Scotland, We Need To Talk About Your Drinking

Shelves of alcohol

I’m not a fan of Jim Murphy and the temptation to dismiss his attempt to woo ‘Glasgow Man’ by reversing legislation banning the sale of alcohol at football stadiums is intense.

However, the question of alcohol being banned at football is the lever which should open a wider discussion of Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.

First of all, is it not unfair on the vast majority of Scottish football fans that they – out of all the event-attending public – should be barred from consuming alcohol while partaking of their chosen entertainment, purely because of the antics of an extremist minority thirty-five years ago?

I can take a drink with a meal, at the theatre, or cinema, at a concert, watching rugby, MMA, snooker, darts or in innumerable licensed premises around the country – many of them pretty close to football stadiums – yet I cannot do so while watching a live football match.

That irks me a little, that purely because an individual is a football fan they are regarded as less capable of managing themselves than any other member of society…

However, is the fact that this is even a contentious subject, or that legislation was put in place to begin with not an indication that Scotland as a country has a less than healthy relationship with alcohol?

This is the conversation which should be being played out in parliament and it won’t be resolved by just letting footie fans get boozed up at the game, or not.

The Scottish government has long proposed a minimum unit price on alcohol (indeed, they have come close to making it law) linking the price of drink to its potency, theoretically making it economically unviable to get blazing drunk.

This is a progressive measure, but one that only treats a symptom of the problem and could lead to negative side effects (i.e. if booze is too expensive, then the possibility exists for a black market in unsafe homebrew to develop or alcoholics resorting to crime to fund their habit.) The fact that the policy has met with widespread opposition, most tellingly from the public (as opposed to the industry who would see sales drop) tells it’s own story.

Basically, the problem is not that football fans can’t be trusted or that booze is too cheap – it’s that Scotland likes a drink a little too much, and for many of us we’re not too fussed about the quality and we don’t know when to stop.

I’ll freely admit it myself, I tend to have a problem with stopping once I’m into a serious drinking session and it’s a habit I’ve cultivated since I was a teenager for a whole pile of reasons.

As a nation, we are socially wedded to the idea that getting drunk equals fun, that sobriety (or even temperance) is boring, that being able to ‘handle your drink’ is indicative of the quality of your character and where choosing not to drink makes having a social life problematic

The thing is, much of this is effectively self medication for the fact that we live in a deeply unequal society, where our chances of social mobility are minimal and we’re almost all one paycheck away from serious financial trouble. We drink, because we are depressed and that ‘just don’t give a fuck’ glow that alcohol gives us is all too tempting.

So what do we do? We get blazing and call it fun, we pride ourselves on supping down vast quantities of mediocre booze and mock those who don’t want to partake as ‘getting airs about them’ and such.

Alcohol directly fuels thousands of deaths and vast amounts of avoidable visits to A&E in Scotland every year, from fights in pubs and taxi queues to domestic violence, road traffic deaths, exposure, kidney failure and the long term effects of heavy drinking and we don’t do much about it, because it’s easier to just take a drink than it is to deal with the issues that make us drink.

We drink to excess because we’re not satisfied with our lives and any prospective government should be seeking to deal with that problem, rather than using our addiction as a bargaining chip for votes.

Yes, it’s a difficult thing to deal with and addressing income inequality, mental health, embedded cultural mores and self-actualisation while dealing with the pressures of a mighty industry and an establishment that quite likes a sedated, short lived population is no small task.

That said, it’s one that I’d expect any government who even wants to pretend that they care about their citizens to try and handle.

I like a drink as much as the next Scot, but I’d prefer it if my pint of Williams Bros. didn’t come with such negative baggage.

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