Saturday, 4 October 2008

Demonising our Young People

Now, I know it's a bit strange in the early days of a new blog by a Labour member to praise a member of another political party, but hey, I'm a bit strange. So, praise where praise is due, I was impressed with Murdo Fraser, the Conservative Deputy Leader during the debate the other day in Holyrood about the SNP's alcohol proposals.

Annabel Goldie remains every non-Tory's favourite Tory (seriously everyone seems to love her, even if they don't agree with her politics - and nothing compares to her sparring with Nicola Sturgeon on QT!) but Murdo Fraser is demonstrating that he is a very able politician. He highlighted the illogical issues with the SNP's proposals, with his point about the soldier returning from active duty being unable to buy champagne to celebrate with his wife being particulalry telling.

To be fair, I don't want to overegg his abilities - the SNP proposal is so lacking in coherence that my cat was able to clearly point to the difficulties with it. We already have so many discrepancies in our system between what young people can do at 16 and 18 - adding in an additional layer of confusion (with the potential for very controversial court cases) merely makes the system even more unworkable. Off licences can obviously present a contributory factor to the alcohol problem in Scotland, but I would be surprised if, amongst young people, they are a bigger contribution than cheap booze in pubs and clubs. Furthermore, to identify young people as being the sole target implies that they are the problem, that older people do not. Of course, the highest alcohol rates seem to be amongst middle class households who can afford to purchase regular alcohol, but to pick on young people is unfair and counterproductive.

However, the SNP Government is right to highlight that it is not enough for opposition parties to merely criticise their proposals (although that is a key part of their role) but that they also need to put forward sensible alternatives. This is a key chance for the other parties, particularly my own Labour Party, to demonstrate that they have coherent and workable policies.

I believe that we need to target our young people as a key part of the strategy, but not by demonising them. Rather we need to increase education about alcohol and, crucially, education which removes the mysterious allure of alcohol for young people. It is not appropriate to just point out potential difficulties and medical issues - these not only don't put people off everytime but also appear hypocritical to young people. I like alcohol, I drink wine, beer and various other things and enjoy doing so, as do many other healthy people. Alcohol in itself is not 'bad' - it is the problems of dependency that are to be countered. Much of it is a bit of a cliche, the attitude towards alcohol on the Continent has much to recommend it. There alcohol is seen as something to be enjoyed, with children given watered down glasses of wine at early ages. This demystifies alcohol, so that is less of a sign of rebellion to be consumed in massive quantities, and more just another pleasure to be enjoyed.

But we also need to work with society in general to break alcohol's hold on many of our communities. Whilst, as I said above, alcohol can be something to be enjoyed, it is also a drug with destructive capabilities. We need to work to clarify this is the public's mind, so that they are aware of the potential hazards of alcoholic addiction. We need to work to publicise the stories of people who have had alcohol addiction, and also to publicise the resources of various charities and organisations which exist to support those who may have difficulties.

Realise that time is flying by now, so will have to head. Will try and return to this issue later - but feel free to share your thoughts with me. Alcohol is a massive problem for Scotland and this is an issue which all the parties have to discuss and overcome.

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