Monday, 16 June 2008

Drinking in Scotland

The Scottish Government is set to raise the legal age of buying alcohol from supermarkets and other off licensed premises from 18 to 21, and raising prices. You can read about it here.

It seems to me that a lot of this proposal stems from the Armadale experiment which, on the face of it was quite succesful. A closer look though, shows that Armadale is a pretty small place, so it was easier to enforce. What the statistics do not show however, is I understand that there was a considerably higher police presence for the duration of the experiment, which will of course mask the real results. Worse still, the rumour mill has suggested that some licensees felt somewhat pressured into taking part. Though I stress that the latter is purely anecdotal.

This new law would only apply to off licensed sales. So those between 18 and 21 could still buy drink in pubs/clubs etc. Just not for consumption elsewhere. Maybe that adds up a bit. After all, some pub owners have suggested that people consume quite a lot of drink at home before going out, so after only a couple of drinks in a pub, they have had way too much and are then staggering out. The pub owner then gets the blame for the state of the customer.

But look at it from another point of view. By the time I was 21, I had done nearly five years military service. According to Kenny Mackaskil though, whilst I could be trusted with a 60 tonne main battle tank, bristling with armaments and computer technology, I couldnt be trusted with a bottle of wine.

Personally, I think its a bit daft to deny people drink from supermarkets, but allow them to drink in bars. I also thinks its naive to focus on the 18-21 year olds. Take a look at the report only published today (pasted below), to see just how ingrained alcohol abuse is in today's society. In some interpretations of this of course it would seem the Scottish Government may have some justification for their plan. For myself however, I think this proposal is a very blunt instrument that is being is deployed to be seen to be doing something, rather than really addressing the root cause.

Drinking in Scotland: Qualitative Insights into Influences, Attitudes and Behaviours

A new research report entitled ‘Drinking in Scotland: Qualitative Insights into Influences, Attitudes and Behaviours’ will be published by NHS Health Scotland on Monday 16 June 2008.

Four communities in Scotland were involved with the research project, which took place between late 2006 and early 2008. Men and women over 18 years participated in the project. The group was made up of people who drink at home, people who drink in their local bars, and bar workers.

This study has provided many insights into drinking in Scotland. The main conclusions include:
• There is no single Scottish drinking culture – rather, there is considerable variation in individual consumption styles and drinking behaviour.
• High levels of alcohol consumption were common across all socioeconomic groups. Consumption patterns showed more focused drinking among more deprived groups and younger people.
• High levels of consumption were not regarded as problematic by individual drinkers.
• Negative associations with drinking tended to focus on drunkenness and public disorder, typically associated with young people’s drinking, and on longer term ‘problem drinking’ and ‘addiction’.
• Individuals distanced their own drinking from perceptions of ‘problem drinking’.
• External influences relating to price, availability and other marketing activities, including sponsorship, were widely recognised and seen to influence consumption.
• Socioeconomic factors and changing life stages were also seen to influence consumption patterns.
• Approaches to controlling personal consumption and perceptions of ‘sensible’ drinking were evident but were not related to recommended weekly or daily drinking limits or to health concerns.
• Furthermore, recommended weekly and daily drinking limits were seen as irrelevant and understanding of how to calculate unit consumption was extremely low.
• Publicans and bar workers were able to identify problem drinkers but generally only intervened to deal with disruptive behaviour.
• There was some evidence of a general receptiveness to the idea of intervention to change drinking cultures in Scotland.
• Areas identified for further research included high consumption levels amongst some middle-aged ‘empty nesters’ across all social groups and the development of mechanisms for better recording of drinking behaviours.

Implications and recommendations
Changing drinking cultures in Scotland will take time and requires a holistic, multi-faceted strategy utilising a range of policies and interventions implemented both at a national and local level. Based on this research, ten recommendations for action have been developed.

Population level policies and interventions to support change
• Implement policies that increase the price and reduce the availability of alcohol.
• Challenge the advertising, sponsorship and broader marketing strategies of the alcohol beverage industry and retailers.
• Develop the role of publicans and the licensed trade in controlling levels of alcohol consumption.
• Work with the press and media to reframe the issue of drinking.
• Develop upstream socioeconomic approaches to enhance positive options.

Promote safer individual drinking behaviours
• Challenge cultural drinking norms, using mass media for example, in order to develop a social environment that is supportive of sensible drinking.
• Challenge current definitions of ‘problem drinking’ and encourage consideration of personal drinking styles.
• Develop messages that build on existing personal strategies for sensible drinking.
• Develop simpler ways for individuals to monitor their alcohol consumption.
• Maximise interpersonal opportunities to trigger consideration of drinking behaviours.

The full version of the report can be accessed at:


BenefitScroungingScum said...

Like I've said before, I think simply making alcohol harder to get hold of is putting money into the hands of drug dealers.
The real issue as you mention is binge drinking culture, and raising drinking age won't touch that. BG

Fox In Detox said...

Our drinking age here in the states has been 21 since I was 15. To me it didn't matter what age was legal. I was still getting into clubs and still able to find a "buyer". I imagine it's much the same in Scotland. If there's a will, there's a way.

Jim said...

BG, I agree entirely about the binge drinking. It's not a question of age, its a question of attitude.

Clearly, we have the wrong one at the moment!

Jim said...

Hey Fox,

I don't know anyone who didnt have a drink before they were eighteen, never mind 21.

We have 'buyers' over here too. Other research shows it is often members of the family that are providing young people with the alcohol.

This proposed legislation is not what is required at all (in my humble opinion) :-)

Clairwil said...

I think the key to the success of the Armadale pilot is the police presence. The change in the parts of Glasgow city centre at the weekend where they've had high visibility policing have been dramatic.

It's not so much binge drinking that I object to but a culture that glories in pointless violence and bullying under the influence of drink drugs or anything else.

18-20 year old who behave ill be the only ones affected by this. The anti social element will drink on much as before.

Jim said...


There seems to be a lot of agreement that it was the police presence rather than anything else that saw success in Armadale.

Supporters of the scheme though don't seem too keen to publicise the fact.

I think this new raft of proposed legislation is a huge mistake, and not the answer we are looking for at all.


The Aberdonian said...

Do not think that the age change will do any good. However the rise in price and dedicated drinks till might - particuarly killing off impulse buying.

In the Irish Republic supermarkets can only sell alcohol in a dedicated liquor store isolated from the rest of the premises. Then again the Irish are not the most abstinant of nations----

You were in the military and I guess you must have done some time in Germany. What do you think are the major differences in culture that make the Germans behave more responsibly than in the British Isles?

I have only spent five days proper in Germany in its beer capital of Munich. I have to say that Munich on a Saturday night was extremely quiet!

Maybe it is a Germanic attitude towards law and order or just zero tolerance towards drunken behaviour. In Denmark drunken behaviour is severely punished by on the spot fines. A friend of mine said that on a night out in Denmark a friend he was with got wasted and threw up in the street. The police spotted him and groaned "big fine, big fine" and fined him on-the-spot £350. He argued with them and got another £150 fine for non-co-operation.

(In Denmark it was a few years back £50 fine for J-Walking- Denmark is a Fine Counntry)

Typical Brit answer to such a situation - "Go out and catch some real criminals and paedos you £%$£""

However what is being proposed is knowhere near what goes on in Scandavia where there are huge drinking problems where the state has or has had a much heavier hard line. And this is after heavy taxation.

Iceland - alcohol banned except for sacramental purposes until the mid 80's

Sweden - used to/maybe still does restrict sale of stong beer, wine and spirits to resturants and state shops (state shops closed in the evenings and at weekends!)

Finland - State shops for strong beer, spirits and wine.

Norway - state monopoly on alcohol sales. Sold in hidden state stores who sell alcohol by a method akin to a Soviet style of Argos (order from catalogue, pay at till, wait a decade while the goods are brought from the warehouse up the back).

Strangely our cousins across the Atlantic have a similar punitive attitude. In Ontario off-sales booze until a couple decades ago was sold purely as provincial government monopoly out of the "Beer Store" for beer and non-fortified wines and BLC stores for the stronger stuff. Now the provincial government has sold the "Beer Store" chain to a cartel of brewers who restrict the choice and keep the price high as a private-state sponsored monopoly (the worst of all worlds!). BLC stores still controlled by the government. There has been a couple of concessions allowing breweries off-sales at their plants open to visitors on the grounds that drivers should be allowed to buy booze they could not consume on site as they er driving.

(I might add your cousins, the Canuk Tories have pretty much always ruled Ontario - so much for free will!)

US of course have punitive laws as well. Many states restrict sales to purely liquor stores whilst in some states strong booze can only be bought in (very un-American sounding) state stores such as the grandly titled Idaho State Liquor Dispensery stores (sounds like the sort place you get your methadone prescription!)

So why the British attitude. Dunno. I binge drink. Usually on a Friday and Saturday. But in the confines of my own home. I do it to make me feel good and because yes I enjoy the taste of beer. I suppose I do it to escape the monotony of life, the disappointments, the failed attempts over many years. Better in many ways to open a bottle to make yourself temproarily happy. In the end we are all dead and retirement in the UK is a poverty-ridden neglected hell with the path to it grim with boring, unfulling jobs, stress and knowing what you pay in you will not get out in the end. Some people seek refuge in God. Many seek refuge in mind bending substances.

God I need a drink but I will wait till Friday.

No, I think this part of the reason for binge drinking and bad behaviour in the UK. To be frank bad behaviour and drunkeness are celebrated and considered macho in British society let alone tolerated from the lawyer to the off-duty cop (I know I have drunk with a few) to the fustrated clerk to the ned.

It all about 'avin a laugh.

Why is it done. Maybe because many people are emotionally retarded/stiff upper lip. We need booze to interact. Many people would not exist if their parents had not been semi-cut when they got together for the first time. A friend of mine met his wife when they were throwing up in a skip outside a nightclub in Macclesfield. Something to tell the grandchildren.

Booze - helping the British breed since------

To end this long homily on why do the British drink maybe we should look at a famous literary character created by R L Stevenson - Dr Jeykell and Mr Hyde.

Hyde - a man who has everything, good job, rich, respected, nice house, servants. Yet he feels the need to take a poison which changes him into an aggressive character (sexually, physically etc) doing things he would not normally do without the poison.

There are many arty-farty theories about the book. Some say it is inspired by the double-life of Deacon Brodie. Others the dual nature of Edinburgh society. To me it is simply about booze. People taking a liquid that changes their normal habits and can eventually kill them.

Jim said...


Thanks for your comment. You are right about spending time in Germany during my time in the forces. I was based mostly in Paderborn, but also did a stint in Berlin.

The Germans obviously like a drink too. But when I was there, it seemed that if someone wanted to get drunk, they would do so at home, not in a public bar.

In Germany, I found the streets to be cleaner, not because their local council put more street cleaners to work, but because less people threw their litter on the ground in the first place.

The police there were also quite firm too (as well as being armed). When we were in Berlin it was technically a city still under martial law. But I recall a time when a friend was jwalking across the street and was grabbed by a plain clothes policeman who proceeded to tear strips off him for several minutes.

We seem to have lost our sense of civic pride. The people who seem to know most about their 'rights' seem to know least about their responsibilities and I think this is a contributory factor in the kind of behaviour we see on our streets at night.

Clairwil in her comment, made a point about the effect of high visibility policing on city centre streets, and personally, I believe putting a lot more coppers on the street would go much further than age related bans etc.

Licensees also have their part to play. Not just off licenses checking that they are selling to someone over 18, but pub staff making sure that they are not selling drink to someone who has had too much already.

We have a complex relationship with drink in Scotland, and this will require a complex, well constructed solution. I'm afraid I don't think that what the Govt has come up with fits the bill.