Will our Scot’s resolve to have a drink ever be challenged by a pricehike or ten?
I have this thing about watching Coronation Street episodes from the 1970’s on You Tube. I’m more in it for the modern socio-history lesson than the fuel to my dodgy fashion and gawdy wallpaper fetish. Though what knocks me out most is the price of Ena Sharple’s milk stouts. I wonder how much of a dent 11½ p every Monday and Wednesday night made in her pocket? Half pences eh. Try asking a 13 year old to get his or her head round those.
Long long gone are the days a pint, a bag of chips and your bus home totalled not a spit off a pound. Lucky if you can get change from a tenner for that same trio nowadays. I’d make a good Mrs Sharples in my own way, battleaxe-ing my way through the price of all and sundry, in the snug, on a week night.
Minimum unit pricing on alcohol in Scotland became part of legislative law last year, though a challenge by our Whisky industry awaits its outcome outright. So the SNP came up with a formula; minimum price value x strength of alcohol x value of alcohol x 100, or in other words, the price of a carry oot’s going right up, Jimmy! Most of us like a drink – to varying degrees – and let’s face it, can you count on one hand how many teetotallers (ex-alcoholics not included) you’ve known in your lifetime? Scotland’s not famous for its temperance movements. We get it when we see Moscovites drinking Vodka neat to ward off the chill. We don’t bat an eyelid when folk traipse through a Tesco queue with trolley loads of booze to celebrate the first sunny, t-shirt day of the year neither. And what other place on earth can you walk into an offie, ask for a ‘boattle ae wine,’ and if it’s not Buckfast placed on the counter, the staff need a talking to about product knowledge.
Depicted as the happy drunk has always been the way of it. When the Tartan Army pulled down the Wembley goalposts in ’77, it wasn’t sober joviality that was behind it. At times we’ve overplayed the strereotype, on screen and in real life. And now the health experts say enough is enough. The newly formed Alcohol Health Alliance UK has made a point in urging the Scottish Government to go further in its crackdown. It’s evidence-based alcohol strategy for the whole of the UK takes a ‘no-nonsense’ approach in its recommendations regarding taxation, advertising, licensing laws, labelling and drink-driving limits. But it is minimum unit pricing that stands at the top of the tree as the Alliance lay on the pressure.
Perhaps our consciences are really only pricked now and again when it comes to booze and health as a connector. Like when we’re at the doctors or filling in a life insurance form and it’s put to us, ‘how many units of alcohol do you consume per week?’ We’ve been bludgeoned with the recommended 14 units for women and 21 for men for a good while now, and you’re kidding yourself if you haven’t at some time fibbed in ticking that box, or saying it out loud, knowing that if the week only consisted of Monday-to-Thursday you’d be okay.
Heavy drinking is a very personal sport. Whether you do it regularly in the bustle of a pub or behind the front door at home, it’s only one of two arms which lifts that glass, can or bottle to open lips. It’s by our own hand that we choose to booze, by our own refusal the notion to turn it down. Having grown up with an alcoholic father, I know too well what liquor can do when it grabs hold of a person. It’s sad to see anyone lose their job, trust of their family, self- respect and health by the culmination of an adulthood of lost count booze units. It’s hard to share, and even harder to live with the knowing that a parent has an alcohol related illness stamped across their death certificate.
Now despite what the health activists and a few scaremongers would have us believe, not everyone that looks for value in their carry out is a big drinker. For every old alkie out there, there’s a young responsible drinker who loves to crack open a few bottles of Lambrusco Light only, with guests at a dinner party. For every teenager teetering on the verge of a boozy abyss, there’s a pensioner who stocks up on a good offer of a ‘24’ slab of cider, which will lie in the cupboard for half a season. There’s stereotypes, and then there’s looking beyond stereotypes. Those of which usually fall into the silent majority – responsible, moderated and fed up with being squeezed in every purchase they pay for.
There’s a case for both sides of the desire to increase, and reject, minimum alcohol pricing, no doubt. Family problems, NHS referrals, crime et al are huge issues. As is the affordance of a responsible drink as a matter of personal liberty. The story will run, the issue seems endless, mostly because we’re Scots, and our intense relationship with the booze, has always been, well, just that. . .intense. Cheers. . .and good health!