Scotland has, to put it mildly, a drinking problem. As a population and a culture, we consume far too much alcohol, in too short a space of time, and achieve the kind of advanced states of inebriation that have led to both a serious public health concern and an embarrassing image problem, if only due to its veracity.
We also, if you can believe it, have some incredibly strict rules around the consumption of booze in public in the UK. You can have a snifter in a pub or a restaurant, of course, but in most of the country you can be moved on, given a ticking off, or even fined for having a little drinkie in public. There are exceptions, of course, such as the beaches of lovely St Andrew’s in Fife, an exception that seems to have been made entirely because… well, you try telling posh students not to get rat-arsed when there’s a beautiful beach nearby and it’s warm.
Interestingly also, Edinburgh is also one of those bits of the country where you can openly consume booze in public places. You can stroll down the Royal Mile, sit in Princes Street Gardens or the Meadows, and jump on and off our tram network (which consists of one tram) with can in hand and, provided you’re not bothering anyone, you’re perfectly within your rights to do so. Such is Scotland’s patchy network of daylight drinking policies.
It doesn’t take a hardened, gin blossom-addled booze-hound to notice that there’s an inconsistency here. As a regular attendee at Scotland matches, I can stroll through Edinburgh to Murrayfield, merrily swigging port from my hip-flask, but it would be illegal for me to do so if I were in Glasgow and on my way to Hampden to watch a far less interesting sport. That is, I’m sure we can agree, a silly state of affairs.
The importance of alcohol as a social lubricant, combined with the fact that it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to go to the pub properly for a while due to COVID-19, means that changing this would be a very good idea for Scotland.
Like it or not, booze forms a lot of the way we socialise, and socialising is going to be distant and outside for some time to come. Liberalising our alcohol laws, or at least bringing them into line with Edinburgh byelaws, and therefore allowing Scots to meet up for the odd socially-distanced sesh is, surely, the least we deserve for having put up with the appalling living conditions that COVID-19 has foisted upon us?
Regrettably, the chances of the SNP, who form the Scottish Government and the largest part of Glasgow City Council, trusting Scots to consume alcohol responsibly are slim. This is the party that introduced minimum unit pricing in 2012 and banned promotions and multi-buys of alcohol, to much posturing and virtue-signalling fanfare but… well, we still have a booze problem and all that’s really happened is that non-problem drinkers are forced to carry the can for the problem ones. If we were looking for anyone to let Scots drink in public, then Scottish National Party politicians would be pretty low down the list.
There are several reasons to repeal the various byelaws preventing Scots from drinking in public places, like parks and most beaches.
Firstly, it would show that those we elect to govern us trust us to behave like adults, which in the years of SNP governance would represent, at the very least, a novel change in direction.
Secondly, it would allow us to legitimately appraise our relationship with booze on a fundamental level, allowing Scots to look at drinking as more of a social thing, centred around friends, family and food, rather than just a means of getting utterly mortal.
Thirdly, and perhaps most usefully, it would get rid of some laws that many people just ignore anyway. As I write this, it is a perfectly nice, sunny, Scottish summer afternoon and I can guarantee that Scots across the country will be in parks, boozing away and not harming anyone. Making it legal to do so, and stressing that it comes with the responsibility of cleaning up after themselves and proper public conduct, would go some way towards improving how we drink.
Treating us like a nation of children by putting the alcohol up on the top shelf out of reach, policy-wise, has definitely not helped Scots be sensible drinkers and doesn’t seem to be working. Perhaps, with a more liberal and less prohibitive attitude, we could show ourselves to be worthy of the reputation for canniness that we pride ourselves on. Otherwise, we’ll just continue p*ssing in our own glass and pretending it’s a vodka lemonade.