with it.

  21. tris
    Yes they're definitely more relaxed in Europe with regards to alcohol.
    There's no point in trying to shame British drinkers into reducing their intake as we've been there and it hasn't worked. The only solution is to bring in stiffer sentencing for violent behaviour and repeat offending.
    I don't buy the complaint that there's no space in prisons to put folk. If the will was there it would be done. Floating prisons are readily available as a stopgap while proper prisons are built. Or there are plenty of disused military installations available.
    And there's no problem with money. We seem to have a bottomless pit of money in Scotland for pointless projects like windfarms, quangos, donations to fakecharities, MSPs' on ridiculous pay and conditions, parliaments at £550m, commonwealth games, unwanted trams etc. The list is endless. £30m for a new prison is peanuts.

  22. I beg to differ Anon. You can change attitudes. As I say, not so terribly long ago it was normal to drink and drive and to brag at work about how you had dome it... "Geez, I don't have a clue how I got home last night". Now maybe a few still do it, but no one brags about it. It's the kind of thing real low life does.

    I don't know about the cost of prisons, but I do know that building them is always problematic. No one wants to live next to them, so there is always a long panning consultation, and whether or no you would get one for £30 million is very dubious.

    Whilst I’d agree that some of the things that parliament spends its money on are a waste, I don’t think your entire list is. For example I’m not a great global warming adherent, but it makes sense for us to develop green energy for other reasons. ... but that’s another discussion.

  23. tris
    There has been no new attitude to drink driving. I'm not sure where you got that idea from. Most folk would do it if they thought they could get away with it. In fact it's on the increase with younger drivers who haven't suffered the consequences and still think a ban couldn't happen to them. The truth is that drink driving is one of the few areas of law where there has been a proper deterrent ( ban and increased insurance costs or loss of job etc )and so it has decreased. This could easily be replicated in other areas such as persistent drunkeness etc.
    I'm keen on green issues aswell but don't agree with millions being wasted on the IPCC carbon tax scam etc... ( check out

  24. Well I've seen a change in attitude Anon. Once people at work bragged that they drank and drove, but now I know no one who would do that. They would be vilified if they did. However, your experience must be different and I accept that.

    I'd be very happy to see further use of some sort of penalty for drunkenness, especially when it involves violence.