Scottish election 2021: Drugs bus activist hopes to create a fairer Scotland

Peter Krykant knows he is different from the other candidates standing for the Holyrood election in May.

“How many people in the Scottish Parliament can say that they've been through severe mental health issues, you know that they've struggled with homelessness that they've struggled with addiction, that they've struggled to feed their children?” he asks.

“I don't think there's many people in that Parliament that could say that.”

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It is a sentiment echoed by service users of his “drugs bus” in Glasgow, which offers mobile safer drug consumption facilities to addicts in the backstreets of Scotland’s biggest city.

Peter Krykant is standing as an independent candidate for Falkirk East. Picture: Michael Gillen

They say “go on you, we need someone like you [in politics]”, he laughs.

Mr Krykant made the decision to stand as an independent candidate in Falkirk East after his work hit the headlines, raising the profile of the issue closest to his heart and providing him with a platform to air his views.

Last year, he was charged for obstructing police who sought to search his van as he operated the facility, which he hopes will reduce drug-related deaths and transmission of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

Mr Krykant says: “I run openly with a history of homelessness, severe mental health issues, drug addiction, because there's no point in trying to hide that. I hope that people can look at that and say ‘this person has been through these things – he's now a father, he's now a husband and is respected in the community in terms of campaigning for fairer policies’.

“So, when people go to vote, I really hope that they can consider that.”

By the time Mr Krykant was 11, he was smoking cannabis. Six years later he was a heroin addict, living on the streets.

His life was turned around after he was sent by a charity to a residential rehab centre in England, where he was living at the time.

Now he lives in Falkirk with his wife, a Glasgow University professor, and their two young children.

He is realistic about his chances as an independent candidate, campaigning with only the help of friends and family, but wants the legacy of his campaign to remain, even if he is not successful in May.

Mr Krykant has already drafted a private members’ bill to create a network of safe sites for addicts to use drugs, which he hopes will pass, whether or not he is in the debating chamber to see it.

He says: “I've got no illusions of winning this election. For me this time around as a goal that's not likely to be achieved, given that I don't run for a political party. You are running against these machines.

“However, it is a platform for me to take forward drug policy reform and a platform for me to potentially run for the next elections. And if I can have a good percentage share of the vote this time around without having any political background, I believe that it could mean that I will be successful, the next time around.”

He believes his background as a Falkirk native – coupled with his challenging personal history – gives him an insight into the issues faced by local residents.

Mr Krykant adds: “I think you have to understand the challenges of the area. If you've got no connection and you've never worked here, it is hard to understand those challenges.”

He supports Scottish independence, but is realistic about how soon that can be implemented in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

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Mr Krykant says: “My stance on independence is, I will vote for independence. If it was a yes vote, I think there'd be a transition period, but we would have to have a re-election after that.

"However, I don't think that it's the bed of roses that it can be made out to be on social media, that straight away we exit from the rest of the UK and things like a universal minimum wage and lower the retirement age [happen]. These things would take many many years to build.”

He adds: “People would have to, I think, be prepared to pay higher taxes and not have to support those transition periods.”

Mr Krykant’s private members’ bill, the Overdose Prevention Sites Scotland Bill, has already garnered the support of 40 MSP candidates since launching earlier this week.

Hopeful Labour candidate Paul Sweeney has pledged to take the bill forward on Mr Krykant’s behalf if he is elected.

In January, Mr Krykant attended a meeting with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and new drugs policy minister Angela Constance to discuss Scottish drugs deaths, which currently are at the highest rate in Europe.

He says: “I'm witnessing first-hand, in terms of the actual service, the harms and the drug-related harms and the trauma, and it’s young people that we're talking about here.

"We're not talking about this age cohort of this Trainspotting generation of people who have been using substances since the ‘80s or the ‘90s – it’s people in their early ‘20s.”

Yet, despite his passion in improving lives for the drug users in his constituency – Falkirk has seen one of the biggest rises in drugs deaths in the UK in recent years – Mr Krykant is adamant he is not a one-policy politician.

He says: “I'm not ‘drug policy, drug policy, drug policy’. We have had one issue candidates many times across the United Kingdom. They tend to get a couple of 100 votes because they are running on a single issue, so it's only people voting for them who have really got an interest in that.

“If I was going to say that I'm running on a single issue, I would say I'm running on a single issue of a fairer society in Scotland for all. That's my single issue and right now that's not the case.”

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