Monday, 9 January 2012

Nip this prohibitionist nonsense in the bud

Right, this is important. We are facing a potential alcohol ban on trains in Scotland. It is only a bit of flag-waving at the moment, but it needs a good hard kick in the goolies to put it off the agenda.

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 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.


  1. Perhaps there should be a choice of drinking and non-drinking carriages.

  2. You blokes are lucky to still be able to drink anywhere public. You sure as hell can't in Australia!

  3. Reactions by MPS are so predictable in these cases. The real ale rail trail here in West Yorks is currently 'under scrutiny' from those who know best.

  4. Problem is not the hill walkers having a dram - but the loud obnoxious stag/hen parties, riggers out of Aberdeen sitting demolishing boxes of tennents or just your random idiots who think its acceptable to attack fellow passengers fuelled by the drink they have been knocking back at their table. I spent a summer as a student working on catering trolley on Scotrail trains and saw all of that on a daily basis. The "dry" trains on football days were a pleasure to work on and I'm sure most passengers would have agreed.

    Yes of course there were plenty of people able to enjoy some wine or beer without being idiots but like everything in Scotland related to drinking it is spoilt by a very loud, badly behaved minority.

  5. "Now a proposed ban of this kind is, as far as I know, unprecedented anywhere in Europe."

    Not exactly. Such a ban just has been lifted in Poland, after over 20 years. The situation was bit comic - one could have a pint in international trains, but not the domestic ones. Even now beer is available only in pricey InterCity trains, at the laughable price (5 times more than in a bar near railway station!).