Ignoring lessons of their own tragic failure strips SNP of credibility - John McLellan

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain QCLord Advocate Dorothy Bain QC
Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain QC
​With new Police Scotland figures showing a 7 per cent rise in drug deaths in the first half of 2023, Tuesday was quite the day for the SNP to brag about its approach to addiction.

Six hundred people, 73 of them in Edinburgh, died between January and June, indicating the fall in annual deaths last year to 1,051 might be a blip not a trend. And 2022’s toll was still the worst in Europe.

There’s little doubt the UK isn’t winning the war on drugs, but as the law is uniform Scotland’s attrition rate cannot be laid solely at the UK Government’s door.

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And on Monday, the Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain gave the SNP one less hiding place when she removed the threat of prosecution from a consumption room pilot scheme, where Class A drugs can be taken under supervision, which the SNP-Green government had previously insisted would require a change in UK law. Or, naturally, independence.

Yet in the House of Commons during a debate about the criminalisation of nitrous oxide, Alison Thewliss MP, whose Glasgow Central constituency is one of the most blighted by drugs, still claimed: “We have a caring and compassionate human rights-informed drug policy for Scotland, but we do not yet have the powers to implement it.”

Wrong on both counts. Playing politics while presiding over more deaths than anywhere in Europe is not how most of us would define humane.

And now Ms Bain has shown it is not so much the law but its application ─ collectively controlled by the Scottish Government, prosecution service and police ─ which really matters, with Scotland Secretary Alister Jack confirming on Wednesday that the UK Government would not intervene.

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But Ms Thewliss went further: “In parts of my constituency we see syringes littered about the place, and the Government do nothing about it because they do not want people to have safe consumption rooms to take their drugs,” she claimed, as if clean and safe streets are nothing to do with Glasgow City Council.

Drug addiction is so ingrained in so many Scottish communities that no-one pretends there are easy solutions, and Ms Bain made it clear in Monday’s statement that she is sanctioning the pilot because it will accompany other services “which, taken together, may be able to offer a range of support and assistance”, adding it could “assist those using the facility into recovery.”

In other words, no silver bullet, and parking people on opiates without rehabilitation has been a disaster.

But in Tuesday’s debate, Inverclyde MP Ronnie Cowan suggested the answer was full decriminalisation, claiming the UK was not “striving for drug consumptions rooms, safe consumption facilities, naloxone provision, medication assisted treatment… ” when it was his SNP colleagues who stripped the rehab budget while the death toll soared until they were shamed into taking action.

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If anything, the improvement in 2022 proved full responsibility for the carnage lay in Edinburgh, not London, and Mr Cowan couldn’t bring himself to mention rehab, perhaps because the SNP record is so dreadful, and the SNP-Greens are resisting the Scottish Conservatives’ Right to Rehab bill.

Ironically, the SNP was correct that the criminalisation of Nitrous Oxide, overwhelmingly approved, will succeed only in giving criminals more business, but ignoring the lessons of their own tragic failure strips them of credibility. Nicola Sturgeon admitted their eye was off the ball, but as long as the SNP denies responsibility, they’ll need one with a bell.

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