Monday, 25 June 2012

Prohibitionists try salami tactics

How long before drinking a delicious cool
beer on a train is outlawed completely?
I wasn’t expecting this at all.  I hoped that ScotRail’s consultation document in which they asked for opinions on a possible ban on drinking alcohol on trains was just a bit of kite-flying, which would be struck down by common sense. Sadly, common sense in relation to alcohol is in increasingly short supply in Scotland.

It seems like Scotland’s busybodies and window-twitchers have submitted an unexpectedly high number of responses asking for a ban. And ScotRail’s bosses have sensed an opportunity to curry favour with the neo-prohibitionist Scottish Government.

From July all ScotRail trains after 2100 and before 1000 will be declared as dry, and the consumption of alcohol on them will not be permitted. Drunk people may be refused passage (though who will be deemed to be drunk is still unclear).

Evidently a complete round-the-clock ban is still too politically sensitive and would look too much like the extremist measure it is. Too many “respectable” people would be affected by the banning of a dram of malt whisky on a trip to the Highlands. Not to mention the revenue that would be lost if ScotRail had to stop selling cans of crap beer at inflated prices on daytime trains.

But ScotRail clearly think they can get away with a ban at other times.

Late evening trains will not be safer as a result. Most drunk troublemakers are not any drunker than other perfectly peaceable passengers. They cause trouble because they’re arseholes, not because they’re drunk. But no politician is brave enough to say this. It’s easier for Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill to blame the liquid rather than demand responsible behaviour from people who can’t handle their drink.

British Transport Police’s website still carries the statement “Alcohol brought on trains does not generally cause a problem. People being drunk before they travel does.” This sensible position appears to have been thrown overboard, with Supt Ellie Bird quoted as saying: “The consumption of alcohol is prohibited on other forms of public transport, such as buses, and trains should be no different.”

What’s more, a ban before 10am is a solution in search of a problem. I’ve never encountered rowdiness on an early morning train. Neds aren’t awake by 10, never mind on trains supping lager.

But a ban at that time is politically possible and will meet little resistance. What reasonable person would want to be drinking at that time in the morning anyway? Well, nobody except alcoholics, obviously. Unless you’re coming home from night shift, or on holiday, in which case, tough. ScotRail will push this through with the backing of all those whose thinking goes along the lines “I don’t have any desire to do something, so nobody else should be allowed to do it either.”

Shamefully, not a single one of the MSPs and MPs who responded spoke out in favour of allowing responsible drinking.

Let us be under no illusions. This is nothing to do with preventing drunk bams causing trouble. It is a politically motivated ban with the aim of further socially denormalising alcohol. I fully expect that within a couple of years, or even sooner, some report will appear “explaining” what a success the policy has been and recommending that it be extended into a complete ban around the clock.

The solution to drunks causing a nuisance on trains is, as has been pointed out for years, is to enforce the laws we already have. But this takes manpower which ScotRail are eager to eliminate – they have been attempting for years to do away with union agreements that insist on a guard, conductor or equivalent traveling on every train. Supposedly British Transport Police will enforce the ban. Wouldn’t they be better employed dealing with the few people actually causing trouble?

Much easier to inconvenience people enjoying an innocent and completely legitimate pleasure. Especially as it closes a loophole in public policy. Since the 1990s more and more local authorities have introduced bye-laws banning the consumption of alcohol in public spaces. The situation of being able to drink on a train – as was once the norm everywhere – now appears like an exception.

There are now very few places left in Scotland where it’s legal to enjoy an alcoholic beverage outside of licensed premises or your own home. Fine if you have a garden. Fine if you can afford to do your drinking in pubs. Fine if your horizons are so limited that you can only conceive of drinking in the context of downing eight pints on Friday night, or twelve cans in front of the TV.

That this compartmentalisation of alcohol consumption in fact reinforces Scotland’s hard-drinking culture rather than weaken it  — this is something which our political class has completely failed to understand.


  1. Absolute twaddle. Busybodies and window twitchers??? For that read: General public who are affected by:- drunken idoits drinking on the train, pissing in carraiges, being abusive to other passengers, rowdy and threatening behaviour and causing serious injury with the glass bottles they take onto the train.
    The very fact there has been an overwhelming response shows that the majority of people that travel at these times regularly wished for this ban to be introduced.
    This is possibly the most ill thought, quickly written and immature blog you have ever posted.

  2. Trains are one of the last bastions of public drinking in Ireland too. There is no national law against drinking in the street, but every local authority in the country has by-laws prohibiting it.

    If Scotland heads down this road I fully expect Ireland's neoprohibitionists to push for a similar policy here. Any alcohol related policy from anywhere else should be enacted immediately, as long as it is restrictive in nature. Never mind if it has failed to help anyone, but penalised thousands of ordinary people while doing it.

  3. Anonymous, a few points.

    1. Troublemaking drunks can get on the train with alcohol in their blood stream.

    2. A lout with five cans in his system and three cans yet to finish at 20.30 may well manage to finish them before 21.00. He should be a fun travelling companion thereafter.

    3. While reasonable people will obey the law, the troublemakers may well ignore it. In the absence of a guard to enforce it, the law only affects people who would not have been a problem in the first place.

    4. If there is a guard to enforce it, alcohol can be decanted into a soft drink container which conceals the contents. Lucozade bottles are the container of choice for street drinkers in Dublin. Everyone knows what's going on, but you can't just demand to check the contents of someone's soft drink bottle.

    This ban will need to be enforced to be effective. That means a guard confronting these people. If that is the case, why not have a guard confront problem drunks and leave well behaved people alone to have a beer?

  4. Sean for the simple fact that you can't have one rule for one and another rule for another. If the problem drunks see that other people are drinking then they would wish to have a drink too and rightly so. Sadly the decision for this ban has been taken due to the increasing volume of violent incidents on trains in Scotland, with the common denominator being alcohol. Scotrail have to put the safety of ALL passengers first not to mention the safety of their staff who on a daily basis are targeted for abuse by drunken louts. Yes it may be punishing everyone due to the behaviour of a minority but I'd much prefer to get the train home in safety without the threat of confrontation from drunken louts that may well use their Buckfast bottles as a weapon.
    Sean just for your information Scotrail with also be refusing carriage to persons that are incapable of travel through alcohol abuse so hopefully travelling by train will be a pleasure rather than the nightmare it currently is.

  5. "There are now very few places left in Scotland where it’s legal to enjoy an alcoholic beverage outside of licensed premises or your own home. Fine if you have a garden. Fine if you can afford to do your drinking in pubs. Fine if your horizons are so limited that you can only conceive of drinking in the context of downing eight pints on Friday night, or twelve cans in front of the TV."

    Because meeting your friends for a few drinks on the train is such fun!!!!!!!!

  6. How depressing. I remember when Scotland was a civilised country.

  7. I've had a few long train journeys were the fact i had a lovely cup of G&T kept me going for the hours stuck somewhere hellish, sitting with annoying people who have no regard for "quiet coaches", screaming kids sharing their lunch with the seats/tables. Yet I'm the one who after going to see a play in Edinburgh for the festival come home without the rest of my bottle of wine because it may upset someone.

    Excuse me, but have these people been on public transport. A - most idiots are "jaiked up" before getting on, B - trains tend to be too dear for them especially with the new barriers, C - These idiots tend to be on notable lines/stations, I'm sure we all know what ones.

    This is just another step towards the demonisation of alcohol and increased alcohol tax. Us darker countries drink a lot, yes, but it's a northern hemisphere thing and lets face it this country would drive you to an increase in alcohol consumption.

  8. You supported the smoking ban, pal.

    What you sow, you will reap.

  9. I've been on plenty of trains with drunken arseholes but never one that descended into full-scale drunken violence, the closest I've came to that has been as a result of a SOBER conductor mishandling the situation.

    Of the trains where I do see drunken antics, which route is the one where I see it all the time??? Why it's Glasgow - Edinburgh, the one where they've run out of platform/tunnel space for additional trains at Queen St because it's so popular. It would funny if this move lead to a decrease in passenger numbers.

    Actually, I reckon this move will probably lead to an increase in violence as arseholes contest the new rules. Will conductors be given training to eject the drinkers? Will extra conductors be put on? Will they be forced to hire "bouncers" and put prices up?

    Are any stats available for the supposed increase in violence on trains fuelled by alcohol? And if this move backfires will stats be published freely?

    "hopefully travelling by train will be a pleasure rather than the nightmare it currently is"
    Anonmyous - where on earth are you travelling if each journey is a "nightmare"?!

  10. A knee jerk reaction that punishes everyone, rather than just tackle the few drunken idiots. Drunken idiots on trains could be tackled by the conductor informing the transport police, and them attending the train at the next stop. The means to deal with drunk travellers are already in place, why not JUST USE THEM?

  11. @Anonymous27 June 2012 00:24:

    "You supported the smoking ban, pal.

    What you sow, you will reap."


    The series of increasingly hysterical claims, made through a lengthening chain of non-sequiturs and strawmen unrelated to the actual point, built on an enthusiasm for banning anything you find distasteful, backed up with a hefty dose of moralistic emotional blackmail, made me suspect it might be you. Droning on about the smoking ban is the clincher.

    I'm disappointed in the lack of death threats this time, though.

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