Today's Sunday Post column in full
Well as a teetotaller I would say that wouldn't I? But as step-mum of a student we had to rescue from a dark, lonely platform last December, I've a vested interest too.
Our capable lass had endured two hours of drunken hassle from a group of lads. Some left the train at Dundee, but more "partying" youngsters then joined and the compartment was soon soaked with beer. She couldn't stand the aggro, got off, called us and we drove for an hour to collect her. The "what ifs" don't bear thinking about. What if her phone had been flat? What if we were out?
Mind you – what if the guard had been able to help? He or she was nowhere in evidence.Why was she travelling so late? Well train tickets are so expensive these days late trains booked well in advance are often the only affordable means of travel for students and folk on low incomes.
All of which means I've a few questions about the booze ban. Will news of the crackdown alone stop rowdy, drunken behaviour in its tracks? If not, might slightly-sozzled Scots fear they'll be left on the platform while aggressive drunks board trains as usual in the knowledge guards aren't prepared (or paid) to challenge them? Call me pessimistic, but I imagine bad behaviour will continue for some time yet.
So much for the trains – what about the platforms? Will mildly intoxicated passengers be refused entry to trains? If they did it would make a nonsense of recent drink-drive campaigns urging merrymakers to "let the train take the strain." In practice though there's neither the intention nor the Scotrail staff available to tackle every slightly swaying late night Scot.
Half our stations are virtually un-staffed anyway – and surely that's the bigger problem. If people still get ferociously drunk at weekends in city centres how ARE they going to get home? Will drinkers cut alcohol consumption instead? Somehow – I doubt it. So passengers may still be left trying to cope with a threatening train-bound drunk by "daeing a flit" at the next available station or "daeing a Big Man" and tackling the problem themselves.The booze ban may actually encourage "have-a-go" heroes to intervene – after all, what was once merely irritating is now banned behaviour.
But let's keep a sense of proportion. The authorities are quick to point out that railways are not dangerous places. Reported rail crime has been falling for eight years in a row, you're more likely to win the lottery than become the victim of serious crime on a train and there were just 162 official complaints last year (mind you who calls 999 to complain about bad behaviour when it's sitting right beside you all ears flapping?) The problem –say the authorities -- is less the incidence of serious crime than "nuisance" behaviour and the perception of threat.
I take the point but still beg to disagree. The problem is a 20 year-old lass deciding to get off a train in the middle of nowhere because on-train support is so visibly absent. The problem is daytime trains from Aberdeen where some drunk, uncontrollable "bears" make life hell for everyone especially lone women (and I absolutely accept most oil workers are quiet lads and good company). The problem is that many Scots avoid late night public transport altogether for fear of rowdy trips home. Could that be why Glaswegians still body-swerve late night Edinburgh Festival gigs for example?
But, the ban is a good start. And a far better one than last week's legal challenge to Scotland's minimum pricing legislation by the Scotch Whisky Association. This trade body – representing big multinational spirits manufacturers too – wants to delay change just as the tobacco industry delayed the public smoking ban.
We know Scotland needs to sober up. Let's just get on with it.