The latest statistics showed that 72 per cent of alcohol sold in Scotland was from off sales. In 1994 it was 49 per cent and before that significantly lower still. Historically, off sales premises were few and the cost often expensive. Now they abound and the cost is significantly cheaper than in a pub or other licensed premises. A carry out over the counter from a pub was once pricey indeed. Nowadays, a supermarket can provide one for substantially less than a round of drinks in a bar.

Moreover, alcohol was routinely enjoyed in a pub, club or restaurant usually with friends or family and only sometimes in the home; now it’s in the home sometimes alone and often only occasionally at licensed premises. The consequences of the abuse of alcohol have likewise shifted. 97 per cent of the heaviest drinkers bought their alcohol from off sales premises. The bar fly is a thing of the past as cheap home drinking supplants it. Hospital admissions show a similar shift in venue.

Health, social and economic costs are consequent. They remain significant to the wellbeing of our society, costing billions and overburdening vital services. They are rooted in alcohol abuse, now more likely to be, bought from an off rather than on sale premises. Underage drinking is not 16 or 17 year olds seeking to be served a pint in pubs but much younger children consuming high strength alcohol acquired from an off sale. Historically, murders and serious assaults occurred in or adjacent to licensed premises. Now, it’s likely to be in or near a private dwelling as that’s where the serious drinking is occurring; unsupervised and much harder for the police to monitor.

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Scotland’s drinking patterns have changed and licensing laws will require adapting likewise. The consequences of abuse are stemming more from the off rather than on sale consumption. Yet, over recent years the emphasis on targeting the abuse of alcohol has been placed on the on sale trade. In the main, though, it is well run and tightly regulated. Action requires taken to address the shift in consumption to the off sales trade.

Moreover, as the corner shop begins to close, its large combines who are selling it at their large outlets or in new metro or convenience stores they operate. Many of the latter are often it seems off sales with a few additional items beyond the crisps and sweets sold in former dedicated off sales.

As ever that will mean addressing cost and sale. The introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing, to end the absurdity of a bottle of water being cheaper than a bottle of high strength alcohol in a supermarket is vital. But, there are other steps that can and should be taken. The cost of a license should reflect sales and consequent harm. It’s ridiculous to have a well-run hotel paying the same price for a liquor licence as a major supermarket retailer. A corner shop can sell much more in many ways than the local bar, so why should they pay the same licensing fee. The current levy imposed on major outlets by the Scottish Government whilst welcome does not address the underlying issue of volume sold. The criteria should not be rateable value but the amount of alcohol retailed. Devolution of revenue powers to the Scottish Parliament offers that opportunity. Those who sell the most should pay the most; and the revenues used to address the harm caused.

The manner, in which it is sold, also, requires addressed. Most enjoy it and it benefits our economy in many ways. But, alcohol isn’t just another commodity. It’s not a loaf of bread or a pair of shoes. It’s a licensed drug that unregulated can cause serious harm. It’s never routinely sold in a bakers or shoe shop, so why are supermarkets allowed to sell it as just another product. A 16 year old can sell you alcohol in an off sales premise but, rightly, not so in an on sale one. That anomaly needs rectified.

More importantly, alcohol shouldn’t be subject to subliminal influence or other advertising tricks from supermarkets. Designated aisles are an improvement but still subject to sales manipulation. It’s time for separate tilling as applies in many other jurisdictions. That change has been made with cigarettes and needs done with alcohol. Alcohol should be a product available but sold separately both on and off sales.

Kenny McAskill is SNP member of the Scottish Parliament for Edinburgh Eastern