Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has suggested that Scotland is a “nation of drunks” and that he is “significantly” concerned by the nation’s relationship with alcohol.
In an interview with former Labour spin-doctor Alistair Campbell which was published in GQ magazine on Thursday, Mr Salmond explained that apparent drinking problems stemmed from: “the availability of cheap alcohol and the cultural changes that has introduced.”
“When we were young we would go out for a drink. People now go out drunk, having drunk cheap booze before. That is social change for the worse,” he said.
“Then there is something deep about Scotland’s relationship with alcohol that is about self-image – lack of confidence, maybe, as a nation – and we do have to do something about it.”
He then went on to defend the Scottish Government’s plan to introduce minimum alcohol pricing, which has been criticised by the whisky industry.
“I promote whisky,” Mr Salmond told Mr Campbell.
“I do it on the argument that it’s a quality drink, has a worldwide cachet and that its recent great success in markets like China is about social emulation and authenticity, not cheapness.
"My argument is that if you are promoting it as authentic and of great worth, you cannot promote it from a nation of drunks. You’ll never be able to say it is healthy and life giving, but you can say it’s authentic and high quality," he said.
Jackson Carlaw, Scottish Conservative health spokesman, told the Telegraph: “It would be offensive to hear from a foreigner, but for our own First Minister to hold these views is simply breath-taking and frankly unacceptable in a national leader.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said on Wednesday: "In this interview, the First Minister was simply spelling out the clear risks for Scotland as a nation if we do not take radical action to tackle problem drinking".
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Mr Salmond's comments were published a day after judges at the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that a legal challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) against the SNP’s minimum alcohol pricing plans must be referred to the European Union Court of Justice.
The Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012 was passed by Holyrood in June 2012, paving the way for the introduction of a preferred minimum price of 50p per unit.
But the SWA argued that minimum pricing legislation breaches European law.
Its legal bid was rejected by Lord Doherty in May 2013 following an Outer House hearing in the Court of Session in January 2013.
An appeal to the court's Inner House, heard by Lord Eassie, Lord Menzies and Lord Brodie, took place in February.
Excerpts from Mr Salmond’s GQ interview also caused controversy on Sunday, after it was revealed that he admires “certain aspects” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Well, obviously, I don't approve of a range of Russian actions, but I think Putin's more effective than the press he gets, I would have thought, and you can see why he carries support in Russia,” Mr Salmond said.
Additional reporting by PA