Monday, June 16, 2008

Scotland and Binge Drinking

Although I consider myself to be "Scottish", I am really part of a substantial diaspora of Scots who feel quite passionately linked to the country whilst not having lived there much during our lives.

In my case, it was a visit to my family at least once a year for about 12 years, plus 4 years at University. I cannot therefore really comment on the day to day issues of alcohol abuse in the country, but I am quite aware that Scotland has major health issues associated with alcohol and drugs. Despite this, I think it is still important to speak up against decisions being taken that simply will not have any effect except to frustrate and inconvenience the vast law-abiding majority of drinkers.

You may already have heard that today the Scottish Parliament will be discussing the possibility of raising the age at which you can buy alcohol in the shops to 21 from the current age of 18. This will not apply in pubs and restaurants, only off licences.

To read more, click here for the Radio 4 Coverage (probably only available for 7 days from 16/06/2008) or here for the article.

I have already read a reasoned response from The Tasting Note which I encourage you to read as it prompted the following thoughts.

I agree with almost everything Peter says*. Why is it that politicians cannot think straight about alcohol? I posted something along these lines some time ago and it obviously needs updated. I have also mentioned my thoughts on binge drinking and taxation.

Education is key to this, such as the potentially useful developments at the Responsible Drinkers Alliance, but so is something else.

I find myself, maybe as I grow older (!), wishing that our country (Scotland or UK, whatever you identify with) had a shared purpose.

It occurred to me recently, listening to Bill Bailey on Desert Island Disks (see, told you I was getting old & fuddy-duddy) that in his past, as with many of the more creative personalities I happen to like that have appeared on this show, he was very much into punk music - it was liberating. It was an ACTIVE rebellion.

Now, the watchword is ... Whatever!

We have never been so ****** PASSIVE. And instead what do we do? We go out and get blind drunk, then vent frustrations, anger, anxiety and energy on each other.

Our politicians, of any political persuasion, need to find ways to engage all of us in something positive, not to fiddle around the edges with confusing 'initiatives' attacking the symptoms rather than the causes of this behaviour.

Education can start the discussion and even foster the conversation, but what alternatives are we offering people, whether they are children, young adults, or even disillusioned adults?

I realise this may not be the forum for this sort of topic as we are straying deep into the territory of political blogs, but I think it is part of the discussion.

If I was to suggest a possible path to follow, it would be to take the green agenda and REALLY go for it. We could make Scotland, or the UK, a real leader in this area and get everyone involved in recycling, living in a sustainable way and thinking of the implications of our actions.

There is no direct link with reducing binge drinking, but if we were engaging people, especially young people, and giving them opportunities to get involved in something they believed was meaningful, then I am certain it would be addressed.

The combined benefits to the planet and our society would be great, and we would have a tough, but useful, goal to share - and this could translate to all walks of life, including wine.

I sincerely hope that the Scottish Parliament will see that raising the legal age for buying alcohol is not the answer any more than simply increasing the price of alcohol through taxation or demonising the product itself.

For goodness sake, can we not have an adult conversation about this?

See also: CARDAS - Campaign Against Raising the Drinking Age in Scotland

* It is just a side issue, but one thing I am not sure about is the idea of limiting what individuals can buy. You'd easily get around it by buying from two shops and all it does (again) is annoy respectable drinkers wanting to buy alcohol. I do, however, think it would be a good idea to encourage ALL of those who buy alcohol to prove their age. Think 21, or 25 or whatever is fine, but it just makes everyone less uncomfortable and does make it easier to go after irresponsible retailers if necessary.


ryan said...

Well all I can say is that your neighbor across the pond, has proven that raising the age limit does absolutely SQUAT! Sod all, to quote a famous blogger i know! :)

In the end the politicians are not in opinion really considering the issue as much as reacting to a vocal minority. In most cases a few people with this idea are able to instill enough doubt and fear to cause this to become reality.

Gabriella Opaz said...

You hippie trailblazer you ;-)

What you're proposing is way too rational to actually be taken seriously Robert. Although you are right on the money, what you're asking people to do is not only a little introspection, but also a fair amount of shifting in the way they approach their everyday choices - a very frightening idea for many. I fear the only solution is for us to lead by example and hope that others will follow suit.

Robert McIntosh said...

thanks guys!

of course I realise the approach is way too practical and clear headed, but, wouldn't it be a breath of fresh air to actually get a politician that would actually DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT?

as for the age limit issue, I totally agree. I was going to link it to that, and to the absolute farce happening in France with the Loi Evin as well.

that's for another post I fear

Andrew said...

Actually I think that limiting the purchase of alcohol - so that under 21s cannot buy to consume off site - could possibly have some effect. Off-trade booze is cheaper so it is used to get tanked-up before hitting the clubs etc. It puts more pressure on the off-licencee of course (how I dont miss those days!).

PS I listen to the Archers... bet you would never have guessed that!

Robert McIntosh said...

yes, I hear that argument used a lot. Somehow, the fact that under 18's cannot legally buy alcohol is not stopping them from getting "tanked-up".

In any case, if they are allowed to vote, die for their country, etc (you know the score) we simply cannot allow this sort of nannying by the state. We must ensure people are assumed to be responsible for their actions if we are then to deal with them.

As someone pointed out on facebook, kids get drunk and steal alcohol BECAUSE it is against the law, not just despite it. The more you criminalise it and avoid dealing with the underlying cause, the worse you make things. It polarises the discussion even more when what we need is constructive, positive dialogue.

My god I can be preachy at times!


Andrew Brown said...

There are some interesting arguments to be had about whether age limits have the desired effect. For example I recently saw a report that suggested that there's an inverse relationship between the age at which tobacco can be legally purchased and the age at which those children and young people who smoke start.

There's something to be said about the use of positive, diversionary, activities and again the evidence I've read suggests that they can reduce the risks of problems with drugs and alcohol. But while the government is putting in more effort here - see Aiming High - there remain questions about whether that'll reach those young people who think like this.

Politically there's now a lot more interest in social norms - Cameron made a speech about it the other day, and it's part of the basis for the government's Blueprint research. The idea being that by emphasising that it's abnormal to use alcohol (or drugs, or whatever) to excess people reign in their behaviour to fit the norm.

The other strategy (beyond the enforcement ones that get the headlines) that is being developed is to talk to parents about their modeling - children of heavy drinkers are more likely to become heavy drinkers themselves - and to try to prevent harm that way.

None of these things change a culture overnight, and (in my view) none should be a problem for responsible drinkers.

Philip James said...

Yeah, this is silly - its clear that education is whats needed. Most of the Brits i grew up with had already begun to calm their drinking habbits down by the time they reached legal age. Simply moving this line around isnt going to fix the problems. As Ryan says - take a look at America to for evidence of that

Colin said...

Robert, something else we share apart from blogging, a passion for wine and an interest in photography (I see you are my newest contact on Flikr) is that we are both Scottish. I'm proud of being a Scot and it always bothers me when people paint a picture of Scots as being "drunks" or "mean" (we're not mean - we're just careful with our money but can be very generous, think of Andrew Carnegie et al).

Now I'm old enough to remember what a shambles it was in Edinburgh getting a drink 15 minutes before the closing time of 10pm because everyone was buying 2 rounds before being kicked out on the street so early in the evening. I also remember the change when closing time was moved to 11pm and how the streets became a whole lot quieter than they had been with a 10pm closing time.

Of course there are problems with alcohol just as there are problems with football hooliganism but these are not limited to Scotland. Walk through Covent Garden in London late in the evening or the streets of most other big English cities and you will see lots of very unpleasant sights. But they are almost exclusively YOUNG people so I agree that education can play a very important part in any behaviour change.

But I think the starting point, as so much with what is wrong with this country (lack of respect, negative attitudes, mindless violence) is in the home. Unless we all become better parents and care where our kids are and what they are up to and set good behaviour standards, then I don't think progress can be made. And I don't believe "Government" has much of a role here. They can't be blamed for everything (just most things).

The solution is in our hands as individuals and parents.