by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Scotland has a problem with drug addiction. Nobody can deny that. The recent headlines have, however, shown that this tragic issue is being used for political point-scoring and propaganda. Whatever you think of the statistics, though, the real question is what can be done to improve things?

Drug addiction, like alcohol and tobacco addictions, are commonly, although not exclusively, a symptom of poverty rather than a cause. Indeed, some of the detailed statistics on the victims of last year’s dreadful figures show that the majority came from backgrounds where their lives were bleak with little prospect of ever improving. In this sense, the best way to tackle such social issues is on a long term basis which will provide jobs and secure housing for as many people as possible. In the shorter term, however, since the UK controls most of the economic levers which would allow us to adopt such strategies, is there anything the Scottish Government can do?

We all know that drugs policy is reserved to Westminster, although you’d be forgiven for not realising that if you listened to the UK media. However, we are surely at the stage where there is a moral imperative to take drastic action. The objection is that setting up safe injection rooms would be illegal under UK law, so the Scottish Government is reluctant to go down that route as it would place workers in these facilities at risk of being arrested. That is perfectly understandable, but the Scottish Government does take action on other reserved issues such as the rollout of broadband, and Westminster has done nothing to prevent that. Can we not adopt a similar approach to drugs policy?

I am not talking about passing laws to legalise drugs. That may well be a policy a normal Scotland would wish to adopt but, while we remain trapped within the UK, that would definitely be a controversial step to take. But surely we could introduce some measures which evidence from other countries has demonstrated will help reduce drug dependency. Lives are at stake here, and wringing our hands is not going to improve things.

We already know that the Scottish Government has been able to reduce deaths from knife crime and alcohol abuse, so surely they should be given a chance to do the same for drug deaths?

And if such steps were taken under the auspices of this being a health crisis rather than a drugs one, what would Westminster do? Would they really arrest people whose only crime is attempting to save lives in defiance of cruel laws? More likely, if the measures were to make an appreciable difference, Scottish Tories would claim it is a success for the UK Government, while any failure would provide them with #SNPBad headlines. Neither of those petty responses should really affect the Scottish Government’s decision to try to save lives.

Of course, it is easy to write this sort of thing when you are not going to be asked to break the UK laws by operating a facility to help those addicted to drugs, but I am sure the majority of Scots would support anyone who does volunteer to work in what the UK deems an illegal operation.

Surely there are humanitarian grounds for defying the law on such matters? At the very least, the Scottish Government should make some public steps towards implementing policies which have been proven to work. If Westminster does respond with a heavy hand, even the BBC would have a tough job to portray that as being the fault of the SNP.