It’s finally time for the SNP to put the lives of addicts before their doomed separatist agenda
IN Scotland, you can be let off with a police warning if you’re found in possession of heroin or cocaine — but fined if you drop the bag the drugs came in.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that drug deaths average four a day after a statistically insignificant reduction of just 0.67 per cent in the annual total.
The message for anyone thinking of using Class A substances is unmistakable — they’ll escape prosecution and a criminal record.
In September last year, the Lord Advocate decided — with zero public consultation or political debate — to allow RPWs to be handed out for hard drugs.
Police have effectively turned a blind eye to cannabis for years, with nearly 17,000 Recorded Police Warnings (RPWs) issued for drug misuse between 2017 and 2020.
Bear this in mind as you take a look at the drug death data for 2021 — there were more than 1,300, up from 455 in 2007.
Scotland has the highest proportion of drug-related fatalities in Europe, a terrifying figure that is nearly five times greater than the drug death toll in England.
Naturally, that hasn’t stopped some separatists asserting that Scottish independence would help to save lives, as if the only barrier to conquering this enduring problem was the UK Government — despite its far superior record.
Years of soft touch justice and liberalisation of drugs policy have stoked a catastrophe which has claimed 14,736 lives in Scotland since 1999, more than four times the number killed in the Troubles.
Now there are calls for the World Health Organisation to be drafted in to tackle what the Conservatives have called a ‘national emergency’ — but the same old ‘experts’ are preaching the same old ideas which led us to this ‘unacceptable crisis’.
That was the term used by the First Minister in a tweet responding to the bleak figures last week — there was no televised statement from her podium this time, only a brief statement on social media.
She was rather more candid on a previous occasion when she admitted that her government had taken its ‘eye off the ball’ as the number of drug-related deaths spiralled out of control.
Yet for all of the SNP’s rhetoric about its commitment to creating a progressive and more humane country, it has failed the most vulnerable in society while continuing its ceaseless mission to break up Britain.
Inevitably, there are now renewed demands for heroin ‘shooting galleries’ where addicts could inject heroin under medical supervision — something that cannot happen, the SNP insists, unless ‘Westminster’ changes the law — which it refuses to do.
Yesterday we reported the death of Dr Ian Oliver, a former police chief and a drugs consultant with the United Nations, who believed ‘safer consumption rooms’, as these sites would be euphemistically termed, were a ‘Trojan horse’ for full-scale decriminalisation of drugs.
In Canada, where they were pioneered, drug deaths soared, yet their backers claimed this is only happening because there weren’t enough clinics.
Dr Oliver was one of the very few voices cautioning against the rush towards decriminalisation and the rise of ‘safer consumption’ facilities — but some of his concern are echoed by Dr Neil McKeganey.
Writing in the Mail, Dr McKeganey pointed out that the police ‘often support calls to recast Scotland’s drug problem as a public health issue because it divests them of one of their thorniest problems — actually tackling drug use and drug distribution’.
Scottish Government figures show that in 2019–20 only 8.3kg (18lb) of cannabis resin was seized by police from people who were in possession of small amounts, as opposed to selling it, down from 29.5kg (65lb) the previous year.
And the Mail reported in 2021 that the cash taken from ill-gotten gains and paid into the public purse is less than £7million a year — despite police estimates that the annual ‘turnover’ of Scottish organised crime is around £1billion.
Last week, I asked Justice Secretary Keith Brown how Scotland could be regarded as tough on drugs given RPWs are now handed out for heroin and cocaine possession.
He said the ‘way to be tough on drugs is to make sure you’re present in those areas where drugs are circulating — and the police are doing that’.
Rank-and-file officers — so demoralised that their leaders have ordered an ongoing ‘work-to-rule’ amid a bitter pay dispute — tell a different story, warning that they don’t have the manpower to find and arrest dealers.
They’re now duty-bound to ensure that when they do carry out raids on the homes of dealers, it’s done in a way that’s ‘trauma-informed’, minimising upset for the household, and no doubt this is well-intentioned.
But what about the trauma for the wider community? It often seems that’s a secondary priority, but then that’s nothing new for the neighbourhoods where people feel they’ve been abandoned by the police — and a large proportion of crime isn’t even reported as a result.
Chief Constable Sir Iain Livingstone told me that he backs ‘heavy’ sentences for dealers — but are the courts, or the politicians, listening?
There’s nothing tough, either, about the NHS dishing out ‘free’ heroin in a scheme for the worst addicts which has cost more than £3million — out of 28 patients, it has logged 20 overdoses.
And it seems that the SNP’s minimum price for alcohol has driven an increase in those turning from drink to cheap drugs such as ‘street Valium’, sold for as little as 20p a pill.
One failure has followed another, and yet there is a sense that the experts are running out of ideas as they resort to arguing over semantics.
Drugs charity the Scottish Drugs Forum counselled that the media should stop using the term ‘addict’, as it’s supposedly stigmatising.
Language is important, but as Dr McKeganey said, it’s not the stigma that’s killing hundreds of drug-users — it’s the substances they’re taking.
The Home Office has called for greater cross-Border cooperation and its officials remain baffled over the refusal of the SNP Government to participate in the UK Government’s Project Adder, which aims to combine tough policing strategies with rehabilitation.
The SNP’s determination to plough its own furrow, seemingly regardless of the possible repercussions, has nothing to do with effective policy-making — it’s all about showing that Scotland can go it alone, and once that argument is lost, the case for Scottish independence is undermined, or so the thinking goes.
But preventing the deaths of drug addicts is more important than rescuing that doomed political enterprise.
Until this simple truth is acknowledged — and ministers and their advisers accept their many failed strategies are no substitute for much tougher justice for dealers — many more lives will be needlessly lost.
- This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on August 2, 2022.
- *Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant