Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Useless Legislation Is Bad Legislation

Are the Scottish government over-legislating alcohol?  Whilst I agree Scots have a problem with alcohol, what good has the latest Alcohol Bill made towards controlling Scotland's consumption?

Last week's legislation ruled that major retailers could not make multi-offers such as three bottles of wine for £10 or two cans of beer/lager for the price of one.

The supermarkets, having been well warned in advance of the legislation, were prepared and now offer wine - which would be part of an offer of £10 for three bottles - for £3.33 per bottle.  Tesco have also informed their customers that bulk deals were available if they ordered online because their wines are despatched from England and thus avoid Scottish law.

Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, is narked with the big retailers because she feels they should be more 'responsible'.  It could be she's angry because the law she's lobbied for has backfired, but of course she wouldn't admit that.  Why shouldn't retailers use their wits to usurp poor legislation?

The new legislation may make a slight difference to those who would prefer to buy one bottle of wine at a time, but it will make no difference to those who want to drink to the extent that they put their health at risk.

I tend to agree with Richard Dodd, the spokesman for the Scottish Retail Consortium who said:

Tackling irresponsible drinking should not be about legislation, it should be about changing the culture and attitudes to alcohol,” he said.
“If the intention was to push up the overall price of alcohol then this legislation does not do that.”

What is the point in more laws about alcohol when our police forces don't enforce the current laws?  Instead of carting drunks off to local A & Es in ambulances, it may do more good for them - and society in the longer term - if they spent a night or two in the cells sobering up.  Their sentence could then include a proper contribution to the community rather than a fine (which few pay) or a community service order which is ineffectual.  Let's start spending money in a more efficient manner rather than continuing down the road of the last 20 years' procedures.

The alcohol problem requires to be tackle from the bottom up not from the top (retailers) down. Why do Scots drink so much is the problem, not the price of alcohol.  As long as we ignore the reasons then the problem will never be resolved.

What is also desperately needed in Scotland is a community service programme which works. So few do at present and nothing is done about it.  Yes, an effective programme would require a larger financial input, but we're currently spending millions on programmes which are useless with much of the blame being on the organisations which supervise them.

Legislating for the sake of being seen to be doing 'something' isn't good for the country, or the government. Bad legislation shows political weakness not strength.


Woodsy42 said...

Of course we have free movement of goods in the EU, but that does not prevent UKBA stealing legally imported tobacco, and a ban on mail order delivery from abroad.
Look for the longer objectives SR. These people work a tiny harmless looking step at a time, no matter if it seems stupid now.
An example senario: If Scotland goes independent you will have borders, look for small print that will ban (or control) bulk mail order sales/deliveries of alcohol and duty products from England.

Sandy said...

There is a license for alcohol retailers, it is there to ensure they behave responsibly.

Failure to behave responsibly means the license can be withdrawn.

I can't help thinking that offering customers inside Scotland cheap booze deals that the Scottish government has stated plainly that it does not want, breaches the duty to act in a responsible manner.

I agree with you Rosie that the problem goes much deeper than just the price, but throwing cheap booze at below cost to punters, surely can not be helping anyone except the supermarkets.

As with many things the SNP does, perhaps the impact of this new law is not quite so immediately obvious.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, globalisation and the net have resulted in an ability to buy even items which are not allowed to be sold in Scotland, in the UK, or the EU, from Jersey and its likes. (Medications for example). So that is how middle class drinkers will deal with the situation. (Those able to negotiate a website in French might want to try Carrefour or Casino. That way Osborne doesn't get his hands on your tax and it's cheaper.)

Whatever laws are brought in can be circumvented in that way.

But if the supermarkets are selling the wine at £3.33 per bottle, with no attached deal, then it has done at least part of the job. Supermarkets were using BOGOF and BTGOF as headline grabbers to draw in customers, to boost their profits, because at least a fair proportion of the shoppers bought other things.

None of this affects, for example, the man in front of me at Lidl checkout yesterday who bought four cans of some noxious looking stuff with what looked like the contents of a piggy bank. I noticed because his transaction took longer than it takes to throughput a whole weeks shopping for me.

A policeman friend tells me that they take most of the people who are drunk to the cells, but those who look as if they might be seriously ill are taken to hospital. They don't have the medical expertise to deal with someone who is suffering from alcohol poisoning.

You're right though. We need to change the culture. People need to see that constant drinking is killing them. (Of course that is their problem but its side effects are that it's unsafe to go out after dark for other people who are sober). Everyone says that education is the answer, but I doubt if it is. Whatever alcohol does to you short term (hangover, blotchy face, bad breath, etc), is obviously something that people know about and are prepared to put up with.

The long term effects, ie dying a hideously painful death from liver cirrhosis, or cancer, is 20 years, 30 years, 40 years away... Hey, who cares. "It will never happen to me. My granddad drank a bottle of whisky a day and lived till he was 103."

So it's hard to know, once you get past the regularly trotted out nonsense from politicians about education, what exactly you can do.

We might want to look at Finland, where they had an horrendous problem, with horrific death rates, and now don't. Interestingly heavy drinking didn't translate into high crime rates there from what I can make out.

Amongst the poor drunks, fines are useless. Community service is, as you say, badly organised. The one thing, in my considerable experience (working in areas where there is a high incidence of this problem), that seems to work with drink and drug problems (and I say this not just as a non-Christian, but as a person who runs screaming from evangelists), is the kind of programme for harm reduction being run by the evangelical churches. Organisations like the Gate Fellowship in Dundee have fantastic results.

Maybe it's worth looking at and learning from their methods... if they will share them... to see if God is a necessary component.

petem130 said...

Firstly I agree with Subrosa. The law should be the last resort, it should not always be a stick in the form of hitting our wallets and it should be effective in what it is intended to do. The number of drinkers who abuse alcohol may well be a larger percentage than other countries but these laws should not hit responsible drinkers through price increases etc.

The punishment for those behaving badly or needing care following a night out should be required to pay in two ways. Firstly charge them for the cost of their transport and care and secondly have them clean up the streets on sunsequent Friday and Saturday nights.

A change in attitude is the only way forward. As a nation we all have a part to play. Drinking is acceptable. Extreme drinking and the extreme behaviour that results is not.

Anonymous said...

"As with many things the SNP does, perhaps the impact of this new law is not quite so immediately obvious."

Sandy: Would that not equally apply to other political parties? Would it not also apply to other organisations.

It seems a little unfair to suggest that, alone in the world, the SNP are oblivious to the law of unintended consequence.

Sandy said...

Who said anything about it being unintended ?


subrosa said...

I wouldn't call their steps, no matter how small, harmless Woodsy.

subrosa said...

Good point Sandy.

However, many Europeans countries offer cheap booze in their shops (I've no idea if it's below cost or not but I don't believe many retailers would offer anything below cost for more than a few days).

Why don't the government just pull their licences if they don't feel the supermarkets are acting responsibly? That is one of the main points of every licence.

subrosa said...

Tris, now BOGOF's are banned all supermarkets will do is half the price of the two ie a BOGOF at £7 will result in two bottles at £3.50. Will people buy less? Not many.

Policemen I know say there aren't the cells to put folk in so they take them to A & E, because they're afraid of being accused of negligence.

The problem lies in the reasons so many drink to excess. Playing with the price of the drink is just tinkering at the edges.

It's one problem I think, if spent wisely, a good dose of cash may just resolve - to a point. But keep the do-gooders out of it and let the real professionals write the agenda.

I've heard of the Gate Fellowship in Dundee and their excellent skills at dealing with these problems. They are what I mean by real professionals.

subrosa said...

Well said Petem. Yes indeed, we do all have a part to play.

pa_broon74 said...

They should drop the minimum age for alcohol sales, take the romance out of it as step one.

They should then provide the gorund work for evening meeting places for young people that do not revolve around a bar selling alcohol as step two.

They should intorduce tough measures for people who can't handle their drink as step three.

Its a problem that incubates when people are young, better to attack it at that stage than after the problem has developed.

In France (as I understand it) it's common place for watered down wine to be served with dinner to kids. In the UK though we do the usual knee jerk hand wringing ban it ban it ban it hysterical reaction.

It would also help if we had a government that didn't instill such a sense of cynicism and ennui in the people who supposedly put them into office.

Hopefully come independence with a more forward looking optimistic governmemt, people won't feel as if their existence is as futile as it currently seems.

RMcGeddon said...

It gets tedious continuously repeating why the social engineering of the poor will never work. I don't think that's the real point of the fake charities and quangos anymore. Despite spending billions they've achieved nothing. In fact we're actually worse off now after 50 years of social scientists and they've destroyed the fabric of our society.
I think it's now more about creating a treadmill for civil servants, sociologists and ex MPs/MSPs/MEPs/beeboids etc to move effortlessly from one position to another. Party affiliation is pretty much redundant. They all have the same ideas about the EU, global warming scam, scrapping of the family etc. If you're in the loop it's great. Lavish pay and perks and a ready made networking system to catch you and push you into another pointless position where you can spread hot air and mischief.
To imagine that an independent Scotland would change anything is absurd.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Subrosa, you would be the first to yell if the SG went around pulling licenses with no due process and whether the licensees were breaking laws or not. Be honest.

Sorry but minimum pricing is a good way of tackling this problem and that nothing can ever be done to change social behavior is simply untrue and hypocritical.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Sandy's pint is valid.

The supermarkets are being arrogant and irresponsible.

How would you respond to a drug dealer making the same claim?

One of the problems we are dealing with today is the muscle of capitalism being used to distort the efforts of governments.

If you want such methods of indirect and unelected control then so be it. However we won't expect any gripes from the austerity measures implemented in order to bale that same type of muscular thinking out?

Woodsy42 said...

"I wouldn't call their steps, no matter how small, harmless Woodsy."

Neither would I SR, I said 'harmless looking'. Each small step adds another piece until suddenly you find you are trapped

Brian said...

How about breathalysing/urine/bloodtesting people arrested for being drunk and disorderly and, if over the limit, taking away their driving licences as if they were in charge of a vehicle? Tough but I would wager effective.
Secondly, after the second admission to A&E for alcohol intoxication, advise the drunk that in the event of alcohol poisoning a DNR form has been placed on their medical record.
As alcohol can only be sold to adults, the law presumes that they have made an adult decision to end their lives which should be repected.

Tedious Tantrums said...

Attempts to make alcohol more expensive will enrich the supermarkets and will drive those that can't afford the fancy prices into buying it illegally or distilling it.

Social change? Not as things stand at the moment. I think this is a two to three generation problem if we started today.

subrosa said...

I have to admit I'm not sure about dropping the minimum age because age doesn't seem to matter anyway these days pa.

The day of the cafe where youngsters could meet is long gone. Nobody can afford to run a business which makes too little profit and the cafes of my youth couldn't have made much because we could only afford one coke which lasted all evening.

But I do agree the problem needs to betackled when children are young.

I'd like to see programmes such as Tris mentioned being extended country-wide. Fair enough it's for those already with problems but the ones who benefit from such programmes could be the experts of tomorrow.

subrosa said...

Jeanne, behaving responsibly is part of the licence agreement and of course I wouldn't want to see licences pulled - unless licencees were breaking their agreement.

I think this new legislation will be a waste of time unless we tackle the problem from the bottom up.

subrosa said...

Supermarkets operate for profit Crinkly and profit alone. They'll do anything within the law to ensure their profits aren't affected.

subrosa said...

That's the worry here Woodsy. We're becoming too controlled. First it was smoking, now it's alcohol and food. Yet nobody does anything about my ever-increasing utility bills. I'm supposed to accept them and the 12% green tax.

hector said...

we have an odd relationship with alcohol in scotland.one issue is until we stop finding drunk behavior amusing we will struggle with the problem.yes other countries sell alcohol cheap but their style of consuming it is often different as is their attitude to drunk behavior.alcohol pricing will not cure all the problems we have with alcohol but it is a start.

subrosa said...

Not so many folk drink and drive these days Brian, or am I out of touch?

I'm with you on the shock tactic of a DNR form though.

subrosa said...

Which, TT, could well result is worse health problems, pressurising the NHS even more.

Brian said...

Sorry for not making my point clearly: I meant that someone arrested for being drunk and incapable in Scotland and over the limit loses their licence even if they're not in charge of a car when arrested. Compulsory additional anti-alcohol counselling would include morning after street cleaning sessions. After walking up Broad Street in Birmingham once for a change and a bit of fresh air I returned to going on the bus because of the fluids (and solids :-( )on the pavement.
And then I used to interview alkies at the JobCentre at 9:00am - they had so much alcohol on their breath it made my eyeballs sting. That reminds me, one day this chap in his mid seventies sat down opposite me for a longer interview to check his progress with job seeking. I had to ask several more questions than usual to confirm his identity as he was 32 according to his record. Not the way I'd want to waste my life.

subrosa said...

Ah I'm with you now Brian, it was me being slower than usual.

Would that be feasible? How would the 'drunk and incapable' be standardised? That's a tricky one because I know many sensible people who have nights out and responsibly leave their cars at home. All you'd need were a few bobbies wanting to up their target figures...

Yes the counselling should be considered, but not done by these do-gooders, but people who have been there, done that and have the t-shirt.

When younger I had to deal with alcoholics and it's a tragedy what the addiction does to people. Some just can't fight it.

pa_broon74 said...

If younger folk are already drinking why bother with the age limit? It's doing nothing to stop them other than saying 'this is something you can't do'.

What do young people, especially the natural tear-aways do when they are told they can't do something?

They do it.

Working as I do with young folk, none of them drink (an oddity in my experience) and none of them have any where to go in the evening, when they disappear off to uni however that'll change, for the worse. As a person who is involved in providing activities for 14-18 year olds, there is hardly anything to do that doesn't cost a fortune. If there was a cafe culture for that age group, (and even if they did sit with only one coke at night, and they wouldn't because despite what press and parents say; young folk have plenty of cash.) If the cafe was big enough, the turn over would be enough to support it.

I also say that as a person who used to run a Youth Cafe, it didn't pay but it was tiny and had no inward investment. Given enough time though, I reckon I could've turned it into a going concern despite its charitable status.

subrosa said...

Have you suggested this to your MSP pa or are they not interested?

It was tried here some years ago and was 'wonderful' at first but closed after two years - the reason being the youngsters stopped coming. Here it was run by volunteers, one of whom I know, and he said the place was too small for starters and there was no space for sports activities. He'd tried to explain it was a cafe not a sports hall.

But if you think it's worth a try go for it. I'm sure you could find some pensioners like me willing to help out.

Back in the 50s we didn't have cash. When someone was broke they shared someone else's coke but the old Italian cafe in Peebles kept going.

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