Alcohol Etc. Act – Would Someone Please Stop Missing The Point?

The latest piece of legislation to pass the corridors of power by the Scottish Executive is perhaps one of it’s most confusing; not to mention empty.

The Alcohol Etc. (Scotland) Act 2010 has come into place a shadow of it’s initial self. The original outlay for the eventual act included a wish for minimum pricing on alcohol; a minimum fee per unit of volume. This ideal was scrapped, or chased out of Parliament depending on your political allegiance.

The new law has brought in several new stumbling blocks for the drinks industry in Scotland, along with some further guidelines for Publicans. The new law has brought into place a ruling that has been implemented by every major supermarket chain for the past five years. Challenge 25. A bit late you may agree to now legislate on something already ingrained in the Supermarket constitution and hammered home at every single staff training session in recent memory.

The new law states, “An “age verification policy” is a policy that steps are to be taken to establish the age of a person attempting to buy alcohol on the premises (“the customer”) if it appears to the person selling the alcohol that the customer may be less than 25 years of age (or such older age as may be specified in the policy).”

Is this possibly one of the worst examples of legislation in history? The law clearly states that this is entirely subjective? Personally, i am one of the worst judges of age i have ever known. I find it increasingly difficult the older i get to differentiate between someone 18 and someone 25. Obviously the law is pointing out that if you are in doubt – ask for I.D., of course it is – and damned well sensible that idea sounds.

The problem that i raise you here is this, Supermarkets have challenged this principle for a long time – so the law has no effect on their current practice.

The only people this may or may not affect is those working in local ‘corner shop’ style off-licences.  Without sounding pessimistic or knocking legislation for the sake of it, do these people live in the real world? The sort of shops in question are either run by someone struggling for every penny and open to taking risks if it means making some cash or staffed by people on the bare minimum wage who to be perfectly honest have far more to worry about than ‘challenge 25’ – if they look over 18 they will be served and no new subjective legislation will prevent this from happening.

More or less what i am saying, in perhaps a tangled round about way is that it changes nothing.

Also included in the new legislation is a vague form of Price fixing. A loose term i stress as it does not introduce a minimum, fixed price – something that would be frowned upon by the E.U. under competition law. There is apparently a way to defend such a rule i am informed by my Mother who works as a Public Health expert in that this move can be made if it is deemed alcohol is having an adverse effect on Public Health in Scotland.

My personal gripe with this whole idea would be that last time i checked – Scotland was not an E.U. state – so does it even have legislative competence on such a matter as a devolved state? Only someone with more knowledge in this department could probably answer that question, i can but mearly speculate that it does not.

We live in the United Kingdom – under the new ruling alcohol can now no longer be sold in deals, for instance ” Four bottles of wine for £10″. Wiley Supermarkets have found a way around this – quite simply order online and have the same deal shipped from England where the current legislation has no competence.

Apparently, and this is just hearsay – the Scottish Executive plan to stop this with some form of extra pricing. I have no idea how they plan to police this but all i would add is that if this price increase developes cross border within the U.K. would it not form some staggering similarity to import tax??  Surely this sort of restriction on the free movement of goods within one nation becomes another tricky subject in relation to the E.U.?

Overall the new legislation changes nothing. If supermarkets can sell four bottles for £10 then they can sell one bottle for £2.50 and provoke increased sales as a word of mouth loss leader. Advertising within their own isle. ( In relation to the fact alcohol cannot be advertised within 200meters of the store – a whole other subject).

Scotland has an inherent unhealthy relationship with alcohol, but not one that will be in any way changed through the new Legislation.

I, for example, like to partake in the ‘binge’ culture that is painted oh so bleakly in the press.  I do not  act like a yob, create trouble or damage. There are many like me.  Once a week i like to down tools, meet up with my mates and hit the pub for a laugh and a slight over indulgence as time goes on. This new law will not affect that in any way.

My visit to ‘the pub’ is a mainstay in my social diary, something that i will return to time and time again. It is a place that i have grown up in. Sure i went as a bright eyed 16 year old and managed to get a few pints in because the barmaid, “knew me”. That whole type of thing has gone now – in the last ten years alcohol laws and the policing of such has increased dramatically. Not that i disagree with it, my nostalgic romanticism for the place does not blur my realisation that it’s previous working customs were perhaps wrong. The pub is, or at least was, a social hub. A Place where i know i can turn to at any time for a chat, a laugh, a cry with people of all ages, backgrounds and social standing.

On Occasion we may agree to a social gathering in someones house meaning that we do indeed shop in the supermarket for our affectionately named, ‘carry-out’. Will the removal of 3 for 2 deals and 4 for £10 have any bearing on the amount of alcohol purchased or consumed at such an event? No. Plain and simply it will have no bearing – and this is exactly the point. It is people like me, the majority – that this new law is intended to target but it could not be further from doing so.

People like me (and there are a lot of us) will continue to damage our health drinking in one night ‘binges’ because it is what we want to do and small increases will not prevent us from doing so. Not now and therefore not ever.

The problem with this legislation is that it completely targets the wrong people. What the Scottish Executive should be targeting is the ‘cheap cider drinkers’ to stereotype.

I am committed to stereotype here and for that i apologise not. It is these sorts who are costing our NHS endless sums of cash on ill health on a day to day basis. Those who partake in the consumption of alcohol not as part of a social gathering but rather out of dependence on escapism. What we DID need was a minimum price, not a minimum price that would effect the heavily plundered pub trade but one that would effect such deals as ” 3 litres for £1.99″ . A minimum unit pricing. Something that would deter from the cheap poison on sale to those with no interest in alcohol for taste. Perhaps i am wide of the mark but not once did i see an alcoholic take preference for Four bottles of white zinfendale from tesco.

We have missed the point in this legislation and instead of holding out for the core principle of a minimum unit price on alcohol the Executive settled for an Act that is a mere shadow of it’s former self and rendered effectively useless by many, myself included due to it’s ineptitud and openness to exploitation by those with a whim for loopholes.

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One Comment on “Alcohol Etc. Act – Would Someone Please Stop Missing The Point?”

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