Brian Monteith: Let’s stop patting drunks on back

Scotland has a problem with alcohol. There is just no getting away from it, but is it any wonder when one reads how our politicians behave?

After learning about the latest fiasco surrounding the trams one would be forgiven for expecting alcohol abuse to be worst in Edinburgh, not through in the west, as the Capital’s douce citizens give up the ghost and decide to reach for the bottle, but more on that later.

This week another report came out that spelled out the facts – the problem is not the moderate drinker but those who overindulge and get everyone else a bad name – but that won’t stop bullying national politicians trying to control our access to a pint of heavy, a bottle of Rioja or a subtle Strathspey malt.

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The SNP government still wants to introduce a minimum price for alcohol but the latest figures don’t support this idea. Why? Well, the fact is that although alcohol prices are higher in Scotland than England, our consumption is 23 per cent higher than our neighbour’s and rising.

Clearly, higher prices are not deterring people from wanting to imbibe.

Secondly, the proportion of cheap booze being consumed is actually falling, so the problem is not as it has been portrayed by the health controllers such as Nicola Sturgeon.

It is not cheap booze but our attitude to how people behave when they have too much of it that lets loutish and violent behaviour become excusable, even acceptable.

Of course the politicians always knew this; anyone with a brain could see that Buckfast, the preferred choice of drunken troublemakers, is dearer than cheap cider and would not be affected by the minimum price plan.

Labour is staggering about trying to find an alternative policy and has come up with the idea that receptions (usually funded by outside bodies) held in the Scottish Parliament should be alcohol free – so that a good example can be set to everyone.

A good example? What message does that say to the world that wants to buy our whisky? If Scots won’t drink it why should anyone else?

The example it sets is one of prohibition and it would not be long before the same politicians would be saying “We’ve banned the booze, so others should too”.

What does it say about our politicians that they can’t trust themselves to have a glass of wine or a wee dram without becoming absolutely legless?

The example they should be setting is how good behaviour and moderate drinking go hand in hand. The other example they could set is to come down hard on any miscreant MSP that makes a fool of him or herself – with a suspension from parliament for bringing the institution into disrepute. (I know, I know, that might seem a relatively easy task but stay with me on this for a moment.)

You see, the issue surrounding alcohol-fuelled bad behaviour is one of culture, not price. The Scots’ way has been to slap the drunk troublemaker on the back, have a laugh and sympathise. We have been all too good at saying, “Whae can drink like us?” without considering the consequences.

We need our politicians to understand it’s all about self-control, personal responsibility and not about the state saving us from ourselves – for invariably we challenge authority with worse consequences. That’s why prohibition has failed everywhere it has been tried.

The first step we need to take is for politicians to start treating the public like adults and not children. Making moderate drinking socially unacceptable is the wrong way – making alcohol-fuelled misbehaviour socially unacceptable is the shame that we need to rediscover.

Debt for our unborn

Today, probably by the time you read this article, Edinburgh council will have voted yet again on what to do about the trams. It became a scandal long ago, now it is past even being a farce.

Just last week the SNP councillors abstained from the vote on what to do – leaving the Labour and Conservative councillors to stop the tram at Haymarket against the Liberal Democrats’ wishes to carry on to St Andrew Square.

No sooner had the vote happened when another vote was demanded by the losers and the official figures that had been quoted were claimed to be wrong.

Then, after a period of purdah, in steps the SNP Finance Secretary John Swinney to make it known that £72 million of government money would be held back if the trams stopped at Haymarket. The SNP councillors – who appear to have been off John Swinney’s Christmas card list for some time – suddenly announced they would back the trams going to St Andrew Square too.

The Labour and Tory councillors voted to stop at Haymarket because although it would mean an annual loss of £4m it would have avoided finding a further £231m, got the city out of the contract without penalty and allowed the line to be completed later.

The trams were always a bad idea and an incomplete tramline makes little sense, but if John Swinney is not prepared to finance the thirty-year £15m annual loan it will need, why should citizens not yet born be expected to pay?