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The drink.


WELL, AFTER FIVE years of delays, the Scottish Executive has got its way and can now impose minimum pricing on alcohol, 50p per unit at the current rate. Plans had been legally stymied in this act of colossal socialist kindness to the country’s drinking classes by the wicked greed of the Scotch Whisky Association in cahoots with the European Union. Interfering in retail pricing was not on in EU rules unless it related to matters of health, which is how the know-better muckety-mucks have finally got their way.

Like the imposition of a tax on sugary drinks to combat childhood obesity, this is yet another example of authoritarianism masquerading as compassion. Scotland is renowned for its drinking problem which no doubt has manifold causes. Cheap booze may be one of them but I don’t think there is any solid evidence to prove it, despite this sort of statement, reported by the BBC:

Ms Robison [health secretary] said research had shown that a minimum unit price of 50p would cut alcohol-related deaths by 392 and hospital admissions by 8,254 over the first five years of the policy.

It would be useful if these people could tell us what research that was and who did it, so we could judge for ourselves. I never trust anyone, especially politicians, journalists or advocates from pressure groups when they come out with figures like this. My experience is that when they’re not lying outright they’re playing with the statistics.

As to what will happen as a result of the nascent Scottish national socialist state’s foray into social engineering, who knows? A surge in cross-border booze trips into England? A dramatic reduction of alcoholism? A switch from boozers buying lots of cheap stuff to buying smaller amounts of even stronger drink? Or nothing at all?

It’s not as if there aren’t examples of states making drinking difficult, but failing to stop their citizens getting tanked up and wrecking their livers. I had a friend at university back in the 1970s who was half-Swedish. He’d just spent a year working in a Swedish timber mill and had recovered from a bout of alcohol poisoning. He told us how expensive booze was then and how the government made it a difficult (and shameful) business buying it. The result, he said, was that in the mill where he worked, at the beginning of each week the blokes would each buy a bottle of the strongest spirit they could get, save it up for Friday night and when they clocked off all pile out into the forest where they necked their booze and got absolutely hammered. Obviously not a good idea for one’s health.

It will be the unintended consequences, as usual, that end up causing the most trouble in Scotland.

SINCE I WAS talking about compassion earlier on I need to say my interest in this is entirely abstract: I don’t care about Scottish drinkers, whether they carry on as they are or whether they give up the booze overnight. I have no heart.

It’s also about time I stood up and announced to you, dear reader, that my name is Michael Blackburn and I am not and never have been an alcoholic, though I was often called a drunk in my tippling days. Whatever large amounts I drank and for whatever length of time that lasted I never had what it took to be a full-on alcoholic — and I’ve known two people who did, literally, drink themselves to death.

Even a pint of weak beer makes me feel like I’ve spent the night out with a regiment of topers ransacking a brewery.

My liver thanks me every day for that, since I am now a virtual teetotaller, not due to any strong moral sense, but to the fact my body can’t handle the drink any more. I can sup it but even a pint of weak beer makes me feel like I’ve spent the night out with a regiment of topers ransacking a brewery.

Not all of my friends, fellow Companions of the Bottle, have followed quite so rigorously down that path, but they do tend more to the golden mean of sense than they used to. One friend in Australia, who carried on drinking with greater seriousness than I did and for longer, had amassed a nice wine cellar for himself before totally swearing off the drink, with his wife, nearly 20 years ago. They had children by then and realised it was not a good idea to carry on as they were: triggered partly, I think, by a conversation in which their eldest commented on their drinking — he’d counted 23 empty wine bottles in the wheelie bin. After that they decided on the nuclear option and not a drop has passed their lips since. The contents of the wine cellar were gradually sold off.

And that’s another benefit of temperance: the money you save. Maybe that’s the tack the Scottish politicians ought to pursue with their recalcitrant citizens: Drink less and keep your liver, your life and your money.


suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.

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