Leader comment: '˜Cafe culture' vision needs rethink to counter violence

The closure of established licensed premises following a slump in business has been a feature of the past ten years, as the economic downturn, rising cost of alcohol, and availability of cut-price deals at supermarkets have hit the frequency with which regulars visit their local pub.

Pubs can be the heart of local communities, but in some areas, their over-abundance contributes to serious consequences.

But despite that, the number of bars and off-licences in Scotland’s towns and cities remains strong. In some cases, however, there is a lack of balance, and today, we report on a call from within Police Scotland to take a serious look at areas which are over-subscribed with licenced premises. There is a clear connection between alcohol and crime, and the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) draws the reasonable conclusion that increased provision means increased consumption, leading to more violent incidents.

It is arguable that increased provision does not always increase consumption, for the economic reasons outlined earlier, but that does not deflect from the unit’s finding that alcohol is involved in 70 per cent of all violence, demonstrating that existing provision is a big enough problem.

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A connection between alcohol and violence will always exist as long as alcohol is freely available, but it should be possible to achieve a significant reduction in the number of associated violent incidents. This does not mean that pubs should be closed down. Instead, we should think about why applications for new licences are approved – usually to help boost trade on struggling high streets, or to embrace the idea that this is a responsible, sophisticated country with a liberal outlook, perfect for continental visitors seeking European cafe culture. We can paint that pretty picture, but we are also capable of taking advantage of that ambition.

The Unit suggests that police and local communities should have a greater say in deciding applications. Again, this is reasonable. Police officers know better than most the worst effects of alcohol. Meanwhile, local residents have to live with this every day. There is no point trying to shore up an economy if the consequences harm the community.

As Will Linden of the VRU says, this is not about prohibition. It is about reducing the amount of violent crime associated with drinking. Scotland’s record in this area is poor, and if it is to improve, we have to acknowledge that the status quo, and acceptance of current attitudes, are major contributors to this damaging situation.