With a degree in politics and a varied management career behind him, Colin Landsburgh was never going to be the kind of retailer who contents himself with just the day-to-day store life.

While he describes his role at his family firm (two Spar stores in Carnoustie on the Angus coast near Dundee) as business development and firefighting, Colin estimates that a third of his time goes into his role as president of the Scottish Grocers' Federation (SGF) and his seats on both Spar's Scottish and National Guilds.

And what a time to be involved in retail politics in Scotland. "For many years we didn't have much of a say in governing how society operated," Colin says. "We were managed as part of the UK. Since devolution there has been tremendous enthusiasm to make things happen, and it's not a party political thing. It's really a great opportunity for reform."

Some of the proposals coming out of Holyrood have been quite alarming to retailers, but Colin has a good deal of sympathy with the politicians. "Their desire to improve life in Scotland is well meaning, but our argument is that you can't solve everything with legislation - sometimes a lighter touch is required."

One of the first areas to be tackled in this new Scottish dawn is the country's complicated relationship with alcohol. The deadline for compliance with the Scottish Licensing Act 2005 is looming, and retailers - the sharper ones, at least - have adapted to the stricter controls.

"Most SGF members and Spar stores will have jumped through the hoops on that one, appointed Personal Licence Holders for all our stores and invested heavily in training," Colin points out. "However, there are plenty of other retailers who will get a nasty fright if they haven't yet applied for the new licence - the cut-off date is September 2009 and the authorities say they've had less than half the applications they excepted."

Despite widespread opposition, the Scottish government seems determined to push on with its proposal to raise the minimum age for the purchase of alcohol in the off trade, while keeping it at 18 for pubs and clubs. Colin says: "It's unfair and discriminatory - not only against retailers, but also against younger adults. Raise the age limit if you must, but do it across the board."

Colin appreciates that in order to be a credible voice in lobbying, the small shop sector has to demonstrate that it is not itself part of the problem. Although he is concerned that some police and Trading Standards test purchase visits are "dangerously close to entrapment", he makes no excuses for the country's 60-70% pass rate in stings. "C-stores have got to get their own act together if they want to be listened to, and the way to dissuade the authorities from further regulation is to make sure that we enforce current legislation. I think that as a whole the responsible retailers are doing a lot better, but it's getting the message out to the rest of the sector that's difficult.

"Rather than a blanket of blame on all retailers, I'd rather see intelligence-led policing that roots out and punishes the irresponsible ones - and yes, if I had evidence of a rogue retailer, I'd be prepared to shop them to the authorities."

The retailer's burden could be eased with a mandatory ID card, and here Scotland is well ahead of the rest of the UK with the Young Scot card, a voluntary PASS-accredited scheme which sees 14- to 26-year-olds offered incentives to carry the card, such as discounts in cinemas and on buses. Most young people already carry it, Colin says.

Stores can also do more to prevent adults buying age-restricted goods for kids. "I will refuse to serve a 24- year-old if I think he's passing drinks on to youngsters," Colin says. "That will lose me a customer, but I'm prepared to do that. We need to partner with government and local authorities to spread the message about this issue." He reveals that in a poll of young people in Angus, 38% said they thought under-18s got their alcohol from proxy purchasers, with 12% pointing the finger at supermarkets and another 12% at c-stores.

"I'm all for educating youngsters about alcohol," Colin says. "I don't think schools are getting the message through - I'd rather see drug addicts and ex-cons talking to schools than a policeman in a uniform."

One of Colin's challenges is to get retailers to stand up and shout for themselves. He highlights the huge support for fellow Spar retailer Kevin Hunt's Vodafone boycott, but admits that it takes a crisis to get a consensus. "You can galvanise them on certain things, and although the boycott didn't quite work out, it shows it can be done.

"What we've learned is that you can't leave it to the health lobbyists, the educationalists and the politicians, or you'll end up with unworkable legislation, and we'll all go out of business," he concludes.

"We're not resistant to change, but change is not simple. None of the parties involved should be sidetracked into making big gestures

and headline grabbing announcements. Consultation and cautious movement towards a solution is the way to go."

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