The debate is on a reasonably consensual matter; indeed, the Conservatives find the Labour Party and Liberal Democrat amendments acceptable. There is also much in what the cabinet secretary said with which we agree, apart from one item to which I will turn presently.
It is idle to suggest other than that the use of alcohol has been a major part of adult social culture in Scotland for many years but—as we all know—it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Excessive and irresponsible consumption of alcohol is a serious matter that can have devastating effects on individuals and communities. The problems in respect of young people are particularly apparent.
My colleague, Mary Scanlon, will deal with the health issues, but there can be no doubt whatever that things can go terribly wrong as a result of excess drinking. Many young men, and an increasing number of young women, find themselves in accident and emergency units and in the High Court.
In many ways, the portrayal of alcoholic drink in Scottish culture is problematic and that is at the root of the problem. Instead of being characterized as a relaxing social catalyst to be enjoyed only in moderate amounts, alcohol is too often depicted as simply an avenue for abandoning one's inhibitions and having a wild time. That must be changed, and true change must always begin at the fundamental level. It is time to take seriously the notion that in schools, the media and, most of all, the home, the attitude towards alcoholic drink
The solution for changing public attitudes to drinking is education, not the implementation of rigid alcohol-unit systems, which dictate rigid, prohibitive and arbitrary limits on what it is acceptable for someone to drink. They are also ineffective in reaching the public. The people who are involved in promoting them are perceived as preaching and as being self-righteous and condescending, and the systems make no allowance for variable factors such as individual body chemistry or metabolism.