OF all the measures in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s recent Budget, the most controversial was arguably the one that saw the tax on a bottle of Buckfast increased by 81p, while that on champagne was cut. “Grounds for independence surely,” tweeted one disgruntled Paisley man.

Variously known as “wreck the hoose juice”, “commotion lotion”, “Cumbernauld rocket fuel” and “Coatbridge table wine”, this week’s Icon is definitely one more associated with the central-western lowlands of Scotland.

More specifically, the Buckie Triangle is said to take in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Bellshill, or alternatively Airdrie, Cumbernauld and Coatbridge. Wherever, Buckie is the libation of choice for Scotland’s unique demographic, the ned (related to the chav in yonder England).

While anthropological surveys have shown it’s not the preferred swallie among the street-lizards of Edinburgh or Dundee, it did merit mention at Dunfermline Sheriff Court a few years ago, where the beak advised one miscreant that four bottles of it a day was “not conductive to a long life”.

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In the feral Edinburgh of my youth, the prehistoric precursors of neds drank something called Scotsmac, a pre-prepared and ill-advised mixture of whisky and wine, which scientists referred to as “the bam’s dram”.

So, what are we talking about here? Well, Buckfast is branded a “tonic wine”. The Oxford English Dictionary describes tonic as something “strengthening, invigorating, bracing”. And, indeed, when monks at Buckfast Abbey in Devon first made Buckfast in the 1890s, it was sold, not as falling down juice but as a pick-me-up with the slogan: “Three small glasses a day, for good health and lively blood.”

Later, the recipe was changed to be less winey medicine and more medicated wine, and today comes with the message: “The name ‘tonic wine’ does not imply health-giving or medicinal properties.” Is that right, aye? That said, up till the 1970s at least, it was not unknown for doctors to prescribe it to pregnant mothers.

The syrupy libation is based on a traditional recipe from France, still the source of the base wine before the monks add “secret ingredients,” which don’t include other ingredients such as sodium glycerophosphate, dipotassium phosphate, disodium phosphate, and vanillin (a phenolic aldehyde). Yummy. And that’s before we come to the caffeine, with each bottle said to contain the equivalent of eight cans of cola, more drop for drop than Red Bull.

Perhaps this explains the “high”, distinct from mere drunkenness, that Buckie aficionados sometimes report. It’s also said that the wine’s “grapes of wrath” make imbibers crazy and aggressive, though it’s fair to say other drinks like whisky (typically 40% alcohol compared to Buckie’s 15%) are sometimes similarly tarred, even if in my view that tends to be the nastier brands.

At any rate, it would be wrong to argue that Buckie’s frequent cameo appearances in court cases is the fault of the manufacturers, at least any more than many other alcohol producers.

How a drink involving monks, France and Devon came to be associated with Lanarkshire neds is something of a mystery. It’s certainly not a welcome association for the monks, or their product’s distributor J. Chandler and Co., who’ve frequently been at pains to point out that it’s enjoyed responsibly elsewhere and cannot be held responsible for anti-social behaviour in areas scarred by deprivation. They say that taking Buckfast in particular off the shelves would be like banning one particular car to stop road accidents.

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That hasn’t stopped politicians, the police and health campaigners speaking out against it over the years. When, in 2005, Scottish Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson suggested retailers stop selling it, she was dogged by teenagers chanting: “Don’t ban Buckie!”

Various investigations over the years have found Buckfast mentioned in 5,638 Strathclyde crime reports – three a day – between 2006 and 2009, 2,893 in the same area between 2008 and 2012, and 6,500 such cases reported by Scottish police in 2015-17.

The phenomenon has attracted international attention with the New York Times, reporting exclusively from Coatbridge in 2010, headlining with “a scourge unleashed by a bottle”.

One supermarket in Coatbridge has reported selling a bottle of Buckie every 10 minutes. Apparently, apart from the allegedly intense “high”, the bottle’s portability and screwtop are part of the attraction for street habitués. But these qualities are hardly unique.

A little acknowledged factor may be that it’s a cultural identifier for neds. Odd though it may sound, neds are proud to be neds. They have not been forced to don a Burberry baseball cap and shapeless grey athletic trousers.

They put these on to say: “I identify as a ned.” And when they take to the street corner or under a particularly fragrant and atmospheric bridge to have a social drink, peer pressure and peculiar fashion ensure that Buckfast is the beverage of choice.

Though an element responsibility – however distant – cannot be removed, it does make you feel sorry for the monks and their business allies, who point out that their international market includes the relatively ned-free Bahamas.

There’s also some indication that bohemian types have started taking a perhaps ironic interest in Buckfast. The company’s website, meanwhile, majors on recipes such as Buckfast chicken liver paté, Buckfast onion tarte tatin, Buckfast chicken broth, and Buckfast lamb korma.

One mustn’t titter at this, even if I just got a mental image of having a few spoonfuls of the broth before, consequently inflamed, pouring the pot of korma over my own head. My apologies for that, and also for publishing all this in the paper, since every controversy involving Buckfast pushes up sales. In 2017, the wine’s distributor reported sales worth £43.2 million. The abbey trust, a shareholder of the distributor and seller, gets a royalty for every bottle sold. And let us not forget that the neds of Lanarkshire, as well as the product’s more discerning and respectable customers, are doing their bit for the Treasury and Britain’s post-Covid recovery. Let’s drink moderately – and out of a proper glass – to that.