I comment on alcohol issues quite a lot, more so since I became Chairman of the Licensing Board which has raised my interest in the subject. That doesn't mean I don't like a drink. I do, as anyone who knows me will testify! So it would seem, does Kenny MacAskill. So I'm a bit disappointed that his rather simplistic solution to drink fuelled anti social behaviour is to raise the age of purchasing alcohol from off licenses to 21 (among other things to be fair).
I don't believe this is a plausible solution. Its tokenistic in my view and smacks of doing something just for appearances sake. The fact is, this is an extremely complex issue, and we Scots appear to have a rather complex relationship with booze.
Research conducted locally suggests that 30% of underage drinkers buy their own booze. It also suggests that where alcohol is readily available,they will drink with greater frequency than where it is more difficult to come by (no shit Sherlock).
On the face of it then, there may be an argument for the Ministers proposals. The 30% would be easier to identify as underage. Those that currently buy alcohol on behalf of kids would need to be three years older, and perhaps three years wiser, to do so. His argument gains strength from the success of a pilot project where licensees signed up to temporarily raise the age of buying drink to 21.
In fact, closer scrutiny shows that often it is family members, even parents, who equip kids with booze, perhaps at times to get them out of the house. On top of that, it seems there are other adults in the community who fuel their own dependency on drink by purchasing booze for underagers and taking a 'cut' of the haul. It doesn't take long for these individuals to become known to the kids who want drink and so it goes on. The pilot project mentioned above, may also have gained greater success on the back of an increase in targeted police activity which was run concurrently.
I also think its wrong to lay the blame too much on supermarkets. These outlets seem to take a very responsible view on age related products and who they are sold to. I know locally of one instance where a supermarket refused to sell alcohol to someone they thought was consistently purchasing on behalf of kids. If they want to sell drink at cheap prices, I have no problem with that. As a drinker I enjoy a bargain as much as anyone else, and the fact is that consistently raising taxes on drink may not be the efficient deterrent that people assume (although clearly it raises a lot of money for the treasury). Personally, I'm concerned that the extra cost of buying drink will be taken from other household budgets. In the case of those with modest incomes, most likely food or heating.
In many places in Europe drink is cheaper than it is here, and yet they don't suffer the same level of problems that we do.
I don't believe it is prices or age limits that need to be raised. I think it is our awareness of alcohol and its effects that needs to raised and our attitude towards it that needs changed. There is no quick solution, and certainly no simple one.