Thursday 14 January 2010


For some time now it has been the policy of the SNP to tackle the drink problem in Scotland by introducing a system of minimum pricing.

It is not a policy that I agree with for a couple of reasons.

As the Scottish Government has no power to tax, the extra money will simply go to the shops who sell the drink. As Tesco would say "every little bit hurts" and the increase in cost will not put people off buying drink, or at least very few. Those who steal to get drunk will simply steal more; those who take it out of the household budget will spend less on clothes or worse food, in order to afford their drink. For most of the heavy drinkers, drink is a compulsion, an addiction, not a pleasure.

But the arguments for and against have been rehearsed on this forum on numerous occasions and the point of this post is not to repeat them in detail. There is, however, an interesting new development. Labour in Scotland has until now taken the stand that this is a bad idea; that it will penalise moderate drinkers, that it will hurt the drinks industry and that it will antagonise some of their core vote. So today it finds itself in rather a difficult position. It appears, according to the lead story in the Scottish edition of the Daily Telegraph (but not to be found online), that Mr Brown is going to put a minimum price for alcohol into his manifesto for the next Labour government in England.

To be fair to both SNP in Scotland and Mr Brown in England, the Chief Medical Officers from the two countries have backed the policy, as I think, have the BMA, the NHS Federation and the Royal College of Physicians. In light of this Andy Burnham, the English Health Minister has developed a series of policies to bring minimum pricing into effect. They still have to be presented to the Cabinet, where it is said that Mr Mandleson is strongly against them on the basis of them being politically dangerous.

Clearly this puts Mr Gray in an embarrassing position. He is faced with the choice of an embarrassing U-turn or taking a position which is opposed to his English bosses'. It will be interesting to see which one he takes and how many of his already divided shadow cabinet he can take with him.


  1. To be totally unfair I could point out that the figures for excessive amounts of alcohol were just plucked out of the air because they seemed good and have no basis in fact whatsoever.

    The chief medical officers should probably mind their own business instead of venturing into an area they make stuff up in.
    As for politicians, they should simply mind their own, it's not for them to deal with drunks, it's for the police, we have laws for that.

  2. Yes...I think I said over at your place, I take the Tories' view on this. Use exisitng laws. It is illegal to be drunk on the street. Lock them up and fine the ass off them for wasting police time.

    Why on earth people are lifted for having a bit of cannabis, but "helped home" when they are so drunk that the only way is flat on their faces, is beyong me.

    However, as long as people don't disturb their neightbours, as far as I'm concerned they can drink meths all day, and all night AT HOME.

  3. I remain to be convinced about the minimum pricing policy, not least because it seems to me it fails to properly target the reality where underage drinkers get their alchopops etc from local cornershops rather than supermarkets which tend to have rather robust age policies.

    ...but what this episide demonstrates is the reality of the Labour attitude towards devolution. Blair was caught out during the 1997 election when he called the future parliament as being little more than a local council...and throughout the last 13 years we have seen Labour government in London treat the Scottish parliament with contempt, ignoring even their own Holyrood Labour leaders.

    It is also a good example of the charater of Gordon Brown, who remains a centralist by instinct, and hardly one renound for his team work!

  4. As I've said Dean, this drunken behaviour would not be allowed many other places. In France they would be lifted and jailed. French towns of a Friday night are, of course, far safer places to be.

    In theory the police have the authority, if not the numbers, to lift drunks, and to close down pubs that are selling drink to people who have had too much.

    Part of the problem is that the bars try to over sell drink... keeping people standing, playing loud music so there's nothing to do but drink, automatically selling doubles or large glasses of wine, without asking.

    It's all about profit, which of course is why Mr Mandleson is worried about it. He's probably got shares or mates in drinks companies.

    But under our law it is illegal to sell alcohol to someone who is drunk.

    I repeat that I have no problem whatsoever with someone drinking in their house from the time they wake up, till they fall off their perch. It will kill them early, but that is their affair, not society’s.

    It is our responsibility to make sure that they have enough information (against big business’s advertising) to make an informed decision on it.

    One other thing we should try to do is to make it uncool to be lying with your face in the snow, sleeping it off and freezing to death. But for as long as teen heroes like Amy Winebottle and Jordan et al think that it’s cool.... we will have an uphill struggle.

    Really yes, the main thrust of the post was that it was interesting to see Labour take a different attitude in Edinburgh from that in London.... Which will prevale?

  5. ...or prevail... even.... Sorry!

  6. Well Tris from what you right that constitutes a sterling defence of current Conservative thinking!

    What matters is the enforcement of existing laws, and the police already have sufficient powers to see this done. Providing bars, supermarkets with additional burdens and committments is wrong, as it fails to address the root of the problem. And that is and seems to remain; despite Browns and SNP plans; the non-enforcement of the laws of the land.

    The SNP should start by getting present laws enforced, even if it demands ruling guidelines for judges- something I tend to stand firmly against.

  7. Well, to be fair Dean, it will put huge reponsibility on bar managers to ensure that they don't serve people with alcohol when they are drunk. The same goes for the offy, and the supermarket.

    It would also be of huge risk to them commercially. The last fgew rounds of the night when everyone is well and truly blootered, make the pubs a lot of money.

    There's not a painless solution.

  8. To be fair in England Labour tried to do something about it. Tony Blair introduced all night drinking on the understanding that this would sort out the problem of loads of drunks on the streets at chucking out time. Also they tuffed up anti-social behaviour legislation (supposedly) and further restricted alcohol advertising (although not if you are Bernie Ecclestone). None of that worked.

    Here in Scotland that Labour/Liberal Scottish Executives as far as I can see did nothing at all and simply followed England’s lead despite the problem here being more acute than in England, if that is possible. So that was 8 years of Labour/Lib Dem inaction. With the SNP a proposal was introduced to do something within the first year of the Scottish Government. Labour and the Liberal Democrats helped to make sure that that policy initiative would come to nothing saying it was ill thought out and that it would not work, that it would penalise sensible drinkers and so on.

    But now it’s going to be Labour policy in England and as we know Gordon Brown is the leader of Labour in Scotland so where indeed does that leave Iain Gray and his clique?

    As for the Tories, well we don’t know what they will do because they don’t like to tell us do they? And in Scotland they wont have to because they will never form a government here.

  9. Munguin:

    That was the main thrust of the post. Gordon Brown is leader of Labour in Scotland, not Iain Gray, and as such must ahve an imput into what the party's policies are. I'm looking forward to the climbdown or showdown from teh wee grey man.

    To be fair to the Tories they have told us what their policies are, but of course you're right, they will never have the chance to put them into practice unless in coalition with one of the other parties, and that seems unlikely.

    It would be fair to say that Blair wasn't the first to hope that, if the English were treated like continentals they would behave like them. Mrs Thatcher must also have had some vision of a café society, although clearly with her instictive dislike of anything foreign it certainly wasn't based on any continental model. I'm pretty sure she extended the drinking hours from the incredibly strict WWI hours which she saw as detrimental to the tourist industry.