Scotland must be in charge of drugs law, and SNP must stop running from the issue - Kenny MacAskill

For too long the debate on Scotland’s tragic drug death tolls been a sterile charade, a microcosm of the wider constitutional one. The Scottish Government blaming Westminster, where legislative powers reside, and London responding, with limited justification, that more could be done within the existing settlement. But all the while drug deaths rising and the price being paid by families and our communities.

Crosses are planted in memory of drugs death victims at Springburn Parish Church, Glasgow
Crosses are planted in memory of drugs death victims at Springburn Parish Church, Glasgow

As coronavirus has exacerbated life generally and mental health issues in particular, its undoubtedly worsened the plight of those with an addiction.

From difficulties in accessing supplies through to simply the strains of day to day living, addicts will have been “rattling” and suffering. The almost certain outcome is that already grim figures will become even more horrific when they’re finally tallied and announced in coming weeks.

Nicola Sturgeon might grandstand about wanting S30 powers but she wanted drugs laws like a hole in her head. That’s been evident for many years where the SNP has run from the issue and preferred to partake in the blame game rather than finding a solution.

Even modest SNP conference demands for medicinal cannabis were put on ice for quite some while and Joe Fitzpatrick the former Minister was hung out to dry before being dispensed with as the fall guy. Provided with a woefully inadequate budget and banned from even talking to those who were choosing to flout the law to save lives, it was only a matter of time before he fell.


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That was confirmed to me by responses to parliamentary questions. It was clear that the Lord Advocate had never sought to have discussions with the Home Office. A decision clearly being made by the Crown that Drug Consumption Rooms were precluded by the legislation but neither clarification nor more importantly room for manoeuvre was sought. It’s argued by some that it’s within scope but more likely an argument of public interest might avoid prosecution. After all, if every crime committed was prosecuted the system would collapse and some areas of law breaking see a blind eye turned.

So, it’s heartening that Angela Constance the new Scottish Drugs Minister’s being bolder. Seeking a Four Nation Summit’s sensible. The figures might be worse in Scotland but we’re not alone in being afflicted or having people dying. The limited actions she’s seeking don’t go far enough for me but they’re a welcome start. Drug Consumption Rooms are needed even if only as a sticking plaster. The ability to check on tablets being sold can save lives from the poison that’s being traded on our streets.

So far Westminster’s position is intransigence. No change and no devolved powers, no matter how limited. That’s democratically unacceptable. If Scotland or indeed other devolved Nations want to act, why not? Holyrood’s notionally in charge of justice and health. Abortion and end of life are devolved, so why not drug laws if not in whole then just in part. Just saying No was a disastrous strategy in the USA, and it’s the same with Westminster.


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