Scotland’s drink problem. Some people do get it

There’s an opinion piece in today’s Herald by Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, head of the Violence Reduction Unit at Strathclyde Police. It’s one of the few such pieces I’ve seen that suggests there’s more to Scotland’s love of booze than its price.

If we want a cafe culture in Scotland let’s build more cafes. If we want to carry on the way we are, and see our society suffer even more, let’s keep on building bars where loud music inhibits conversation and the design – few seats, plenty of standing room – encourages drinking; let’s keep on having loss-leading drinks promotions in off-licences, allowing customers to have a few cheap drinks before they even reach these bars. 

17 thoughts on “Scotland’s drink problem. Some people do get it

  1. Squander Two says:

    It’s a start, but I think he’s still way off in some areas, especially his suggestion that drunkenness isn’t funny and shouldn’t be considered so. It is funny. What we need is to somehow create an environment in which people find the tales of their biannual piss-up hilarious, rather than their bi-weekly one. Needless to say, I have absolutely no idea how to achieve that. But telling people something they know not to be true — like getting drunk isn’t funny — tends to stop them listening to anything else you might have to say.

    The trouble with legal price controls on alcohol — which is one of the things he’s suggesting — is the same as with legal price controls on everything else. As he points out, the retailers have stated that prices are decided by simple matters of cost and demand, so banning two-for-one offers will simply make the standard one-for-one prices that much cheaper. That leaves two other approaches: duties, which we already have and which haven’t worked, probably because they give the state an incentive to keep people drinking; or a legal minimum price, such as was imposed on courier firms who weren’t the Royal Mail until recently. Thing is, the minimum price only made any sense because there was a Royal Mail, a single firm that the Government wanted to enable to out-compete everyone else in order to establish them as some sort of official standard. Without the Royal Mail, the legislation would have amounted to Government artificially increasing the profits of courier firms for no particular reason. Does anyone think that the solution to too much drunkenness is for the Government to hike up the profits of breweries by law?

    He’s bang on about pub design, though. But again, how do you change that? People seem to want to shout in each other’s ears over horribly loud music while standing in a cramped sweaty bar with barely enough room to move their elbows. Of course, if you’re a police officer, it’s easy to think that all pubs are like that, because you don’t get called out to break up fights outside the civilised airy places with big comfy sofas and quiet mellow music.

  2. deep.thought says:

    You have a good point Gary, thousands of bars with loud music, cheap drinks and little or no seating just reinforces the this culture and it’s not limited to just in Scotland

    But how would you break this cycle of ‘acceptable behaviour’? A culture that has been established and reinforced over generations may prove difficult difficult to re-educate (for want of a better expression).

    When you look at our European cousins, France for example, their bars are more family orientated with plenty of conversation, they tend to alternate alcoholic drinks with water and the only violence appears to be directed towards politicians. However this behaviour is also the result of generations of ‘acceptable behaviour’.

    Oh well, keep up the good work. I, for one, am off for a croissant and a glass of Chablis.

  3. mupwangle says:

    I still don’t believe that cheap drink is to blame. All you will do is make poor people unable to drink. Look at Red Bull. When it isn’t on promotion it costs about £1.50+ per can as a mixer and people still pay it on top of the vodka price when coke is free. And it still sells loads.

    Alcohol is not entirely to blame for violence either. Violent people are violent, drunk or sober. Alcohol reduces inhibitions so drunk violent people are a bit easier to provoke. I have only met a very, very small number of people who are only violent when drunk and that is more of a judgement issue – they know, when sober, that if they were to be violent that they would get a kicking which they forget when pissed.

  4. Gary says:

    He’s bang on about pub design, though. But again, how do you change that?

    If only we had a system where premises needed a licence to sell booze! ;-)

  5. mupwangle says:

    >>He’s bang on about pub design, though. But again, how do you change that?

    The only way is if people stopped going to pubs like that. The only reason they are all like that is because every one of them are packed every weekend.

  6. Squander Two says:

    Well, yeah, but the thought of state-mandated interior decorating standards is so horrific that I’m quietly hoping no-one will go for it. Even in Scotland.

    And, like I said, the “problem” with pubs seems to be that there are different types of pub for different people: there are loads of quiet civilised places where you can sit and chat and eat and no-one looks at you funny if you order a pot of tea and the DJ’s under strict orders to play at background volumes. So neither the licensing system nor market forces are stopping these places popping up and thriving. So changing the licensing requirements merely to encourage such places is pointless: they’re already encouraged. So we’d be looking instead at changing the licensing system to ban the noisy standing-room-only kind of pub outright. Lots of people want to listen to ear-blistering pop music while getting trashed. I can’t see that banning the pubs where they can do that will stop them.

  7. Squander Two says:

    Oh, Deep Thought,

    The idea that the French don’t drink to excess is a popular myth. In fact, they have an endemic drunk-driving problem which successive governments have been getting more and more draconian to try and break. Plenty of alcoholism, too.

  8. Gary says:

    the thought of state-mandated interior decorating standards

    Oh, I know. But to an extent the councils have created the situation through the combination of planning and licensing and local taxation. The combination of sky-high rent/rates and planning/licensing that approves multiple, massive-capacity pubs in the same small area isn’t going to create anything but industrialised alcohol abuse and its knock-on wonderfulness. If that lack of joined up thinking causes the problem, could joined up thinking help address it?

    I’m not suggesting council-mandated decorating, but surely you can look at an application, compare square footage to capacity, and realise it’s a booze factory rather than a pub?

    The only reason they are all like that is because every one of them are packed every weekend.

    True, but at the expense of ordinary (and particularly local) pubs – everyone’s travelling into the city to get trashed. The super-pubs are moving the boozing into one big area with inadequate control, inadequate policing, the same chucking-out times and a lack of transport to get everyone home again. Of course people will get pissed at the weekend – but do we want everybody from a 20-mile radius to get pissed in the same two or three streets?

    A good example of what I mean is Ashton Lane in the west end of glasgow. A recent spate of late licenses and the opening of Oran Mor (and in particular its club) have massively increased the number of people drinking in a fairly small area. Now those late licences and openings haven’t suddenly created people who didn’t previously exist, or got tee-totallers drinking, but presumably they did their drinking somewhere else. So the new capacity has relocated the boozing from elsewhere and concentrated it in one place – with all the potential problems that can cause, such as me not being able to get served. Heh.

    Do you see what I’m getting at? It’s a kind of Wal-Mart but with drinking instead of shopping.

  9. mupwangle says:

    The concentration into a small area thing wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if a) it was non-residential and b) it was adequately policed. If you want a quiet drink then you go to your local. If you want the loud busy thing then you go to town. Your local is a better place (the nutters go into town) and the police can concentrate their resources in a small area.

    There is no reason that the councils, police, taxi companies and the pub owners couldn’t get together and sort this out. Staggered closing times is a possibility. A curfew on all pubs that they can have no new entries after midnight (to stop everyone leaving one pub for another), for example, and each pub stops serving in 15 minute intervals and at different ends of an area (not the same order every night to stop any particular pub being busier due to later opening). A couple of big taxi ranks and a relatively high police presence with CCTV. Numbers would be manageable in the most part if the taxis were organised. With CCTV and the police then prosecuting violent individuals would be easier. Radio-link the bouncers so that if someone is chibbed out of one pub they don’t get into another. And so on.

  10. Tony Kiernan says:

    TBH, if your idea of a good night out is Ashton Lane, you get what you deserve. At one time it may have even exemplified the ‘better’ cafe culture type thing. Unfortunately, that was then… Increasing gentrification of the west-end means that the Saturday night crowd have to be coming from afar. The only way companies have thrived round there is because of the drinking-theme-park idea. It might be a collection of franchises like Debenhams rather than the Wal-mart model, but ultimately it’s the same idea.

    >>Violent people are violent, drunk or sober
    Last round of this media hysteria (headed by Helen Liddel if my memory serves), the Record had the classic headline “Buckfast turned my son from a nutter to a killer”

  11. Gary says:

    I didn’t say it’s my idea of a good night out; more, it’s a bad night out. It’s always been busy in parts, but it’s beyond busy now I think.

    It might be a collection of franchises like Debenhams rather than the Wal-mart model, but ultimately it’s the same idea.

    Is there a high street analogy for lots of shops with different names but the same company behind ’em? Glasgow’s drinking/club scene seems to be in the hands of about three people…

  12. Tony Kiernan says:

    >>I didn’t say it’s my idea of a good night out;
    Strictly, I didn’t say you did either :-P

    >>lots of shops with different names but the same company behind ‘em?
    Kingfisher? Or is that me showing my age.

  13. mupwangle says:

    Kingfisher are almost entirely DIY now.

    I think you’re thinking of Philip Green who owns arcadia (topshop) and storehouse(BHS).

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