42,430 alcohol-related admissions to NHS hospitals in Scotland over the past two years is far too many. With Scotland’s alcohol consumption now winning its inhabitants the dubious honour of eighth heaviest drinkers in the world, the government is right to be considering new legislation to help curb this addiction. The details of such laws, however, are naturally the subject of much debate.
Since the conception of their 2007 manifesto, the SNP have strained at the leash of pragmatism in the pursuit of rapid solutions to decade-old problems. Their scattergun approach to tackling alcohol misuse exhibits no deviation from this norm. Simple measures such as those to reduce the drink drive limit will no doubt help convey the message that only total abstinence from drink enables safe driving – and will perhaps save lives on the roads; learning from the success of campaigns to limit the social acceptability of smoking, restrictions on the use of promotional materials in licensed premises are also a welcome move.
However, in their continuing quest for relevance, the government is overzealous in its attacks on young social drinkers, whilst closing its eyes to the causes of the problems it aims to dissolve. Having been foiled in its attempts to raise the legal drinking age—and subsequently to bar under 21 year-olds from purchasing alcohol in any off licence—by united opposition parties, the government now aims to permit the banning of off-sales to young adults on a town-by-town basis. This is myopic in the extreme.
Such legislation will most probably leave the affluent young student of Marchmont or Bruntsfield—sheltered from government interference by their powerful lobbying union—entirely unaffected, but will no doubt be used to prevent less prosperous youths, unable to retreat to a cosy flat to consume their purchases, from loitering on the streets with a bottle of Bucky of an evening. This will only serve to perpetuate the inequalities that exist in this country.
Scotland’s relationship with alcohol is significantly tied to its large disparities in wealth. One in a long line of studies with concordant results, research conducted by the University of Glasgow in 2008 showed how socioeconomic adversity in both early life and adulthood is strongly related to an increased risk of heavy drinking. Such an inequality requires far more refined an approach than a local drink ban.
Aside from the obvious inference that young adults will just head over to the next district to buy their booze, such lazy law-making serves to absolve the Scottish government from confronting the poverties of education and expendable income that precipitate greater rates of alcohol misuse in deprived areas.
It is an idiosyncrasy of modern politics—cowed by an equally culpable media—that long-term goals are neglected in favour of today’s quick fix, and the SNP is more guilty of this than most. It is incumbent on this government not to fail the Scottish public by pandering to tabloid calls for immediate solutions. Long-term investment in the reduction of social inequalities will have the greatest effect on alcohol consumption in Scotland. The results of such measures should sate the appetite of even the most hungry reformer.