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Putting blame on the Buckfast monks simply isn’t good enough


THE Scottish Executive, like a doctor diagnosing ills on the body of the Scottish nation, has moved from our lungs, tumour-ridden from smoking, to the liver, sodden in drink. The smoking ban was swift, popular and has been rigorously imposed to the point of absurdity, as Winston Churchill’s unlit cigar on the Assembly Rooms stage, quietly testified.

You may have disagreed with the ban’s scope, but you can’t help but respect its single-mindedness. The question is: can the Scottish Executive demonstrate the same determination in tackling Scotland’s drink problem? To judge by Andy Kerr’s pointless interrogation of J Chandler & Co, the distributors of Buckfast tonic wine, the answer is probably not.

Buckfast is what is known as an orbital news story – it comes around every few years. First, there was Helen Liddell, who, as Secretary of State for Scotland, took on the case. Then Cathy Jamieson, as justice minister, picked it up again. Now it has been passed gift-wrapped to Mr Kerr. And you can see the logic: let’s go after a product popular with neds, one which fuels crime and personal misery, and which is – and this is the kicker – produced by monks, men of God, who should know better.

Now, let’s say they listened to reason, increased the price and diluted the product. Does anyone then think that alcohol consumption in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire would drop and that peace would fall softly over Scotland’s schemes? Or will sales of Buckfast simply drop while MadDog 20-20 and whatever other tonic wine is currently on the market enjoys a bounce in sales, courtesy of the Scottish Executive?

It is a difficult problem. Alcohol, unlike smoking, is a popular practice, and as long as it is consumed carefully there is no risk to health. Unfortunately, Scots are not consuming it carefully. The Scottish Executive accepts there are more than one million “hazardous” drinkers, who cost the economy around 1 billion each year.

If Scotland is to screw the lid back on the bottle, or at least limit the measures poured, then there has to be a change in attitude towards drinking and, in particular, towards public drunkenness, which today carries little or no shame. The sale of alcohol to under-age children should be more rigorously prosecuted and a high-profile scheme introduced to spot-check licensed grocers and off-licences and expose their owners’ willingness to break the law.

The existing licensing laws which prohibit a publican from selling alcohol to an individual who is already intoxicated should be enforced by a new tier of government officers. Is there anyone who doesn’t believe the law is broken in pubs and clubs across Scotland every night? If we can have people checking that no-one is lighting up, surely it’s more important that we have people checking how much they are tipping back.

Let’s face it: no-one has stabbed or kicked to death someone after one too many Silk Cuts. THEN there is the issue of our relationship, as a society, with alcohol. Is it really a good idea to have sports sponsored by drinks companies?

Shouldn’t we follow the French example and blast away that little grouse, famous or otherwise, who dances round the rugby ball and strip the Carling label from the strips of Celtic and Rangers? Can’t the Scottish Football Association tell Tennents to take a hike, instead of accepting their cash to sponsor our international team? And isn’t it possible to work with Westminster to raise the per-unit price of alcohol and funnel excess profits into increased facilities for problem drinkers?

The public may still hold the image of an alcoholic as a shambling tramp, but it’s in denial: it’s the mother at home, the teenage boy and the company executive. These suggestions may appear extreme, or be dismissed as preposterous, but attempts would at least illustrate a desire to wrestle with the reality of the problem. And it makes a lot more sense than, once every few years, blaming the monks of Buckfast Abbey.

Source: The Scotsman

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