27 Mar 2009

Scottish Parliament speech - Alcohol Strategy 26th. March 2009

There is no doubt that we are facing a serious problem in this country.
This morning's Audit Scotland report highlights some of the significant issues.
I congratulate the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on the way in which he has raised the temperature in the debate.
I understand why he has done that.
We had to have a debate and we must confront serious problems.
I am also pleased that ministers' emphasis has shifted towards the health problem, to some extent.
Although Bill Aitken is absolutely right that the alcohol-related behaviour of a minority of people in this country causes problems and it is right that we use enforcement and preventive measures with justice-related powers and responsibilities, he did not dwell significantly on the fact that the health of too many people is beginning to suffer because of the hidden consumption of alcohol at home, which is perhaps not so hidden on a night out.
We have to realise that many people who do not necessarily pose problems with antisocial behaviour and crime, or who might not regard themselves as problem drinkers, have a growing problem with alcohol.
The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing documented well some of the significant impacts that such a problem is having.
Bold measures are absolutely necessary—Robert Brown was right to point out the distinction between justice and health, in terms of the language that is used—and Kenny MacAskill was right to raise the debate in the way that he did, but in a Parliament of minorities, it is not enough to talk about agreement and consensus; we need to deliver it.
To be frank, there is no party-political advantage to be gained on this matter, and no party-political argument should be advanced to score points over one party at the expense of another; we are in this together.
Nicola Sturgeon is right that, as politicians, we should take the lead on the issue.
Sometimes there is a question about whether we attempt to lead public opinion, but we cannot do that by trying to ram ideas down the throats of other parties in this Parliament of minorities.
On alcohol policy, above all others, we need a cross-party approach.
We should be looking back to some of the historic work that was done by Strathclyde Regional Council, for example, and the officer/member working group reports on which all parties came together to make bold, imaginative and radical suggestions to advance social policy.
If either of the cabinet secretaries here today wants to be bold, the bold measure on alcohol policy is to implement a mechanism whereby all parties can come together to work on the issue and come up with some agreement.
The last thing that we need in trying to deal with the alcohol problem is parties trying to score points against one another or fraying at the edges as the argument develops.
If we cannot work out together a solution to the problem, the present generation of Scots will suffer and future generations will continue to suffer.
We are dealing with too big an issue for us to revert to our party-political dogma and political bunkers.
I appeal to the cabinet secretaries to reach out to other parties and I appeal to other parties to approach the problem in the way that it demands—to rise above our political perspectives and come together to work out a solution that will have a lasting effect.
It might require radical and bold solutions, but the problem needs that type of approach.
For once, can we not do the right thing in this Parliament?