"It [Buckfast] is not only a drink which is particularly attractive to younger people for a number of reasons, but it is also a badge of pride amongst those who are involved in antisocial behaviour. So I think the health minister was absolutely right to target it and I think those who produce it should take his views more seriously." - JACK MCCONNELL
Story in full JACK McConnell became embroiled in a bitter war of words with the distributors of Buckfast Tonic Wine yesterday after agreeing it was a "seriously bad drink".
Mr McConnell became the latest Executive minister to turn on the controversial alcoholic drink when he not only claimed Buckfast had become a "badge of pride" for antisocial youngsters, but claimed the producers were failing to take the Executive's concerns seriously.
His comments provoked a broadside from J Chandler and Co, the distributors of Buckfast, who claimed it was the Executive, not the drinks industry, which was to blame for antisocial behaviour due to its failure to punish the individuals responsible.
The row between the Buckfast distributors and the First Minister marks the low point in what has been a rapidly deteriorating relationship between the drinks company and the Executive.
Cathy Jamieson, the justice minister, and Andy Kerr, the health minister, have both condemned the drink in the past and Mr Kerr even met the distributors last month to try to find a way of lessening its impact in the west of Scotland.
The talks broke up without agreement and both parties said they hoped to make further progress in the future. Those hopes now appear to be dashed following the First Minister's intervention and the furious response from J Chandler and Co.
Asked on BBC Scotland's The Politics Show yesterday if Buckfast was a "seriously bad drink", Mr McConnell said "absolutely".
He said: "It's not only a drink which is particularly attractive to younger people for a number of reasons, but it is also a badge of pride amongst those who are involved in antisocial behaviour. So I think the health minister was absolutely right to target it and I think those who produce it should take his views more seriously."
Jim Wilson, a spokesman for J Chandler and Co, hit back, accusing ministers of blaming the drinks industry when they should be targeting the individuals responsible for antisocial behaviour.
Mr Wilson said: "I don't know how he can say [we are not taking the concerns seriously] when we gave Andy Kerr all the work we are doing and what we are involved with and had a reasonably long meeting with him.
"I think the Scottish Executive are the ones who are not taking their duty seriously. The answer is not to blame any product but the individuals; they are the ones indulging in antisocial behaviour, not Buckfast.
"The message they are sending out is the wrong one. They are blaming the alcohol and the drugs, the message that should be going out is - if you commit a crime you will be dealt with by the law, and they are being very foolish in suggesting anything other than that."
Buckfast is particularly popular in west and central Scotland. It costs only 5.50 for a bottle of the tonic wine, which has an alcohol content of 15 per cent. It is sweet, cheap and contains a high level of caffeine - a combination which appeals to many young men and women, many of whom are underage, in Scotland.
Mr McConnell also used his interview on BBC Scotland yesterday to signal his reluctance to legislate on alcohol abuse.
There has been increasing speculation that Labour would turn its attention to Scotland's damaging drink culture if it was returned after next May's election, with ministers preparing to introduce new rules to curb sales, advertising and the availability of cheap drink.
Mr McConnell revealed yesterday that he had no intention of going any further than limited Executive proposals to give licensing boards more power, which were unveiled last month.
He said: "I think the best way forward is to have an agreement with the industry. I am not convinced at this time that what we need is new legislation to tackle alcohol problems, although we shouldn't count that out."
FIRST MINISTER ON HIS FUTURE
JACK McConnell hinted yesterday that he may not serve a full term as First Minister if Labour returns to power next May.
The First Minister said there was "a judgment to be made" on his future sometime in the next parliamentary term, but he would not make that decision yet.
Pressed on BBC Scotland's The Politics Show to say whether he would serve a full term as First Minister if Labour returned to lead the Scottish Executive next May, Mr McConnell replied: "Well, we'll look at that post-election". Pressed to clarify, he said: "No, I'm avoiding the question because you're trying to get me to give an indication in the way that Tony Blair did whether he would fight the following election."
Asked again: "Will you stand for a full term?", Mr McConnell replied: "There is a judgment to be made towards the end of that term about what is best for Scotland at that time, but for the moment the big judgment for me is what is right for Scotland in that third term."