Scotland's drug death crisis: How Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson are hampering new minister Angela Constance's efforts – Kenny MacAskill MP
The resignations of Catriona Matheson and Neil Richardson from the Scottish government’s Drug Deaths Taskforce must have been a bitter blow to the current drugs policy minister Angela Constance.
The individuals who’ve departed have a wealth of experience. They’re in with the bricks in the sector and their actions, whilst personal, no doubt reflect a wider view.
To be fair to the minister, the unhappiness in the sector predates her tenure. It all started when Nicola Sturgeon slashed the budget for drug rehabilitation over five years ago.
Previous ministers had little cash and even less political room to manoeuvre under a centralising First Minister. The unwillingness of the previous minister to even meet with those seeking to operate ad-hoc safe drug consumption rooms cost him his job. I suspect he had no choice, orders would come from on high to stay clear.
Angela Constance’s very able and knowledgeable of the sector. A past life’s experience in criminal justice social work ensures that, as with others in that field, she understands and sympathises with those afflicted by addiction. Equally she’s aware of boundaries that need to exist and constraints that need imposed.
However, I fear she has been caught between the dead hand of Sturgeonism and the repressive palm of Johnsonism. On her appointment, she’ll have been directed to show results fast, in an area that’s deeply complex and hence the fall-out.
Safe consumption rooms would be limited progress though not a solution to drug deaths. But I fear that opportunity, which I’m sure she’d have liked to take, may have passed by.
With a Lord Advocating indicating support, striking immediately after the election was the moment. It may technically be reserved but it would have forced Westminster to accede or be seen to be not just bullying but costing lives.
But as ever the First Minister’s unwillingness to seize the moment has seen Johnson go to war against drugs. Seeking to open the drug consumption rooms now is far harder.
Instead, Angela Constance, as with others before her, has been left with few options. The tragedy and misery in our communities will sadly continue.
Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian
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