Gina Davidson: Nothing to toast in booze sales decision

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DO you like a drink? A preprandial G&T, a glass of wine once the kids are in bed to take the stress of the day away, a wee swally on a Saturday night?

Who doesn’t? Well, bizarrely a few journalists I know never touch the stuff – so much for stereotypes – but as our First Minister recently said, we are a “nation of drunks”. But he went further, stating it was the “availability of cheap alcohol” and the “cultural changes” which that had wrought – the idea that going out to get wrecked is an end in itself – that had affected our national relationship with alcohol. We like being loaded – though sadly it’s nothing to do with decent salaries.

Of course there’s a cost to this dysfunctional relationship. Statistics show that alcohol is a factor in around 50 different causes of death, from cancers and strokes to those which result from drunken violence and drunken driving. The impact of alcohol problems affects family, friends, employers, your local high street on a Friday and Saturday night. Apparently alcohol misuse costs Scotland £3.6 billion a year – including a cost to the NHS of £270 million and the police £730m.

The Scottish Government wants to introduce a minimum pricing policy, to try and ensure that cheap lager and cider, at least, become something to think twice about when buying essentials in the supermarket, rather than being an easy chuck-it-in-the-trolley purchase. Statistics show two thirds of the alcohol sold in Scotland now is predominantly through supermarkets, and increased off-sales outlets have driven the rise in imbibing.

Why there’s been any opposition to this I can’t understand.

So you might think then the councillors on Edinburgh’s licensing committee would take all of that into account when granting new off-sales licences in one of the busiest, booziest parts of town. If there’s one thing Tollcross is not short of, it’s places to get drunk or buy as much hooch as you can handle. Yet, both Sainsbury’s and the Co-op were given licences to sell alcohol from premises in the same street – Earl Grey Street – just a beer bottle’s throw from a licensed Tesco.

Then there’s a Co-op in Leven Street which sells alcohol along with another in Lothian Road, a Tesco at Fountainbridge and Sainsbury’s stores in ­Morrison Street and the West Port.

All against the advice of health bodies and Edinburgh’s police chief. Even the Scottish Licensed Trade Association have questioned this decision.

Ultimately decisions on over-
provision of alcohol, while informed by health and police authorities, are a value judgement for councillors, but the link between the availability of alcohol and the rise in problems related to its consumption are well known. And the licensing system is supposed to regulate the provision of drink and therefore reduce the risk of harm to both those drinking and those not – in other words to protect society in general from the fall-out.

So how do more off-sales in Tollcross square with that? Perhaps there’s really a belief that it would be unfair to deny two supermarkets when others already have licences, is there a fear of potential legal action?

Or maybe they don’t think that two more off-sales will make a difference – just a couple more shots dropped in the alcohol ocean which surrounds the people of Tollcross. Perhaps the councillors just don’t believe the evidence.

Interestingly it’s been pointed out that those who voted these licences through do not represent Tollcross, so perhaps this is just reverse Nimbyism.

Whatever it is, they should remember their duty is to the public of Edinburgh, not the supermarket bosses.

Lack of NHS compassion needs probe

AT some point money was bound to come into it. The idea that NHS Lothian staff suggested stillborn babies should be communally cremated to save it some cash is as distasteful as the idea that the bodies of these babies, once turned to dust, were hoovered up and binned.

I can understand that society’s attitude to how stillborn and tiny babies who die just after birth has changed over time. But I can’t, and never will, understand why those who deal with these issues had such little compassion for parents they thought treating their babies like trash was acceptable.

Those responsible need to be held to account at a public inquiry.

McCallum’s lie test is a waste

CONVICTED paedophile John McCallum, who was jailed for ten years for the rape and sustained sexual abuse of his twin nieces, has apparently paid for a lie detector test to prove his innocence.

Polygraphs are not admissable as evidence in Scottish courts because of the huge doubts over their accuracy. But our justice system really has no need of them when there’s already an in-built lie detector in the courtroom – the jury.

Farage is ready for round two

NIGEL Farage is, the brave wee soul, heading back to Edinburgh. The last time he was here he had to shelter in the Canon’s Gait pub for his own safety after a group of protestors’ verbal assaults got too much for him.

But the anti-immigration MEP is coming back for a UKIP rally and this time his political opponents have already announced their protest will be more organised.

Whether you like Farage or not, whether you like the tactics of the Radical Independence Campaign or not, isn’t it great we live in a country where freedom of speech allows both sides to voice their opinions?

And of course there’s a free press to report it all too.