Leader: Minimum prices only the first measure to take
Scotland has become the first country in Europe to legislate for the introduction of a minimum price for a unit of alcohol, in this case 50p.
It is something the SNP government at Holyrood and health secretary Nicola Sturgeon – who has driven the policy – can be proud of, for there are few who would doubt the need to tackle Scotland’s distinctly unhealthy relationship with the demon drink.
The legislation is not perfect in that under its current powers the parliament can only legislate for the profits from the increased charge to flow to those who sell alcohol – a fact mitigated in part by a claw-back tax on the large supermarkets. However, it is, at least, a move in the right direction as there is evidence the price mechanism can have some effect on people’s purchasing habits.
The move is imperfect in another way as it does mean that moderate imbibers, who do not have health problems related to alcohol and who do not spill out on to the streets of our towns and cities at weekends inebriated and prone to violence, pay the price of the measure. Sensible drinkers may feel discriminated against by this legislation, but they should reflect that the policy is for the greater good of Scottish society.
We will now have to wait until next April at the earliest for the legislation to take effect and it will be some years after that before we are able to test the Scottish Government’s claims – still disputed by the drinks industry for example – that the move will result in fewer deaths, save money by virtue of there being fewer alcohol-related admissions to hospitals, and cut crime levels in Scotland.
However, while yesterday’s final passing of the legislation by Holyrood is, as the Scottish Government says, a landmark moment, it would be unwise for the SNP administration, and Scotland as a whole, to breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the parliamentary process and conclude that the problem has been addressed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Alongside minimum pricing, there is still a need for an increase in education programmes to teach young people, in particular, of the dangers to their health and well-being of overindulging in alcohol and also to try to convince their elders that they should take a more restrained attitude to drink for their own sake and for that of their children.
In this, there should be a role for the government and also for the drinks industry, which in recent years has made much of its message of responsible drinking but could perhaps do more to make that a reality. Rather than take the Scottish Government to Europe over the legality of this measure, the industry should play a far greater role in helping reduce alcohol abuse.
Yesterday, therefore, was a good day in terms of addressing Scotland’s warped relationship with alcohol but it was only the start of a much longer process, which must be taken forward with even greater determination.
The ultimate challenge
At 11:30am on 29 May 1953, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary reached the summit of Everest and made history. Using only the most basic oxygen equipment, and with what would now be viewed as primitive mountain wear, they were pioneers. They had boldly gone where nobody had gone before.
More than half a century later, climbing the highest peak in the world has become commonplace. Almost 4,000 people have done so and – thanks to expensive guided expeditions, which cost between $40,000 and $80,000 (£25,000-£50,000), it is no longer the preserve of elite mountaineers.
The problem which this throws up is an obvious one: the mountain becomes congested as more and more people try to follow in the footsteps of Norgay and Hillary. Last weekend, for example, 200 climbers set off to try to scale the 8,848m (29,029ft) peak. Such demand, and the assistance provided to modern climbers, cannot but devalue the achievement of getting to the top of Everest, though that is not to say it is not still a precarious endeavour, as the deaths of four people last Saturday proves.
Some might argue it is time to cut back the number of permits issued by the Nepalese for expeditions, which stand at 325 a year but, as we report today, with the charge set at $10,000 each, the Everest industry is a vital part of Nepal’s economy. So if people want to take what is still a considerable risk, if the current limit on expeditions is maintained, and if Nepal benefits, there is no reason to limit further attempts on Everest.
The urge to conquer Everest remains, because it is there.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
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