SCOTTISH MPs have clashed over the drugs crisis and independence plans in Scotland during a tense session in the Commons.
Alister Jack, Scottish secretary, and his junior ministers were grilled by MPs this morning about the UK Government’s refusal to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act, which would allow drug consumption rooms to be opened in Scotland.
They were also encouraged to scrutinise Nicola Sturgeon’s plans to restart work on a second referendum, and any impact this could have on pandemic recovery.
Junior Scotland office minister Ian Stewart repeatedly claimed there was “no evidence” that safe drug consumption rooms were effective, with SNP MPs Joanna Cherry and Mhairi Black arguing the opposite.
Ms Cherry, MP for Edinburgh South West, said the UK Government should “do its bit” to help tackle the drugs problem, which saw Scotland becoming the drugs death capital of Europe once again and reached its highest level ever last year.
She said: “Portugal faced some of the highest rates of drug deaths in Europe at the turn of the century, but they radically reversed the situation through decriminalisation and a public health approach.
“The Scottish Government has used its powers to commit to the public health approach.
“The question for him is whether his government will use its reserved powers to amend the misuse of drugs act, and enable the measures of work in Portugal, such as drug consumption rooms, to happen. So that’s the question – the Scottish Government’s done it bit will his government to its bit?”
Minister Stewart responded that if there was “new evidence” to support safe consumption rooms “we’re very happy to look at that”, adding: “I would also point out that in England and Wales, we have project Adder, which is showing some very early promising signs on being effective in combating drug misuse, and I would strongly urge our colleagues and the Scottish Government to take our offer to extend that to Scotland.”
Mhairi Black, MP for Paisley, accused the UK Government of “changing absolutely nothing” despite promising to help.
She said: “If the logical arguments won’t convince them, maybe the financial ones will.
“Crimes linked to drugs in Scotland costs £750m pounds a year to investigate and prosecute.
“Experts tell us that that money could be better spent.
“If the experts and the Scottish Government and even the Scottish conservatives, can now agree that health needs to be the main approach, why can’t he?”
Minister Stewart replied that the Scottish Government should “perhaps spend a little bit more effort focusing on tackling some of these social issues, rather than obsessing about independence which no one wants”.
Labour MP Chris Elmore pressed ministers on whether the Scottish Government’s pledge to start work on another referendum would form part of the Covid-19 inquiry, saying:” I’m very sorry to tell the house that Scotland now has one of the highest COVID rates in all of Europe, with eight out of 20 hotspots across Europe in Scotland, according to the WHO.
“Instead of learning the lessons of the last year, the SNP government wasted the summer months with the virus spiralling out of control and while COVID rates soar the First Minister announced that Scottish civil servants will be tasked with drawing up arguments for Scottish independence.”
He asked if the Scotland Office had discussed with Holyrood ministers “ the issue of Scottish civil servants being diverted from crucial COVID-19 response work to plan for another independence referendum” and asked if “this will form part of the COVID-19 inquiry into the Scottish Government’s failures.”
Minister Stewart said the Scottish Government’s “primary focus” should not be on “obsessing with another divisive referendum.”
Former Scottish secretary David Mundell continued along the same vein, telling MPs: “’Shameful’ and ‘disgrace’ are words that Nicola Sturgeon likes to bandy at her opponents, but they truly apply to her announcement yesterday, that while Scotland continues to have some of the worst COVID rates in the Europe, she is diverting resources into another divisive independence referendum.”
Tommy Sheppard, SNP MP, challenged the ministers to release information about cabinet office polling on support for the union and Scottish independence, which he has been fighting to gain access to for years.
However Mr Jack deferred to the Cabinet Office, saying it was their responsibility.