Thatcher drove Scots to drink and drugs, claims health minister
Destruction of heavy industry responsible for 60% rise in mortality rate, says Alex Neil
Scottish health minister Alex Neil: His accusations were rejected as “preposterous” by the Scottish Conservatives. Photograph: Getty Images
Scottish health minister Alex Neil has said Margaret Thatcher’s destruction of Scotland’s heavy industries and coal mining was responsible for the country’s appalling drug and alcoholism figures.
The charge was made by Mr Neil at a pro-independence rally at which he said Scotland had in three decades gone from having one of the western world’s lowest rates of liver disease to one of the highest.
The 60 per cent rise in mortality figures since 1980 was down to the decision of the Conservatives’ Thatcher-led government to close Scotland’s state-backed but ailing ship-building and steel industries and coal mines.
“It is down to one factor and that is the total lack of work and the failure to replace jobs in the traditional industries, like steel and like coal mining, with other well-paid jobs,” said the Scottish National Party minister.
“What has happened is that the men have lost their dignity, their pride and their respect and have turned to drugs, they have turned to violence and they have turned to alcohol abuse because they have lost that respect and that dignity. That is at the core of the social problems we have in Scotland today,” he said.
His accusations were rejected as “preposterous” by the Scottish Conservatives.
The rise in alcohol consumption in Scotland began in the 1960s, rather than the 1980s, according to figures published five years ago by the Institute of Alcohol Studies, though consumption had risen a fifth between 1980 and 2009.
The Glasgow Centre for Population Health two years ago found young and middle-aged men were more at risk of dying early in Scotland than those living anywhere else in western Europe.
Scotland is second only to Hungary for chronic liver disease deaths. In 2012, 1,080 people died due to alcohol in Scotland – 741 men and 339 women. Since 1979, twice as many men have died because of drink as women, but the numbers of women dying is increasingly rapidly.