Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:22 pm on 25th October 2007.

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Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 3:22 pm, 25th October 2007

I welcome the cabinet secretary's securing of this debate on alcohol. I also welcome many of his remarks, particularly those on the importance, difficulties and culture of alcohol in Scotland, together with the alarming and staggering figures that we must face. The Liberal Democrats are clear that tackling alcohol misuse must be viewed as a key public health priority; that is why I, as health spokesman, rather than a justice spokesperson, am leading for my party in the debate.

We welcome the attention that is being devoted to the issue during alcohol awareness week. Like other MSPs who attended last night's event, I was staggered to discover exactly what one alcohol unit really means. It was important to find that out. That relates to the point that Shona Robison made in her intervention about the need to be much more aware of levels of alcohol, and to the point that Bill Aitken made about people knowing their personal limits. We are also clear that we need to change not just the culture but the individual's perception of that culture. It is important that the individual must take responsibility for his or her behaviour when consuming alcohol.

Our concerns about the motion are genuine. The cultural aspect indeed underlies the problem and, although we accept that the criminal justice system has a key and vital role to play, and will be a vital buttress to any societal change on which we embark, we do not view it as providing the essential thrust of how we tackle the problem.

I have two issues with the wording of the Government motion. Having looked for historical precedents, I am concerned about the view that alcohol must be accepted as being different from any other product. Of course it is harmful, as are other products, but history tells us that, when we seek to set a substance apart, that does not effect a cultural change, but has quite the opposite effect.