Monday, 14 May 2012

"the bevvy": Scotland fiddles with prices as England watches

click to go to Glasgow's People's Palace homepage

I took this photo on a visit to Glasgow. The poster hangs over an exhibition in the city’s People’s Palace marking Glaswegians’ ambivalent relationship with "the bevvy", whose price the Scottish Executive plans to raise with a minimum price on units of alcohol bought in shops and off-duties.

If I were Alex Salmond I’d concentrate on home-made and smuggled drink, but the Daily Mail’s Simon Richards hits home when he says the Executive includes all Scots in a "'we are all guilty' society". Alternatively, cracking down on the law-abiding is easier, and maintains the illusion that we don’t live in an out-of-control society.

Richards continues: “"politicians] penalise those living on much less money than themselves by increasing the price of one of the few pleasures ordinary people can still afford...making little old ladies suffer when they buy their weekly bottle of sherry, alongside the hardened drinkers who need medical help".

Working in the addictions sector in Scotland, I saw that if somebody’s drive to obtain alcohol by definition rules their life, they’ll go on pouring their and society’s capital out for it.

read more about Last Orders on the History Today website

Ominously, History Today’s Last Orders demonstrates a historical precendent when the 18th-century Government taxed gin punitively to decrease Londoners’ calamitous consumption: drinking increased as the poorest sought solace in back-street "hooch".

Alcohol use is too complex a phenomenon to just whack with a big stick. Where’s the carrot?

The price-hike will print money because use will not fall in inverse proportion – so why not use the extra revenue to bring down the taxes on drinks in pubs? Surely the best way to control drinking is to move it back into pubs, where the landlord faces losing his licence if he doesn’t apply some sort of brakes? As England watches Scotland’s war on the bevvy, I hope this is the lesson she learns.

Gerry Dorrian
300 words

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