There has always been a streak of repressive puritanism in the Scottish Labour Party with regard to alcohol, and I’ve been in public meetings where sitting councillors have said things along the lines of “Why does anyone need to be out drinking at two o’clock in the morning anyway?”
It’s thanks to this small-mindedness that we’re not allowed to have a refreshing bottle of beer on the street in Glasgow, or to crack open a bottle of wine with a picnic in one of the city’s verdant parks.
Unfortunately, in this respect the SNP is even worse than Labour.
The SNP-controlled West Dunbartonshire Council, for instance, has a policy of granting no new licenses, the effect of which, of course, is not so much to inhibit the proliferation of squalid drinking dens, but to prevent any good new places from opening.
Now the prohibitionist hysteria has spilt over into the public transport sector. It was only to be expected, since over the last couple of decades one local authority after another has imposed a blanket ban on drinking in public. That one can still have a drink on a train has come to seem like an anomaly, rather than quite natural and ordinary as it once was.
Rail 2014, the discussion paper that Transport Scotland has put forward as a basic for renegotiating rail franchises, is a document which is going to be controversial for all sorts of other reasons, but the article pertinent to this blog reads:
“10.18 One of the most distressing ways to spend a rail journey is to be subject to the bad behaviour of other passengers. This can be fuelled by excessive drinking of alcohol. Currently BPT and ScotRail implement alcohol bans on specific services during events (such as services to/from rugby and football matches). However consideration is being given to whether there should be a ban on the consumption of alcohol on all trains in Scotland and we welcome views.”
Now a proposed ban of this kind is, as far as I know, unprecedented anywhere in Europe.
It would prevent hillwalkers having a dram from their hip flasks on the journey along the West Highland Line. It would prevent couples sharing a bottle of wine on a train. Absurdly, it would mean hen parties going to Newcastle for the weekend would have to wait to open their bottle of cava until Berwick-upon-Tweed. It would prevent thousands of completely innocent passengers legitimately enjoying a beverage in a responsible manner.
The purported benefit of a ban is extremely dubious. I’d wager that most drunk people causing trouble on trains are drunk before they get on. A ban on the train won’t affect them.
Has any research been done? Or is it just the result of prejudice on the part of people who, like the Labour councillor of old, can’t imagine why any respectable person would want to have a drink on a train?
Tourists from other countries who come to Scotland to visit the hills and glens will have no comprehension of this policy at all. It does not exist in their home countries, and can only convince them that Scotland is an odd, miserable, grey wee statelet ruled by fanatics, where you can't even have a beer on a train.
I urge all my readers to write to Transport Scotland and their MSPs opposing this proposal. You can download a response form at http://www.transportscotland.gov.uk/strategy-and-research/publications-and-consultations/j203179-19.htm and read the document in its entirety here.
If you’d like to make your opinions known in person, there are a few more meet-the-managers sessions to go: 10 January at Glasgow Central railway station, 12 January at Edinburgh Waverley, 17 January at Inverness, 20 January at Perth, 24 January at Kirkcaldy, 31 January at Ayr, 2 February at Stranraer.