Regardless of differences of opinion, one thing that unites politicians of all hues is the need to address Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.
Our culture of drinking has widespread repercussions on services like the NHS and police and, more importantly, on families who struggle to cope with the devastating impact of abuse in households across the country.
Last week the Scottish Parliament debated the issue of minimum unit pricing as a measure to tackle the country’s drinking culture. While the idea of charging a minimum price per unit of alcohol sounds, on the face of it, like an attractive proposal, I am not convinced that it would deliver the change in attitudes and behaviour that the Scottish Government claims.
My chief concern with minimum pricing is that it will deliver a sizeable windfall to large supermarkets without any mechanism to see that money reinvested in education and services to address the underlying causes of harmful drinking.
However, despite my misgivings about the proposal, it is clear that minimum pricing has sufficient support to pass through parliament and the priority must now be to widen the debate and focus on making a positive contribution towards tackling Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.
With that goal in mind, colleagues in Scottish Labour have launched a consultation on a new member’s bill with wide-ranging proposals to tackle the culture of drinking in Scotland.
These include measures to further tighten up promotion of alcohol products to stop them getting into the hands of underage drinkers, a greater role for communities in licensing decisions to ensure local people can have their say on applications, and providing routes into treatment for offenders passing through the criminal justice system to ensure that people with alcohol problems are helped to rehabilitate.
These proposals are not intended as an alternative to minimum pricing and acknowledge that alcohol is a complex problem requiring a range of different actions and policies.
The Scottish Government has correctly stated that there is no silver bullet to eradicate Scotland’s alcohol culture and I hope that they will engage positively with this consultation to investigate these proposals and take them forward.
(Member of the Scottish Parliament for the South of Scotland)