by Phyllis Stephen
It’s the end of Happy Hours….but surely few people can be unhappy about the announcement from the Scottish Government to bring to an end our national love affair with the bottle.
They are today taking steps to curb excesses in drinking, particularly under-age drinking and other forms of alcohol abuse.
It will, as a result, be more difficult to buy alcohol as it will be both more expensive and more elusive.
The plans were revealed when the Scottish Government announced its proposed action plan to end the binge drinking culture in Scotland, especially among the young.
The new pricing structure in pubs and clubs will be calculated by applying a minimum price per unit of alcohol. So any sales promotions, such as cut price shots, will be banned in an effort to stop people drinking too much in one evening.
From a health point of view, the Government hopes that this will mean a reduction in the number of people going to hospital rather than going home at the end of a night out. Over 40,000 were admitted to hospital last year suffering from alcohol related complaints. And here is a sobering statistic – at least 1500 people died in the year from alcohol abuse.
The estimated bill for all of the extra costs, whether incurred in caring for those who end up in hospital wards or simply as a cost impact on the country’s productivity, is over £2 billion. We all know someone who has taken a sickie as a result of a night out on the town.
Characters such as Rab C Nesbitt are all too common on our Scottish streets and they may be a source of fun but the reality is very scary. Cases of diabetes, obesity, dementia and cancers as well as the more common cirrhosis of the liver are all on the rise according to NHS figures.
In some areas local licensing boards will be able to put up the off-license age limit to 21 if local circumstances call for it.
Crime figures have increased as a result of crimes committed by drunks. The Justice Minister Kenny McAskill said today that he believes this is the “right package of measures to make a real difference”. It is also hoped that the drink driving limit might be reduced. DCS John Carnochan Head of the Violence Reduction Unit said “Through its significant contribution to violence, it (alcohol) has placed an immense financial burden on this country. But there are hidden costs – those to communities, relationships and lives that could have been better lived. Fundamentally if you want to reduce violence then you need to reduce access to alcohol.”
Fiona Moriarty, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, was critical of these proposed measures.
“Irresponsible drinking is not about price or availability yet this is the main focus of the Government’s approach,” she said.
“We need to develop solutions that educate rather than alienate and instead the Government has retreated to its bunker and is neither listening to the evidence presented or willing to tackle these issues in a consensual manner.”
She added: “Prices and promotions are broadly the same across the UK but alcohol-related deaths are far higher in Scotland than England, which clearly shows Scotland’s relationship with alcohol is deep-rooted and complex.
“At a time when customers’ finances are under severe pressure it’s incredible that the Scottish Government believes voters will thank them for using the force of law to push up prices.”
John Loudon, a Scottish licensing law expert, says that he thinks the Scottish Government may have gone a bit far as competition law is a reserved matter to the UK government in terms of the Scotland Act
He also points out that it is a little strange that under 21s could be serving in Iraq one week but find themselves unable to buy cans in the off sales when they come home. Of course it is already true that in Scotland you can get married and have children before you vote.
The Scottish Government will debate the measures in the Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill when it comes before Parliament later this year.