It would drive you to drink

Antony Begley

Let’s face it, Scotland has always had a challenging relationship with alcohol and it’s an extremely complex issue that doesn’t have easy answers.

It took generations and generations to get us to where we are today, and I suspect it will take generations and generations for us to rebuild and reframe the relationship that many Scots have with alcohol. But there are very deep-seated and complicated reasons why Scots love a drink. For my money, most of them are societal.

Drink is the only escape that many people have from often very difficult lives and it’s a thing that’s handed down through the generations. But one thing is absolutely clear, to me at least: the way to rebalance that relationship with alcohol is through tackling the causes, not the symptoms.

Excessive drinking is a symptom. What we actually need to understand is the reason why people drink excessively. I don’t pretend to know why people drink more than is good for them, but I suspect it’s to do with dissatisfaction, unhappiness and other negative emotions. If we really want to help, we need to understand why they feel this way and then find ways of fixing those root causes, rather than just focusing on the symptoms.

Alcohol Focus Scotland’s latest broadside on increasing restrictions on sales of alcohol is another classic example of tackling the symptoms and not the root causes, a bit like MUP. When MUP came in, we still had the Woodlands Local shop and I can categorically say that none of our problem drinker customers saw the light and decided that they should abandon their alcoholism because it was getting more expensive.

I’m not entirely sure the headline-grabbing set of proposals is likely to make it out of the starting blocks (although you never know with the Scottish Government), but if we ever did end up having to have ‘store within a store’ alcohol sections, like the tobacco rooms you get in airports, there would be carnage in the local retailing sector. How many people reading this could realistically fit a new ‘concealed’ store into the one they already have?

The point here, yet again, is that these proposed measures are highly unlikely to actually achieve the goals set for them, while causing untold harm and cost to local retailers. People will not stop drinking because the alcohol is in a sectioned-off room. These proposals focus once more on symptoms and not root causes.

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Antony Begley, Publishing Director