Nicola Sturgeon and Douglas Ross set for joint-working on drug deaths crisis

NICOLA Sturgeon has said her Government is likely to give a Tory plan to help reduce drugs deaths a “fair wind” once more details are available.

The First Minister said she was open-minded to a proposal to give drugs users a legal right to residential rehabilitation and other treatment services.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross today published a consultation on the idea, with a view to Holyrood enshrining it in a Right to Recovery Bill.

At First Minister’s Questions, Mr Ross reminded Ms Sturgeon that four people died of drug misuse in Scotland each day and repeatedly asked her to support his plan,

“The longer we fail to act, the more lives will be lost,” he said.

A record 1,339 people were killed by drug misuse in 2020.

Ms Sturgeon said she had had a brief look at the consultation and would consider it, but stressed she could not give it “carte blanche” and sign up to it without more information.

She also said that legislation may be too slow to respond to more pressing needs, and that ongoing Government action was preferable.

She said: “I received the consultation this morning, and I have an open mind on it. 

“We will consider the proposals in the consultation and, as and when that develops into actual proposed legislation, we will consider that in detail. 

“I think – perhaps this is a point of agreement – that speed of action now is essential.

“We all know that legislation takes time to go through the proper processes. 

I looked briefly at the document that was sent to me this morning and, on the face of it, it does not appear to suggest anything that goes beyond what we are already doing, although it suggests that those things should be enshrined in legislation.” 

Mr Ross urged her to “listen to the experts and the grieving families”  who said his plan could save lives, and asked her to ensure “ugent parliamentary time” was given to it.

Ms Sturgeon replied: “If its broad proposals translate into the general principles of a bill, it is likely that we will want to give that bill a fair wind through Parliament, in order to see whether we can reach consensus on the detail. 

“Given that we are talking about a bill that is not yet in existence, any reasonable person would think that that is a reasonable response from a First Minister who has a duty to make sure that we go through all the right processes. 

“I hope that we can agree that that is a reasonable starting point.”

Mr Ross also brought up Ms Sturgeon’s challenge to him to visit a working class community to see how the Tory £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit was being received.

Mr Ross suggested the Bluevale Community Club in Haghill in Glasgow, whose manager wanted them to visit “to see the need for a right to recovery”.  

He said: “Volunteers at that club pointed out that it is in the second most deprived area in Scotland. People in places such as Haghill are 18 times more likely to die from drugs than people in the most affluent areas are. 

“Bluevale is trying to build a whole community and a whole systems response to the drugs crisis, and the bill would help it to get even more lives back on track.

“Will the First Minister agree to a joint visit with me to Bluevale so that we can find some common ground and get around the table with those on the front line to hear why the bill is so desperately needed?”

Ms Sturgeon said her office would be in touch with him “shortly” about a visit, and said she was willing to meet individuals and organisations to discuss drug misuse.

However she said the challenges faced by working class communities went further than drugs, and said poverty and inequality were factors too.

She said: “If we are to undertake such a joint endeavour, it will also be important to meet, for example, those who have just had their universal credit withdrawn 

“I look forward to meeting people who will, no doubt, have things to say about Scottish Government policy… but also people who are being deeply affected each and every day right now by United Kingdom Government policy that is doing a lot of damage in working-class  communities the length and breadth of the country.”

Mr Ross said: “I give an unconditional acceptance to an invitation to meet any community anywhere at any time.”

The exchange followed claims from the Scottish Conservative leader that Ms Sturgeon was “detached from working class communities”, to which she invited him to come to an area which would be hard hit by the £20 cut in Universal Credit that came into force this week.

He accepted the invitation, but in a letter to the First Minister sought to shift the focus onto the ongoing drug death crisis which killed 1,339 people in 2020.


The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992