Buck up, Scotland, and stop blaming other people for all your problems

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Antisocial alcohol abuse is by no means unique to Scotland. But among Scots politicians, a unique way of tackling the problem keeps being floated. The Justice Minister, Cathy Jamieson, has called for it. The former Scottish minister Helen Liddell has endorsed it. East Kilbride council has built it into a licensing agreement. What is this great idea? The banning of Buckfast Tonic Wine.

Antisocial alcohol abuse is by no means unique to Scotland. But among Scots politicians, a unique way of tackling the problem keeps being floated. The Justice Minister, Cathy Jamieson, has called for it. The former Scottish minister Helen Liddell has endorsed it. East Kilbride council has built it into a licensing agreement. What is this great idea? The banning of Buckfast Tonic Wine.

For the uninitiated, Buckfast is a fortified product made by Benedictine monks in Devonshire and distributed by J Chandler and Co. It is inexpensive and 50 per cent stronger than table wine. UK sales of the stuff, which is sweetened with sugar and tastes like cough syrup, are estimated at £20m. About 80 per cent, according to some estimates, are in North Lanarkshire.

In that part of the world, the drink has a fearsome reputation. It is frequently mentioned in newspaper reports of violent crimes, and broken bottles sporting its distinctive orangey-yellow label are a common sight on the streets. Buckfast, it is widely acknowledged, is the tipple of choice of "Neds", a slang term that some claim stands for non-educated delinquent. Whatever.

It is naive to imagine that it might be the liquid rather than the people drinking it that needs to be tackled. The problem is that people see drinking as an activity that should lead to the cheapest, speediest and most explosive loss of inhibition. The idea that without Buckfast those who indulge in it would adopt "responsible drinking" is absurd.

It is also an example of how Scotland remains in thrall to trappings, hoping against hope that banning Buckfast will banish alcohol-fuelled social problems in the same way that wearing a kilt at all weddings is supposed to create a country that's confident and at ease with itself. And it's an illustration of how a devolved Scotland hasn't yet grown out of its tendency to blame its problems on others beyond the heathery utopia threatened by malign cross-border infiltration.

It was a great day for Scotland when it regained a measure of self-government. Apart from anything else, one hoped, the Scots might at last start taking responsibility for their own problems. In the past, Scotland has fetishised its heritage in a sentimental, unhealthy and inward-looking way. This tendency reached what observers hoped was its apotheosis when, in the wake of the film Braveheart, a statue of William Wallace sporting Mel Gibson's facial features was erected in Stirling.

Alas, self-determination in Scotland has appeared in some respects to have increased Scotland's determination to be interested only in itself. News is only news if there is some kind of Scottish connection - on one recent visit I noticed that Keira Knightley is paraded as a Scottish actress due to some slender familial link.

Even problems faced by Scotland in common with most other industrialised countries are imbued with an especially Scottish flavour - real or imagined - that tends to distort and disguise the real, more universal difficulty, rather than illuminating it.

Scotland has much to be proud of. But the highland shortcake image it is so desperate to project, in all its weird variations, puts off many more people than it attracts.

¿ Also this week, Scotland's First Minister, Jack McConnell, convened Scotland's first anti-sectarian conference. All agreed it was a bad thing the Proddy Dogs (Protestants) hated the Cathy Cats (Catholics), and that something must be done about it. Then Cardinal Keith O'Brien said it was all the Proddy Dogs' fault for retaining the Act of Settlement (banning Catholics from the throne), and Ian Wilson, Grand Master of the Orange Order in Scotland, said it was all the Cathy Cats' fault for educating their children religiously. A political solution at last.

Silly snap diplomacy

Poor old Jack Straw is the latest in a long line of politicians to find himself looking a bit foolish in the name of cultural assimilation. Pictures of him at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, are far from flattering. It's easy to laugh. But we've all been there - wearing horrible, grey plastic shoes because we didn't know you couldn't wear sandals in Thai palaces, wandering around cathedrals in huge, paper-towel tabards because we forgot that shoulders offended God, and so on.

On holiday, such compromise generally comes about because both parties want something. The tourist wants the exotic setting and the exotic setting wants the tourist. But Mr Straw is not a tourist. What he wants, presumably, is a good relationship with India, and a good set of photographs to show back home.

The latter, the poor old politicos never get. But I'm not sure they get the former either. Donning what amounts to fancy dress - since for the non-believing wearer it has no religious significance - surely fools Sikhs no more than it does us. Surely visitors should only go to such lengths as part of their own cultural education? Likewise, all those whose spiritual values are meaningful to them should take more of a stand against the use of their holiest places in matters of political diplomacy.

Why this hunting ban is an exercise in smirking hypocrisy

Britain is having a collective Dorian Gray moment. When he realises that while he stays perfect his portrait is changing to map his corruption, Oscar Wilde's anti-hero rushes out and does some charitable works. Eager to see how his good deeds have altered his picture for the better, he rushes home only to observe that his face is now twisted with the sneer of hypocrisy.

The Government, abetted by public opinion, has undergone a similar self-deception in banning hunting with dogs. This has ostensibly been done to prevent cruelty to foxes. But really, as we all know, it is little Britain's daring revolutionary act against the posh and the privileged.

There are one or two good arguments for banning hunting, and one or two good arguments for not doing so. Mostly they are lost in a babble of self-serving tripe about town versus country or aristocracy versus meritocracy. Few ban supporters - there are exceptions - can put their hands on their hearts and say that they are not motivated by depriving the tally-ho brigade of their sport, but only by the respite gained for the fox.

Britain may be a nation of animal lovers - though the statistics on how we treat our pets and farm our animals hardly bear this out. But this ban speaks more of a nation of peasants who go belly up when the hand of the aristocracy comes along to open the new branch of the supermarket that's really responsible for the suffering of animals. I don't like hunting. But I don't like smug, smirking liars much either.

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