Glasgow invites next PM in quest for drug powers to reduce death toll

The leader of Scotland’s largest local authority would invite the next Conservative prime minister to Glasgow if it led to a breakthrough in a long-running stand-off between the council and the Home Office over drug laws and immigration.

Shared needles are leading to a rising number of addicts contracting HIV. Picture: Getty

Susan Aitken, who leads the SNP administration in the city, said she would appeal to anyone in the UK Government who had the power “to make the changes we need”, even if it meant welcoming Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt to the City Chambers.

The council and local health authorities have been left frustrated at the failure to establish a pilot project which would see a drug consumption room (DCR) open in the city, with a view to tackling the growing number of heroin addicts who contract HIV from the shared use of needles.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Under current legislation such a facility would be illegal, with powers on the matter reserved to Westminster. Despite cross-party support in Scotland for a pilot DCR project, the Home Office has refused to consider it.

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Aitken said the council had presented an evidence-backed case on why such an intervention could alleviate the country’s rising number of deaths from drugs.

“UK government policies are seriously problematic for Glasgow,” she said.

“We will continue to ask ministers to come and see the impact of their policies in Glasgow and to work with us.

“What we want them to see is how even a relatively small shift in their position could make a massive difference.”

Asked if that invitation would extend to Johnson, who is widely expected to succeed Theresa May as prime minister, Aitken said: “I would appeal to anyone who has the power to make the changes we need, regardless of who they may be.”

The SNP administration in Glasgow has also been vocal in its criticism of the Home Office’s handling of a row over the housing of refugees in the city. This week, asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected by the UK government won a legal bid to pause mass evictions from their homes.

Around 300 adults are at risk of homelessness after a court ruled in April that the outsourcing giant Serco could remove people no longer eligible for housing from its accommodation in the city. Five residents have since obtained interim court orders preventing the evictions.

Aitken said: “In terms of the asylum issue, our officers have pushed the law as far as they can. Where people exhausted the appeals process, officers will use the law wherever they can to support them, but that is largely limited to families.”