A SNAPSHOT of Scotland in the 21st century: four people a day are dying from drugs, the highest death toll in Europe, if not beyond.
The fallout is easy to see on the streets of our cities, where addicts openly inject — wretched souls hollowed out by uncontrollable addiction.
Against that bleakest of backdrops comes a plan, nominally devised by Scotland’s top law officer, to allow police to hand out warnings to users of heroin and cocaine.
We’re told government wasn’t even informed about the change ahead of its imposition, to underline the independence of the Crown, even though the Lord Advocate has a seat at the Cabinet table.
The Scottish Police Authority (SPA), the ‘civilian oversight’ body, insists that it had no idea about it.
Yet tomorrow Chief Constable Iain Livingstone will address members of the SPA, not renowned as fearless inquisitors, and tell them that the force has been ‘involved in discussions’ with the Crown Office on changes to Recorded Police Warnings (RPWs) since last year.
Either way, it looks like a giant stitch-up, quietly cobbled together behind closed doors, and presented as a fait accompli to largely supine and unquestioning MSPs last week.
When police officers were told they could hand out warnings for cannabis five years ago, we were falsely assured this wasn’t the thin end of the wedge.
That move was seen as the last act of the single force’s first chief Sir Stephen House, who quit in the aftermath of a series of controversies.
At the time, the SNP Government also pleaded ignorance — until the Mail revealed the then Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, had known about it for six months and said nothing.
This time we’ve been fobbed off again — this is a procedural matter entirely in the gift of the Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain, goes the official line, and she merely concluded a review of RPWs instigated by her predecessor James Wolffe.
Could it be that this was all agreed secretly between government, police and prosecutors, and perhaps they decided they didn’t much like the idea of a public debate — because they feared they’d lose?
Now they’re all passing off a measure that amounts to a shifting of tectonic plates as little more than a tremor.
But it’s also not going to work: it’s surrender dressed up as radicalism, and it will do nothing to stop the human catastrophe of hard drug addiction that has been getting steadily worse since the 1980s.
Giving the green light to the use of cannabis, a gateway drug to Class A substances, back in January 2016, didn’t lead to a reduction in overall drug deaths.
But we’re expected to believe that allowing officers to issue warnings to people caught with heroin will somehow bring about what earlier liberalisation patently failed to achieve.
There has been a big increase in the number of cocaine deaths, from 372 to 459, a rise of more than 23 per cent, between 2019 and 2020.
So how is telling people who are found in possession of it that they don’t even need to go to court supposed to act as a deterrent?
The lobbyists whose true aim is total decriminalisation point out that those who are let off with Class A possession will be directed to ‘support services’.
It’s all part of a philosophical recalibration (or climbdown) that re-casts the entire issue as essentially a public health and not a justice matter.
But remember that when the SNP came to power there were 352 drug rehab beds — and 445 annual drug deaths.
Ten years into the Nationalist administration, rehab beds numbered 70 — and deaths exceeded 1,000 a year.
The SNP Government entrusted to turn around this crisis is the one that presided over its dramatic growth — with 10,000 dead since it took office in 2007.
And the First Minister admitted earlier this year that she and her colleagues ‘took [their] eye off the ball’.
We all know what distracted them — their ceaseless mission to smash apart the Union.
Mind you, Scotland’s drug problem is more than three times greater than England’s.
If only we had the freedom to set our own drug policy, the separatist argument claims, then we could make some serious headway and start saving some lives.
They’re desperate to set up ‘safer consumption’ facilities, where addicts inject under medical supervision, and the worst addicts are already being given pharmaceutical-grade heroin by the NHS at a special clinic in Glasgow.
In Canada, drug deaths soared as safer consumption rooms were opened across the country.
Yet experts in Canada said earlier this month that the opioid crisis has ‘never been worse’.
Garth Mullins, a member of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, said: ‘We keep breaking records all the time. 2020, it was worse than all the years before. 2021 will be worse than 2020.’
United Nations drugs expert Dr Ian Oliver, former Grampian Police chief, believes ‘there is a sinister agenda behind these Trojan horse projects, which are in reality a vehicle for drug legalisation’.
It should surprise no one that the wise minds of the drug rehab scene in Canada, responsible for a scheme that has patently failed to work, counsel that the only way out of this mess is outright decriminalisation.
You might wonder if the SNP and its acolytes, who champion safer consumption rooms, and blame ‘Westminster’ for refusing to allow them in Scotland, have bothered to research the impact (or lack of impact) they’ve had in Canada.
In reality, police warnings for Class A possession, the latest retreat in the war on drugs — though in truth it’s been more of a skirmish for a long while — was entirely predictable.
Now you could be fined for dropping the bag the heroin came in, but only be given a warning for having the actual heroin.
As for attempts to strip the criminal kingpins of their fortunes, there’s a lot of rhetoric and not much success.
Organised crime is booming and the amount of cash taken from ill-gotten gains and paid into the public purse, later to be spent on youth projects, is less than £7million a year — despite police estimates that the annual ‘turnover’ of Scottish organised crime is around £1billion.
Among those celebrating the news that drug-users are to be treated even more leniently than at present, apart from the users themselves, are the dealers.
It seems light years away from the heady days when former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill promised that the fight against gangsters was a ‘priority’ for his government — one of many that appear to have been abandoned.
At least he had something to say on the subject — Keith Brown, current holder of the post, has retained his low profile, and in the echo chamber of Holyrood last week it wasn’t even raised at First Minister’s Questions.
When this latest venture fails, you can be sure that those responsible for it will be doing what they do best — either denying it was their idea, or passing the buck while the death toll mounts.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on September 28, 2021.
*Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant