By Ryan C. Gavan
The Scottish Government’s measures to give licensing boards the ability to raise the age of buying alcohol to combat Scotland’s binge drinking epidemic has failed. After a dramatic deliberation in a meeting of the Health and Sport committee at Holyrood, the plan has been voted down 3-5 against in the most recent review of the Alcohol Bill after strong opposition.
The Bill, introduced by Nicola Sturgeon MSP, says, “There are clear arguments in support of raising the off-sales age,where appropriate, as part of a range of local measures to address local problems. Our proposal would have made it easier for Licensing Boards to apply a minimum age of 21 to off-sales but would not have meant that they had to do so.”
The measures stood against strong opposition from other parties. Lib Dem Health spokesman Ross Finnie MSP stated that “we could have been in the ridiculous situation where a 19-year-old army officer could not buy a bottle of wine to celebrate returning from the front line.” This shows the problems facing such legislation.
This has also been criticised by youth groups such as the National Union for Students. In a statement put to the committee the organisation said “we do not agree that the evidence has shown that an alcohol purchase age of 21 for off-sales would reduce anti-social behaviour in our communities.”
Sturgeon comments that there is compelling evidence to raise the age of drink purchasing in off licenses saying ” We’ve considered international evidence which found that increasing the legal drinking age can have substantial effects on youth drinking and alcohol-related harm.”
The proposed amendment failed to convince the rest of the committee. Finnie now believes it is time to focus on more workable parts of the legislation. “We must now focus on the health related aspects of the Bill” continuing that it is more important to focus on “banning irresponsible promotions”.
Other measures also failed such as the controversial proposal of minimum drink pricing. The SNP are focusing on anti-social behaviour with the upcoming Holyrood election on the horizon. They have suffered a number of recent blows including Alex Salmond’s decision not to hold a referendum on independence but rather seek greater devolution powers.