Brian Monteith: Cheers Nicola, you can afford your alcohol policy
Yesterday the SNP's flagship policy of a minimum unit price of alcohol was introduced. If you were buying a bottle of booze, you may have noticed.
All sorts of claims are being made for it, such as it will help hardened alcoholics to reduce health inequalities. Some of the policy’s advocates simply beat their chest and metaphorically or literally wave the saltire and proclaim it as another first for Scotland.
While it will be an annoying irritant for the many moderate drinkers who will be forced to pay more, it’s likely failure to change our behaviour will also annoy the neo-prohibitionists who support the policy – so they will demand the unit price be increased from 50p to 70p – as some are already suggesting.
If that happens then the public will come to realise the policy is nothing other than prohibition by the back door, an attempt to price alcohol out of the pockets of ordinary Scots. It will be yet another example of the professional classes that believe they know best telling the working classes how to live their lives. Meanwhile, on their ample taxpayer-funded salaries and final-salary pensions, they will skip down to the wine merchant and scoop up a mixed case of cheeky Chianti Classico or fruity Pouilly Fuissé because they can afford it.
Contrary to the regular scare stories the zealots against sensible drinking promote, the hard evidence shows life expectancy of teetotallers is lower – yes, lower – than for moderate and regular drinkers and no better than what most people call heavy drinkers.
Only alcoholics can expect to have shorter lives than teetotallers. I don’t advocate drinking to excess, but the claim a glass of wine or whisky a day shortens your life is statistically a lie.
Also, despite the regular news reports of people doing stupid or violent things to themselves or each other under the influence of alcohol, alcohol consumption in Scotland is actually the lowest it has been for 20 years.
What Scotland has is a cultural problem with alcohol and the answer to that is to change our cultural attitudes.
Making it harder to obtain alcohol, making it more expensive and demonising people who enjoy a drink will not change the negative aspects of our drinking culture. All it will do is change how we obtain alcohol and what we drink or consume to achieve its desired effects.
In other continental countries where beer, wine, and spirits is significantly cheaper the drink cultures are different. When in France I can buy a ten-litre box of excellent quality wine for £19 (less than £2 a litre) yet I see no drunks on the streets, no rampaging in the cafés. The same goes for when I visit Spain, Germany or other countries.
The reality is that as we force the consumption of alcohol into ever-smaller periods of the week and berate people for drinking, so we are building a counter culture that slams down as much strong alcohol as quickly as possible – rather than savours the many benefits it offers.
People who go to food banks are entitled to have a drink even if only once a week to gain respite from their difficult lives. How they will do that now and how this policy will help inequality is beyond the ken of the neo-prohibitionist zealots.
Hardened drinkers who are now or are becoming alcoholics will not be be put off by a bottle of vodka going up from £11 to £20 – they will change what they drink, maybe switching to Buckfast which is not affected by the new policy, or sacrifice food for booze, or find damaging ways to finance their habit. Meanwhile we all pay more and the price hike goes to the supermarkets.
I fail to see how any of this resolves Scotland’s problem with alcohol – who said devolution would stop us being treated like guinea pigs?