Alcoholism is an illness – chronic, recurring, blights families and destroys lives. It is neither comical nor should it be a target for derision.
Children born to alcoholic mothers are up against it from the outset of life; they may suffer brain damage before birth and can be doomed from the moment of birth. I have acted for many of these children and their circumstances are heartbreaking. To be shackled from birth as the result of the shortcomings of another, especially a loved and close one, is pitiful, frustrating, unfair and plainly wrong.
Scotland’s children who grow up around alcoholic fathers and mothers likely see violence, chaos and heartbreak. They may be removed from family, placed into foster care or adopted; outcomes for these children are often less than par, to put it mildly. For those who remain at home there can be terrible dramas, uncertainty and a lack of confidence and achievement. That extends into adulthood where potential is impaired and the cycle repeats. These families suffer and our country is weakened.
Adults suffering alcoholism don’t bugger only their livers; they get into violence and put themselves at risk; they have debt, encounter enforcement of a brutal nature, become diabetic and lose limbs as well as hope. The resultant cost to the justice system, the health service and the economy is enormous.
Alcoholism does not differentiate or distinguish between class, social structures or abilities; I have appeared in Court before a Sheriff (now deceased) who was drunk when he came on the bench at 10 a.m. He became more intoxicated as the day wore on to the extent that by mid afternoon he was asleep. His judgements were flawed and there was cause to question the effective delivery of justice.
There used to be Advocates who appeared in Scottish Courts daily whilst almost incapable through alcohol consumption. I have watched as one ( now also deceased) who represented the accused in a murder trial scribbled his closing speech to the jury on a scrap of paper after a lunch comprising 5 triple gins. His client’s future was in his shaking hands and he couldn’t give a damn because the drink took priority.
So in Scotland we had situations where accused persons were being represented by drunk lawyers as they were sentenced for offences committed whilst drunk by Sheriffs who were drunk at the point when the sentence was delivered. Prisons were populated by drunks but there was always change at Agnews, for those with money.
These events in our courts of which I write are I hope consigned to the past; the spirit of Scotland in this 21st century should no longer refer to our ability to scoop unimaginable proportions of alcohol as we conduct our daily affairs. Change is beginning but its pace has to quicken; the drunken Jock caricature must become a thing of the past if our country, families and children are to prosper.
There are alcohol outreach services in every corner of Scotland today; thousands of fellow travellers through the network of Alcoholics Anonymous offer their friendship and fellowship daily in the hope of saving another soul; but this is not enough. The crackdown on cheap deals for alcohol is underway, but somehow here in Scotland we maintain a weird sense of respect for the drinker and I wonder and worry as to why this is.
People lose lives and health because of alcohol; there are stabbings, fights, thefts, domestic violence and children with their souls and ambitions ravaged by the effects of drink. Prisons remain populated by addicts. If ours is to become a country capable of standing squarely and soberly on its own two feet then the scourge of excessive alcohol consumption needs addressed more vigorously without delay.
I do hope therefore that the spectacle of an MP drunk almost unable to chew his own fingernails will provide a timely and urgent lesson to Scotland. Alcoholism respects no boundary of class or heritage, expectation or aspiration. It’s a depressant and a killer and it’s time for change.
I don’t pretend to have answers; I only know that we have to alter our landscape and our perspective: pleased that some inroads are being made, but we need to bring an end to the days of 15 year olds persuading pals to get them a chilled bottle of fortified wine from the chiller in the Co-op, mums buying wine by the box and not the bottle and dads vying for the best multi cut price deal at the supermarket.
Scotland needs a properly funded programme for rehabilitation and education with holistic services which address all problems created by alcohol dependency, advice about money, benefits, alternative lifestyles and avoidance; and we then create a land of opportunity where our people have the chance to rise above hopelessness, addiction and desperation. The answer to this question is not continued austerity, poverty and deprivation.
Perhaps when we have ScotRef2 we will have hope of brighter days when we no longer feel the need to get miraculous and a sober life will become as attractive as one seen through drunken goggles. I do hope so. But I conclude with a challenge to all honourable MPs and MSPs – you, with privilege, status and money at your disposal have the chance to secure a rebirth for those of you who struggle with addictions; rehabilitation can be yours with one nod; why not take that opportunity and then devote some time to securing similar opportunities for others less fortunate? Give yourself a renaissance of pride and make a lasting impression of the right sort? It won’t be easy, but Scotland will love and respect you for trying!