Labour in bid to tackle Scotland’s alcohol problem

A FRESH bid is to be launched to tackle Scotland’s alcohol problem by tagging bottles, cracking down on drink adverts near schools and banning tonic wines with a high caffeine content.
Bill proposes to tackle underage drinking and crime. Picture: Neil HannaBill proposes to tackle underage drinking and crime. Picture: Neil Hanna
Bill proposes to tackle underage drinking and crime. Picture: Neil Hanna

Measures are to be introduced by Labour at Holyrood when parliament returns after the summer recess in an attempt to take swift action to curb Scotland’s excessive drinking culture.

Labour politicians hope to attract cross-party support for their proposals, which they will relaunch following concern that the Scottish Government’s flagship minimum pricing policy will meet fierce European opposition.

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Last week, the health secretary Alex Neil admitted that the future of the SNP administration’s policy to raise the price of cheap drink could well be decided in the European Court of Justice. 
With the wine-producing nations of France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria describing the SNP’s proposal as “illegal, unfair and ineffective”, Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson yesterday argued that his party’s measures could be adopted quickly while minimum pricing gets caught up in the courts.

“We can’t sit back and do nothing while the legal challenges to the minimum unit pricing bill go through the process. There is action that can be taken now and there are other methods we should be pursuing through legislation to have a fully rounded approach to the misuse of alcohol,” said Simpson, who was a consultant psychiatrist specialising in addictions.

“Our proposed bill includes measures which would see local authorities handed more power to crack down on issues such as ­selling alcohol to children and give them more control over ­licensing conditions.

“The bill would also allow courts to impose drinking bans on individuals to curb alcohol-related crime and allow them to mandate treatment to ensure rehabilitation is a real alternative to punishment, which would have a long-term impact on the reduction of alcohol misuse. There has to be a major culture shift in the perception of alcohol in Scotland and there is not one magic solution to do that.”

Labour’s recommendations will be included in a proposed Alcohol (Public Health & Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Bill. The draft bill was first published early last year, but its proposals fell by the wayside as the Scottish Government concentrated on minimum pricing.

Now Labour intends to bring the bill back to parliament. Among the measures are bottle-tagging schemes, which have been piloted in Dundee and Glasgow, in an attempt to get a grip on underage drinking.

Under the schemes, bottles are given a tag linking them to the seller, thereby enabling police to trace alcohol found in the possession of underage drinkers. The bill also calls for alcoholic drinks with more than 150mg per litre of caffeine to be outlawed.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “There is no single solution to tackling these problems and we are always willing to look at ideas which will help change Scotland’s relationship with alcohol. Minimum pricing is not a silver bullet and we have never claimed otherwise.”