Leaders: Positive step in changing our drinking culture
NEWS that the amount of alcohol consumed in Scotland is in decline for the first time since records began is much to be welcomed. But we should hesitate before raising a glass – filled with a soft drink, naturally – in celebration.
The levels of booze we get through are still 10 per cent higher than they were 18 years ago. Drink is still a significant contributory factor in ill-health, early death, street violence, domestic abuse and family break-up.
It is too early to say if this is just a blip on an otherwise relentless upward trajectory, or whether it does indeed mark an important moment in Scotland’s relationship with the bottle. Too early, also, to judge whether the Scottish Government’s ban on bulk buying discounts on supermarkets has been a contributory factor. Could it be that this is a more general cultural shift, with Scots simply deciding to cut back on the booze a little?
Whatever the verdict turns out to be, let us not forget that alcohol consumption in Scotland is still – even by these reduced figures – 20 per cent higher than south of the Border. Heavy drinking is still an ingrained part of too many Scots’ lives, and the result of binge drinking by the young, in particular, is apparent on every city centre street corner on a Saturday night. It is estimated that 50 per cent of Scottish men and 40 per cent of Scottish women drink more than the recommended guidelines.
There would have to be many more – and far steeper – falls in consumption before we could take any comfort at all from statistics such as these.
So we should beware the emollient voice of the Scotch Whisky Association, which suggests that because alcohol consumption is now apparently on the decline, there is therefore no need for the radical legislation planned by the Scottish Government on minimum pricing of alcohol. The obvious answer to that is “well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”.
This Scottish Government came to power with a clear mandate to legislate on minimum pricing and there is a growing consensus that the low cost of alcohol is a contributory factor in alcohol problems. The drinks industry must accept that mandate, and co-operate with SNP ministers rather than claiming disingenuously that action is now no longer required.
It remains to be seen if the government proposal on pricing, in its current form, falls foul of European regulations. And there is evidence that ministerial reassurances that whisky would escape the worst of the strictures appear to have been unfounded. The Scottish Government’s proposals still need work.
Given these uncertainties, minimum pricing cannot be the sole weapon in Holyrood’s war on Scotland’s drink culture. What we need is a broad front that looks at demand for alcohol, as well as its pricing and marketing on the supply side. Somebody is doing something right. Let’s find out what it is and do more of it.
Long way to go on women’s rights
FEMALE emancipation is a struggle that takes many forms, and its goal never quite seems to be within its grasp. Yes, there have been many advances in women’s rights, from suffrage almost a century ago to equal pay legislation and maternity rights at work. But what use is equality of treatment before the law if a woman cannot walk the streets at night without fear?
The finding in the Scottish Households survey that almost a third of women are afraid to walk in their neighbourhood alone at night comes despite other statistics that show crime in Scotland is at a 30-year low. The simple fact appears to be that crime
has not reduced to a level that
allows women freedom from fear of attack.
Care must be taken on what conclusion to draw from a finding such as this. In particular, it is not good enough to conclude that these women are simply showing a sensible caution in the face of potential danger. This comes dangerously close to accepting the threat of violence – especially sexual violence – towards women is simply a fact of life. There is no “acceptable” level of violence against women, or “acceptable” level of fear. It is not good enough for Roseanna Cunningham, the minister responsible for community safety, to point to the 78 per cent of all adults who feel very or fairly safe. This only serves to emphasise the difference in perceptions between men and women. Ms Cunningham’s response comes dangerously close to complacency.
In fact, the only safe conclusion from this survey is that the police and criminal justice authorities have far to go before a woman’s right to walk the streets without fear can begin to become an achievable goal.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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