Monday, 16 June 2008

Here comes Prohibition

Potentially the greatest restriction of the freedoms of drinkers we have seen so far in this country is the proposal by the Scottish government to restrict off-sales to over-21s. As alcohol is a legal product, and 18 is regarded as the age of majority for pretty much all practical purposes, this move is utterly abhorrent in terms of civil liberties. You will be able to marry, drive a car, vote, become an MP and fight for your country, but not to buy a bottle of beer or wine.

Even on a practical level, it is unlikely that it will solve the problems it is claimed to address. Rather it will simply drive them underground and transfer the trade from legitimate outlets to black marketeers. Partial prohibition has never worked in the past and will not work here.

Such a ban is likely to be a major disincentive to studying at Scottish universities. And, unless possession of alcoholic drinks is also made illegal, how are the authorities to know if stocks in student flats have been obtained legally or not? Are they going to be carrying out raids demanding receipts? You can imagine any English students returning back from weekends at home with cars laden down with drink. Or are they going to set up Customs checkpoints too and ban the importation of alcohol for personal use? The ban will make obtaining alcohol for consumption at home appear a far more fun and glamorous activity.

I also foresee that very many over-21s will see this law as wholly unreasonable and have no compunction about buying alcohol on behalf of their younger friends.

The worry, of course, is that if this happens in Scotland it is likely to spread south of the border…

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