Scotsman comment: Poverty, not pricing, is cause of drink problem
The news that Scotland’s death toll from alcohol has gone up in the last year was as unwelcome as it was sad. The Scottish Government response to the news was as predictable as it was underwhelming.
Deaths from alcohol now stand alongside Scotland’s problem with drug deaths. We agree with drugs and alcohol policy minister Elena Whitham when she says “Every life lost is a tragedy”. Moreover, for our small country to lose 1,276 people to drink in a year shows a problem entirely worth our full attention.
Yesterday, Whitham was keen to praise the success of the Scottish Government’s big intervention in the area – Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol. She implied the numbers would have been even worse had the “world-leading” levy not been introduced.
We have our doubts. A Public Health Scotland report released earlier this year, reporting MUP’s success in saving lives, smacked of the Scottish Government marking its own policy homework. That was before reporting by The Sunday Times newspaper last week showed heavy civil service intervention in its text.
Moreover, as the The Scotsman has reported this year, the worse abuse of alcohol tends to be in the poorest areas. This was confirmed by data released yesterday: there are 4.3 times as many deaths from drink in the most deprived communities versus the least deprived.
Were the price of alcohol a major factor in abuse, we would expect to see that gap significantly narrowed, especially during a cost of living crisis.
The truth is alcohol abuse – as with drug abuse – has complex causes, often rooted in poverty. Arm’s-length government interventions – minimum unit pricing, the advertising ban being mooted once more – fall short of the messier but more targeted approaches that would stand a better chance of success.
To tackle Scotland’s drink problem, we must see it first and foremost as a symptom of poverty. All else is posturing disguised as action, doomed to fail in solving this deadly blight.
Just a minute please First Minister
We heartily applaud the new plans for time limits of 45 seconds for questions and one minute for answers at First Minister’s Questions.
Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone announced the move yesterday in an attempt to increase the number of questions which are able to be asked, and it will certainly be interesting to watch how it is policed when the Scottish Parliament returns next week.
Johnstone has promised to “intervene” to ensure all stick to the time limits, and crack down on long-winded exchanges in the Holyrood Chamber.
This will be a far from easy task, however, might we suggest she borrows the format from long-running BBC Radio 4 panel show Just a Minute – and perhaps have the Deputy Presiding Officer poised to blow a whistle when the minute is up.
While we are at it, adding in the extra requirement of no deviation, repetition, or hesitation would be equally welcome – and challenging for all participants.
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