It's time to start tackling our drinking culture

IN response to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's proposal to halve the drink-driving limit, the Scottish Secretary Des Browne said that the discussion on lowering the limit has been about for a very long time indeed.

This statement is exactly right and precisely the reason why the SNP in government wants to stop all the pontificating and take action, not contribute to yet more consultation. If the UK Government wishes to drag its heels then they should let Scotland get on with it.

This is just one area in which rapid action is needed in Edinburgh to tackle the ugly side effects of our drinking culture.

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We are drinking more. The fact that binge drinking is now seen as normal and also often acceptable has serious consequences; it has turned parts of the city centre into intimidating no-go zones at night; it has doubled the rate of alcoholic liver disease in a decade; it results in scores of drunks putting pressure on the Capital's police and hospital services every week; and most worryingly, it has resulted in growing numbers of school children indulging in a drinking habit.

Cohorts of underage drinkers are now a pretty common sight on Edinburgh's streets. More than half of 13-year-olds in the city admit to having been drunk at least once in their lives, rising to 76 per cent of girls and 68 per cent of boys by the time they're 15.

We need measures to crack down on those who supply alcohol to our kids in Edinburgh. It's time to roll out test purchasing of alcohol by under age children in our pubs, supermarkets and off licences. This has been piloted in Fife with great success and the response from licence holders, volunteers and the police has been extremely positive.

Around 19 per cent of premises failed the first test purchase visit, highlighting the scale of the problem of underage sales. Even those who failed were generally positive about the scheme, as long as it is done in tandem with a robust proof of age card scheme and adequate staff training.

Cracking down on our binge drinking culture also means taking the less popular measure of cutting down on heavily discounted drinks promotions.

It's insane that a can of extra strong lager can be bought cheaper than a carton of milk. We shall soon see irresponsible two-for-one promotions ending in pubs and clubs; it's right they should end in off licences too.

These measures are urgently needed in the Capital to halt the dismal upward trend in alcohol abuse and its impact on our health, our economy and our communities.

It's time for us all to stop burying our heads in our pints and move forward to tackle this issue.

• Shirley-Anne Somerville is an SNP MSP for the Lothians.