‘My Name’s Scotland, And I’m An Alcoholic’

[Note on the author: Callum Provan works in Internal Communications for Vodafone Enterprise. He was a student on the City, University of London Writing for Business short course which ended in July 2018. Callum wrote this blog as part of a homework/in-class exercise on that course.]

The passionate, heart-warming, sometimes volatile northern uncle who just doesn’t know when to stop.

It’s the image which has permeated British media for as long as anyone can remember, and it surfaced again as the Scottish Government became the first governing party in the world to introduce a minimum unit pricing cap on alcohol.

As of 1st May 2018, there is now a 50p per unit minimum price on all alcohol sold in Scotland. Supermarket own brand lagers and spirits disappeared from the shelves on the same day.

And with 1,235 alcohol related deaths as a direct result of alcohol misuse in 2017, 30.9 per 100,000 people and 28% higher than second placed Wales, few would disagree that Scotland has a drinking problem, even by UK standards.

But this isn’t the first time the Scottish Government has attempted to tackle alcohol misuse with state regulation, nor is it a move unique to the Scottish National Party.

Controlling the flow north of the border

British visitors to Edinburgh, the second most visited city in the UK, have sometimes expressed surprise that they couldn’t purchase a bottle of Scotland’s national drink, or any other alcohol, after 10pm at night. They have to wait until 10am to do so. The Licensing Act of 2005, introduced by Scottish Labour, was designed to curb misuse. This law is unique in Britain and not unreasonable to most, though it does present an inconvenience to those who like to get in early to the shops before that big dinner party.

Those same shoppers might also notice the lack of ‘meal for two and a drink’ deals on their holiday. The Alcohol etc. (Scotland) Act 2010 curbed all drinks promotions such as Buy One Get One Free, half price, or discounted drinks with two curries and a naan.

Free tuition fees may be the envy of the isles, but many Scottish students would equally like to enjoy the promotions and £1 drink nights common in most English university cities.

Of course, if those visiting Scotland choose instead to pop down to the local after 10pm they should take careful note: in 2014 the Scottish National Party reduced the drink driving limit from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood, the lowest in the UK.

So why more legislation?

With so many visible attempts to shake off the title of Britain’s biggest boozer, the fact that 23 people per week are still dying from alcohol-related conditions in Scotland is all the more frustrating, and in Central Scotland, the country’s most densely populated area, that figure rises to 24.5.

This leads many to believe that the Scottish Government might be better spending resources to address the root cause of these statistics, instead of applying another plaster.

Alongside its other titles, Scotland has the lowest life expectancy in the UK, and one of the lowest life expectancies in Western Europe. Males in the most deprived areas of the city of Dundee will live on average 13.6 years less than their counterparts in the least deprived areas.

For some, the nation’s inability to act on these shocking figures, despite so many attempts to improve them, is proof that independence is the only answer.

Others look to the Nordic nations, which have similar regulations on alcohol and some of the highest life expectancies in the world.

But to do so without looking at those nations as a whole leaves too much to the imagination. The Nordic approach to welfare and taxation holds little comparison to the UK, and even less to the ideals of the fractured Conservative government currently clinging on to power in Westminster.

As Brexit casts fresh doubt over the wellbeing of the UK in years to come, it seems clear that this added uncertainty will do little for the people who so desperately need help in Scotland.

And the price of a bottle of cider probably isn’t going to change things too much.