Helen Martin: Scots will find a way round booze pricing

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THERE are few things that all Scots agree on, so it does make you wonder how we will ever get the phraseology of the independence referendum question right, let alone emerge with some kind of clear and binding majority decision.

In fact we are still arguing over the rights and wrongs of the minimum pricing policy for alcohol. And now that row has spread south as some councillors in the north of England are rubbing their hands together at the lucrative thought of Scots on booze runs swelling their local coffers, while others are horrified by the thought that they should be in any way open, let alone welcoming, to marauding Scots in search of cheap drink.

I’d like to tell the Scottish Government “I told you so”. But then many people did – and they didn’t listen.

I lived in Kent for a while, where anyone with any sense at all made a bi-annual trip to Calais to stock up on booze, mostly wine and beer. It was a nice day out. In reality, by the time the ferry costs were taken into account, it didn’t save us anything much at all but that wasn’t the point. The satisfaction and fun came from paying less than the prices at home, and giving less to the tax man.

My family live in the Republic of Ireland. First rule when visiting . . . fill up your petrol tank in Ulster. And if you can pick up a few bottles of Guinness and wine as gifts too, so much the better. Never fill up on the return journey until you cross the border even if the engine’s running on prayer and vapour. Regardless of the fact that it’s the local garage and grocer in Eire who will lose the business, the temptation to get the lowest price possible is hard-wired into most of us . . . especially if it just means a small detour.

Already, discounts for bulk sales of alcohol are banned in Scotland. The same supermarkets in England will be giving 25 per cent off if you buy six bottles of wine, while here, you could buy 100 but you’ll still pay full whack. I know one woman who is partial to a particular Tesco wine which she orders through her daughter who lives in England thus saving about £25 a case.

We all love a pricing challenge. And since England’s only about 90 minutes away and doesn’t require a passport, it’s not even that much of a challenge.

Making something more expensive is rarely a deterrent nowadays. It simply makes it more desirable – especially if you think you can get it cheaper. People with apparently no money still manage to acquire expensive designer labels, handbags and shoes, not to mention sourcing convincing but illegal fakes. They might not have jobs or be able to pay the rent, but they all have smart phones. The idea that people diligently sit down to figure out what they can and can’t afford and abide by the sums like a pernickety accountant is optimistic to say the least.

Of course it’s inevitable, especially in a recession, that Scots will go to England on “booze trips”. The closest English supermarkets will prosper. And that may well be the least of it. Putting their preferred booze out of financial reach may well make it more attractive to some. To that heady mix, add counterfeiters flogging fake “branded” booze which may contain who knows what. Increased thefts or maybe a resurgence of shebeens, or illegal drinking dens, will add to the rich tapestry of minimum pricing too.

I have no argument with the fact that drink is too ingrained in our culture. But I certainly count myself among the lobby who believes putting the price up isn’t the way to deal with it. It’s a simplistic, quick, middle-class, unimaginative, divisive solution to a problem which requires a complex and well-considered long term cultural change based on an understanding of human nature.

The potential risks and problems seem greater than the potential gain and that’s never a good place to start.

Give Harry a break

WEARING a Nazi uniform wasn’t Prince Harry’s finest moment. But he fights for his country and does a great job of inspiring and relating to poor and vulnerable people around the world on his official visits. He’s part of the modern, approachable, accessible Royal family. Perfection is not expected, as it was of the Queen.

So he gets photographed looking the worse for wear outside the occasional night club and now he’s been caught with his pants down. So what?

He’s 27, he’s rich, he’s a Royal Prince, maybe a bit too trusting of his “friends” and the female hangers-on, especially in a gossip-town like LA.

But when all’s said and done it’s a blurred picture of a naked young man who, fuzzy though the picture is online, appears to be covering his “bits”. Pretty unremarkable really.

We’ve all had a weekend to faint, grab the smelling salts and waft our handkerchiefs in the air so perhaps we can move on.