HERE’S a tricky one. Young people across developed countries are drinking much less alcohol than previous generations. Young Scottish people are overwhelmingly supporters of independence. Yet more than 70% of Scotland’s food and drink export, measured commercially, is whisky.

What to do? Should we exult that the independence generation will build their new country on a bedrock of good personal health? Or should we lament that the national drink will be a diminishing taste at home, even when it’s an export smash overseas?

We may or may not wish to follow the Japanese government in these matters. In the last quarter of 2022, the National Tax Agency launched a competition for new ideas – titled Sake Viva! –to encourage drinking among 20 to 39-year-olds. (Taxes on alcohol were 1.7% of Japan’s tax revenue in 2020, compared to 3% in 2011 and 5% in 1980.)

It’s a hard-drinking culture in Japan, with alcohol firmly linked to conviviality. (Does that remind you of somewhere else?) Yet Japanese youth continue to sober up, in line with younger generations across the world.

There are many studies of this trend, and they converge around four main factors. Young people’s uncertainty about their futures is crucial. There are acute pressures to perform academically, and then to find some purchase in a jobs market in upheaval – never mind angst about pandemics and the climate crisis. This means that Gens Z and Alpha are presenting as “responsible” much earlier than previous generations.

Blooteredness as a rite of passage is being stood down. Technology may also be an element. Previous generations didn’t have to assiduously “manage their profile” on social media, which future employers (and potential soulmates) can readily access. Boozy excess can look particularly bad on the Insta.

Other research suggests that social media and computer gaming could be providing sociable alternatives to an evening down the pub.

The increased time that young people spend with their parents, as a consequence of housing and job crises in an age of austerity, may also be a driver. Are they actually getting on better with Mum and Dad, which then cuts down the requirement for drunken rebellion?

Again, tech may play a part in this, with parents much more able to monitor bad behaviour through their smartphones.

READ MORE: Despite what Burns said, freedom and whisky do not gang thigither

Young-adult awareness of the importance of health, physical and particularly mental, also pushes against alcohol consumption, its damage and disorientation.

Is this insight hard-won, by a beleaguered cohort of early-21st-century young people? Or are they susceptible to the rising chorus of public health warnings against alcohol drinking per se?

We’re increasingly under special measures. Just a fortnight ago, Canada’s health authorities reduced their recommendations on low-risk drinking – from 10 (women) or 15 (men) drinks a week, to two a week for both sexes. (On these islands, it’s about six drinks, or 14 “units”, a week.)

The Canadian doctors pronounced grimly on the increase of various cancers that are more likely when you cross these limits (indeed, they recommend complete abstinence as the best “no-risk” factor).

Scotland looks like it’s steering in the Canadian direction. There’s a Holyrood consultation currently going on about restricting alcohol promotion.

The National:

The whisky industry has already objected to statements that suggest much alcohol promotion is just the “duplication” of products (“Scotch whisky-making centuries of skill and craft, creating a globally iconic spirit, have been deemed to be just a gimmick”, said an Edinburgh-based “whisky consultant and broker”, Blair Bowman).

But the scary health stats at the front of the Scottish consultation make the case. We really should reduce the intensity of alcohol promotion, if that reduces consumption. 2020-21 saw 35,124 alcohol-related hospital admissions in Scotland – that’s nearly 700 a week. These admissions are eight times higher in the poorest 10% of the population than in the richest 10%. Indeed, young people’s reduced purchasing power for alcohol is one of the few good outcomes of austerity.

So is the indy generation’s turn away from alcohol (which doesn’t seem to be a turn towards illegal drugs) a great opportunity to deepen our collective potential? A new nation facing its challenges with the clearest of heads, and maybe less costly maladies brought to its health service?

I’ve written here before about the benefits of being surrounded by vegan-committed youth. Maybe alcohol reduction, or even abstinence, is another way these young planetarians can put me – at the cusp between Baby Boomer and Gen X – on a better path.

Did you sense there might be a “haud on” buried deeply here? Well, there is, but it’s a modest, or in any case subtle objection. As a musician, writer and creator, I have a complicated relationship with alcohol, particularly with what it both enables and disables.

The great secret of a 40-year vocal career in the music business is that the sauce has been strategically sipped. That means abstinence in the fortnight before a major tour or recording session, and certainly never before any particular gig (it desiccates the vocal cords, meaning you lose control of them).

Everyone’s different but my worst-ever gigs have always been drunk ones. The high of nailing it should be enough.

However, in other genres… my studies in the sciences of play confirm another story about alcohol and creativity – which is that it can be (at least in small amounts) the lubricant of great ideas.

The philosopher William James put it this way: “Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands, unites and says yes.” Studies done with scientists show them becoming more inventive after a tincture.

The University of British Columbia’s Edward Slingerland – yes, I know, nominative determinism – says that alcohol is “a cultural technology that we have developed to briefly get us back to our five-year-old brains when it comes to flexibility and creativity. After a few hours it wears off and we can glean the results.”

I’ll partly concur. Give me a folder of PDFs, an Islay malt and an open evening, and – at least before the physical world starts zooming in and out – I’m sure I can chart new intellectual lands.

But only partly.

The National: Alcohol stock

The alcohol that loosens the grip of the pre-frontal cortex, “making you more creative, sociable and truthful”, as Slingerland puts it, can also dislodge deeply suppressed anger and frustrations.

The phrase that comes out of my Coatbridge family background (and I’m afraid it mostly applies to whisky) is its description as “wreck the hoose juice”.

Most of these research reports point to a roller-coaster around drinking and the pandemic. There was a rise of drunkenness within it, but a sharp fall after (youth consumption continuing its trend downwards throughout).

Personally, I know I often turn to alcohol as “not giving a f*** juice”.

Grant me some numbness, or at best some wry distance, from the demands of nuke-waving despots, insistent bills, human-replacing tech and implacable climate catastrophe. Glug, glug.

I’d be lying if I didn’t add the frustrations of Scottish independence to that list of booze-buffered stresses. So in the last analysis, I would have to conclude that the current Scottish “sober-curious” generation is preparing themselves better than I am for the challenges of a new nation-state.

And if that involves not “sake viva” but “whisky vale”, then so be it. I’ll take a homeland on a viable planet, rather than a blurred one.