Page last updated at 17:11 GMT, Friday, 17 October 2008 18:11 UK

Under-21 drink ban backed by SNP

Off licence
The measures would restrict alcohol sales in off licences

Scottish Government plans to ban under-21s from buying alcohol in off-sales have won the support of the SNP's annual conference.

The party's youth wing had challenged the restriction, questioning whether it would solve Scotland's drink problem.

However, their amendment was defeated by 131 votes to 190.

And, as Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill addressed the conference in Perth, he said they made no apology for wanting to tackle the alcohol problem.

Alison Thewliss, from Young Scots For Independence (YSI), told the conference they did not support increasing the age for buying alcohol from off-sales.

She said: "These matters could be sorted through current law rather than demonising a bunch of people at a certain age.

"We feel this alienates a group of young people, the majority of whom are responsible drinkers.

"Banning them from off-licences will not teach responsible drinking, it will simply move the problem."

Liam Hannen, 18, added: "Why is it okay to discriminate only on the basis of age?

I'm concerned not about the stigmatisation of a generation, but that of an entire nation
Kenny MacAskill
Justice Minister
"What we need is positive action, we're not going to demonise a society, we're not going to demonise any part of society, we're going to have to stand up and take action responsibly as a whole society."

Public Health Minister Shona Robsion responded: "It is not about demonising young people at all, in fact the reality of the situation is that young people are the ones who are most likely to be at the receiving end of that violence that is fuelled by alcohol on our streets of Scotland.

"Many young people have told me, particularly in pilot areas, that they actually feel safer because their communities are under pressure with the misuse of alcohol."

In his conference speech immediately after the debate, Mr MacAskill also addressed the issue of drink.

He said: "We make no apology as a government for seeking to tackle this most major of social issues in our lives.

"If it causes some controversy - so be it. If it takes on vested interests - so it must be. The statistics are stark. The facts are frightening. The situation is intolerable."

Government 'responsibility'

Mr MacAskill highlighted the large number of crimes that had been committed by those who were drunk and the pressure put on the health service. He stated that alcohol-related deaths had doubled in a decade.

He said: "Some say 'do you worry about stigmatisation or demonisation?' Yes I do. But I'm concerned not about the stigmatisation of a generation, but that of an entire nation.

"I want people, around the world when they think of Scotland, to have an image that we can proud of. Whether it's of our magnificent scenery or our great contributions to arts, engineering or medicine. Whether as the land of Rabbie Burns or the birthplace of Alexander Fleming.

"I don't want them to see us as a nation of bevviers and swalliers. Where the image that first comes to mind of Scotland is of drunkenness and violence. I don't want our people and land constantly portrayed and seen almost as synonymous with drink and aggression."

Mr MacAskill continued that it was "perverse" that cider was being sold for less than water in Scotland.

He said: "Selling alcohol is not a right. It carries a responsibility.

"This government will not shirk from its responsibility to get Scotland back on an even keel with the drink.

"Irresponsible promotion and irresponsible pricing of alcohol is simply unacceptable."

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