The leader of the Scottish Tories has told supporters left “horrified” at his about-turn over state-backed “shooting galleries” that they should be more concerned at the country’s drugs death crisis.
Douglas Ross on Monday acknowledged that his dramatic reversal over SNP plans for drug consumption rooms north of the border had caused a backlash within parts of his party.
But he claimed the scale of the problem in Scotland, which has seen the country become the drugs death capital of Europe, meant nothing should be taken “off the table”.
He now supports a trial of the facilities, which the UK Government insist would be illegal, where addicts could take substances such as heroin under supervision without fear of arrest.
He made the comments after he took part in a rare joint visit alongside Nicola Sturgeon to a drug treatment project in Glasgow.
Drugs kill four people a day in Scotland
Asked what his message was to traditional Tory supporters horrified by his support for what critics have said would be taxpayer-funded drug dens, Mr Ross said: “Well, I think they should be horrified at four people losing their lives in Scotland every single day. And not just the lives lost, but the families devastated by each and every one of those deaths.
“I maintain my concerns about drug consumption rooms. But I also agree we need evidence on all the possible solutions. So I’m not going to be a barrier to have that trial.”
The SNP has backed the idea of setting up the so-called “fix rooms” but the UK Government has insisted they would be illegal.
Mr Ross on Monday pledged to actively lobby UK ministers not to try to block a trial.
Party insiders said on Monday that Mr Ross’s position was causing significant “unease” among the party grassroots over concerns consumption rooms would simply allow users to “feed” their addiction.
He claimed some within his party backed his stance but admitted others “remain concerned about the proposals” for consumption rooms.
Advocates of “fix rooms” insist they would allow addicts to take drugs in a safer environment, and that it would be easier to direct them to rehabilitation.
Figures published in the summer showed that the number of drug deaths in Scotland had risen for the seventh year in a row, with a death rate three and a half times higher than the rest of the UK and by far the highest in Europe.
Ms Sturgeon said she was “absolutely open minded” about supporting a flagship Tory “right to recovery” Bill, once it is published.