The Buck(fast) stops here – but our alcohol problems will remain


Yesterday saw the publication of interim proposals from the ‘alcohol commission’, a group of ‘experts’ hand chosen by Labour….

Yesterday saw the publication of interim proposals from the ‘alcohol commission’, a group of ‘independent experts’ hand chosen by Labour in an attempt at undermining the SNP’s minimum price for alcohol plans.  Connections to the Labour party run through this latest ‘commission’ like a varicose vein through an old dear’s leg.

Of course the merest mention of the word ‘commission’ is enough to have the Scottish media  foaming at the mouth as they clamour to report the word from this latest manufactured ‘Oracle’.

The word is that Scotland’s alcoholic ills can be addressed and cured through the targeting of caffeine in some alcoholic drinks, and public enemy number one is the devils brew commonly known as Buckfast.  We’re going to outlaw it cry Labour, and with that, the campaign is off and running – but is this a genuine ‘wagon’ for Scots to jump aboard or just another Daily Record endorsed anti-SNP bandwagon?

Poverty lies behind much of the social ills that infect Scotland’s communities and a poverty of ideas will ensure that they remain.  Under-age drinking, binge drinking and alcoholism are the core areas of this chronic health hazard and all are compounded to a degree by a macho, heavy drinking culture that worships the demon brew and lauds those who can ‘hold their drink’.  Even females have their own variation on this once male dominated area with their alcopop fuelled ‘girlie nights’.

The SNP has described Labour’s latest commission “a smokescreen” and to be fair the recommendations from this group will do little to address the issues that minimum pricing is aimed at.  So what alcohol related issue is it that Labour are trying to address?

Well, the interim proposals do contain an idea to tackle the buying of alcohol by under-age drinkers, their ‘challenge 25’ will see ‘youthful looking’ adults having to prove they are over 18 years of age.  However this is eerily similar to the ‘challenge 21’ that is proposed by the SNP, so no radical alternative there.

Buckfast of course is seen as the source of much of the anti-social behaviour amongst youths in specific areas of Scotland – North Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Glasgow.  Labour’s Jackie Baillie has claimed that the caffeine levels in Buckfast leads to “wired, wide-awake drunks”.  There have also been claims that the drink can lead to drunks becoming violent.

The commission’s report has suggested that a caffeine legal limit of 150 mg/litre be introduced; Buckfast contains 375 mg/litre.  However Jim Wilson of J. Chandler and Co, who distribute Buckfast, called the whole process “political” and challenged Labour to produce the scientific evidence to back up their claims.

Mr Wilson said:
“Show us the calculations and the evidence for cutting from 375 to 150.  Show us the calculation that caffeine above 150 is dangerous.  When we have seen the scientific evidence then we will take it seriously.”

Notwithstanding the lack of scientific evidence, the Labour plans seem targeted at anti-social behaviour amongst youths, and then only those areas where Buckfast is drank.

The SNP have suggested that banning Buckfast is unlikely to have any significant effect on Scotland’s wider drinking culture.  The SNP MSP Michael Matheson said: “focusing alcohol strategy on one drink is not a credible approach”.

Removing Buckfast from shelves will merely result in the youths buying something else.  The irony is that with Buckfast having been relatively expensive then the youths will be able to buy more of the cheaper alternative.  We could end up with a situation where young Scots are consuming larger quantities of cheap booze than before.

Labour’s ‘commission’ have steered clear of the minimum price debate, explaining that it was not the focus of their deliberations.  This rather undermines the whole Labour stance on minimum pricing, which has been one of attack for attacks sake.

Even with the massed ranks of the Scottish media covering up Labour’s naked politicisation of this issue, the party will, sooner or later have to produce a definitive policy that addresses Scotland’s decades old alcohol problem.

Failing that, then Labour and their media cheerleaders must surely back the proposals that have been endorsed by health professionals, charities, the police and world bodies.

A continued opposition to the SNP’s minimum price plans, without putting forward credible alternatives, will be tantamount to sacrificing the health of the nation for political ends.

The Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee has backed action to tackle Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.

The Committee report recognises the legality of minimum pricing and recommends Parliament support the bill in a vote before the summer.

Responding to the report SNP Depute Leader and Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon MSP said:

“We’re proposing decisive action to tackle Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

“I welcome the Health and Sport Committee’s support for the principles of the Bill and will give the recommendations careful consideration.

“I’m not prepared to stand by as more and more Scots drink themselves to an early grave as alcohol has become more available and more affordable.

“Scots’ consumption has increased and so has the harm caused by alcohol. I look forward to further discussing the principles of this Bill in the stage one debate next month.”