Brian Monteith: Nat hypocrisy over alcohol policy

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: John Devlin
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: John Devlin
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In our modern times it is hard to think of a group of politicians more given over to telling us how to run our lives than Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP. The morally righteous tone that her government takes on issues connected with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs is completely at odds with any concept of personal independence.

And yet it was revealed this week that the same government that wants a minimum price for alcohol and has in the past considered all sort of new restrictions, including raising the age of purchasing alcohol to 21, provided Scotland’s greatest annual alcohol-fest – T in the Park – with a secret taxpayer-funded bung of £150,000 to make sure it went ahead.

If alcohol is so bad for us that we need yet more laws to dissuade us from drinking too much of the stuff, why is our government helping a private events company hold the mother of all Scotland’s boozy beanos?

A more strident advocate of minimum pricing of alcohol than Nicola Sturgeon would be hard to find. Ever since she was Alex Salmond’s health secretary Sturgeon has been on a crusade to have the policy introduced. This is despite the complete lack of any reliable evidence about how it will stop those who abuse alcohol from continuing to do so.

Alcohol in moderation is good for you and good for society in general, but you will never hear public health nannies like Sturgeon admitting this. While they turn to the projections of social scientists and behavioural modelling, the one fact that they cannot refute is that the life expectancy of teetotallers is shorter than that of even heavy drinkers.

The effects of alcohol can be bad for some people, are costly to businesses in lost productivity and generate significant care costs for the NHS. These have to be balanced by the health benefits that even a small amount of alcohol has across the population as well as helping to make our lives more fun and our work more bearable.

Research studies that seek to only discuss the costs and ignore the benefits lack balance and have no credibility – yet it is these type of studies that Sturgeon and her fellow believers rely on.

If people will drink industrial cleaners to get their high then it is safe to assume that making the cheapest vodka or cider a few quid dearer is unlikely to dissuade them from drinking booze. They will just switch to a cheaper, probably more harmful, alternative.

Of course, the plan has always been to get the policy into law and start off at about 50p a unit, but then drive it up towards 70p. The behavioural modelling carried out by researchers only begins to demonstrate a real impact when prices rocket, but politicians have intentionally talked of a minimum price of 40-45p so as not to scare the public.

Such is the belief in having a minimum price regime for alcohol that you would think consumption is climbing and must be tackled no matter what, but you would be mistaken. The truth is consumption is falling and this has been the trend in Scotland and the rest of the UK for many years now.

Politicians who believe they know what’s best for us don’t let such an inconvenient fact get in the way of their desire to run our lives – so the law has been passed and is only being prevented from introduction because it is stuck in the courts due to a legal challenge from the whisky industry.

So, we have a law that is based on guesswork and assumptions dressed up as science that will punish the majority – the many responsible moderate drinkers – while leaving untouched the minority that abuse alcohol it is intended to protect. Only a devout believer in temperance can advocate support for such damaging interference in our lives – so why give T in the Park £150,000?

Anyone who has ever been near T in the Park can tell you that while it is a fun-packed event for many, it is also a sea of inebriation and a shrine to bodily self-abuse through booze and drugs. Let the (mostly) kids get on with it, I say. As someone who was watching Led Zeppelin and Yes in the early 1970s I’m all for people enjoying rock festivals if that’s their thing, but these are commercial operations that are supported by the drinks industry and private business and should not need or be entitled to taxpayer bailouts.

If T in the Park was in trouble because of the administrative delays surrounding its move from Balado to Strathallan then why was it not given a loan rather than a grant?

Sadly, I fear that for reasons of political reputation the SNP cannot allow anything iconic to fail in Scotland and believes it must come to the rescue. For T in the Park think Prestwick Airport and Grangemouth petrochemical plant.

No matter how damaging SNP policies may be on alcohol (or enterprise and fracking) it will contradict even its own moral superiority to avoid any accusation of failure.