Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:52 pm on 25th October 2007.

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Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party 4:52 pm, 25th October 2007

It is clear from today's constructive debate that awareness is growing of the problems that alcohol misuse causes. They range from short-term and long-term physical and mental health harm to antisocial behaviour and the damage that is done to our communities and to all our efforts to help Scots and Scotland reach our full potential.

Tackling alcohol misuse is Scotland's top public health priority. As members heard in the Cabinet Secretary for Justice's opening speech, the figures are frightening: one Scot dies every six hours as a direct result of alcohol. As a nation, we have one of the fastest-growing liver cirrhosis rates in the world, not to mention the huge cost to the NHS of that alcohol misuse. Everybody accepts that we cannot sit back and do nothing; we must think seriously about alcohol's place in Scottish society.

We must make it clear that the Scottish Government is not anti-alcohol, but anti-alcohol misuse. We acknowledge that alcohol can be enjoyed sensibly and responsibly as part of a healthy lifestyle—after all, it features in many aspects of our lives, from social gatherings to celebrations—but too large a proportion of Scottish adults regularly drink more than is good for their health.

We must dispel the myth that alcohol-related health harm is a problem that affects only those with a chronic alcohol dependency or so-called binge drinkers, although I recognise the harm that chronic alcoholism does to families, as Kenny Gibson showed in his personal account of that impact.

We also recognise the impact of young binge drinkers, but we all have to accept that anyone who regularly drinks even a little too much can put their health and well-being at risk in both the short and the long term. It is that part of society, which includes all of us and our families and friends, that puts the real burden on the NHS, when people's drinking comes back to haunt them after a number of years.

That is why it is so important, as a first step, to ask the Scottish public, through the national alcohol awareness week, "Does your drinking add up?" This week offers a fantastic opportunity to get Scots talking about alcohol, not only about units, but about their own drinking habits in relation to sensible drinking messages. It is also an opportunity to show what can be achieved when the industry, health professionals and the Government work together in partnership.

I take the opportunity to thank colleagues in the Scottish-based alcohol industry for stepping up to the mark on this issue and showing leadership in promoting responsible drinking. However, as a Government, we will ask them to go further. Whether they will come with us on that journey remains to be seen.

More needs to be done. The time has come to take action to match the scale of the problem of alcohol misuse in Scotland. We must ask ourselves where we want Scotland to be in 10, 15 or 20 years. If the long-term trends in increasing alcohol misuse and in alcohol-related harm continue, the future of Scotland looks bleak. We do not want to sit idly by and allow that to happen.

We want to live in a country in which people live longer and enjoy better health and well-being as a result of having fewer alcohol-related problems.

We want people to enjoy a better quality of life because they are less likely to become victims of alcohol-related crime or violence and more likely to live in cleaner, quieter streets and communities. In the Scotland of the future, Scots would view as unremarkable someone deciding not to consume alcohol, either as a one-off or in the longer term, and would be able to make informed choices about their alcohol consumption and its potential consequences. Scotland should enjoy a healthy culture of sensible alcohol consumption.

So how do we get there?