Scotland has taken bold action towards tackling alcohol harm in recent years. Thanks in part to the tireless campaigning of organisations like Alcohol Focus Scotland, we now have policies like minimum unit pricing and a new alcohol strategy that acknowledges the scale of the challenge we face in Scotland.
Yet despite some positive advancements in Scottish Government policy over the last decade, alcohol harm is costing Scotland £3.6 billion annually and is still contributing to the death of people we know or love, every single day. People like 60-year-old Gerry from Lanarkshire - my dad- who died 4 years ago.
Growing up around alcohol has a big influence over us, especially for the 51,000+ children in Scotland living with a problem drinker.
The statistics bring home the scale of the challenge. Behind the numbers it is our relatives, friends, neighbours and colleagues who are affected, usually in secret.
I know, because my family has been one of them and I’ve seen first-hand how ‘social drinking’ can spiral into full-blown dependency and destroy relationships, careers, health and happiness. When you are affected by someone else’s drinking, the worry and shame can be overwhelming.
During my time in Parliament, speaking up about Scotland’s relationship with alcohol has been a personal priority.
I’ve raised the issue of tackling stigma directly with the First Minister and as Co-Convenor of the Cross-Party Group on Drugs and Alcohol Misuse. My personal experience motivates me, but I don’t claim to speak for others or the recovery community; everyone’s journey is different. Sometimes I don’t feel like speaking about it at all. I still have days where I feel overwhelmed by sadness, disbelief and anger. Letters and emails of encouragement from my constituents and people across Scotland keep me going.
Addiction is an illness and problem drinking in Scotland is a public health emergency. Social stigma and corporate influences are strong, so our decision-makers need to have courage.
That’s why the collaboration between the Children’s Parliament and Alcohol Focus Scotland, is exciting. Young people talking openly about alcohol and how it affects them in their everyday lives is a powerful message to politicians.
So, with young people pushing for change, like those in the Children’s Parliament that I’m looking forward to welcoming to the Scottish Parliament soon, I am optimistic about our future and the progress that is possible. Their determination gives me strength and inspires me to keep pushing for a ban on alcohol advertising near schools. They deserve alcohol-free childhoods. Communities need more services and investment and that’s why Scottish Labour is committed to a social responsibility levy. The legal provision already exists for this additional tax on alcohol sales. We simply want the Scottish Government to enact this and reinvest the funds in communities and recovery programmes.
It is important people know that they are not alone, and that help is available if they need it. A public health approach that protects young people and changes our attitudes to alcohol can make Scotland a healthier and happier nation.
Monica Lennon is Scottish Labour Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport