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Monday, December 6, 2021

Douglas Ross’s U-turn on drugs ‘shooting galleries’ risks severe consequences

If ever there was a crisis that required an urgent solution it was this, and the well-worn phrase “something must be done” was never more apposite. However, the “what?” in answer to that declaration has been the problem that has stumped everyone.

The SNP is a party that’s always on the look-out for a silver bullet to sort things – remember unit alcohol pricing that was supposed to stop Scots boozing so much, but doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect. The latest is vaccine passports, which are supposed to encourage more people to get jabbed, but haven’t. 

With drug deaths, the one policy that La Sturgeon believes will work is so-called safe consumption rooms, where addicts would be allowed to take illegal drugs, like heroin, under supervision and without fear of arrest – rather than up dingy alleyways.

But the problem with these “shooting galleries”, to give them their street name, is that they are illegal under UK law and prohibited by statute. This has allowed Ms Sturgeon and her ministers to, yet again, blame the UK Government for hampering the Scottish Government’s efforts to end the drug death blight.

Step forward, then, Douglas Ross. In a highly controversial move he has agreed to support the establishment of such state-backed fix rooms – strictly on a trial basis to see if Ms Sturgeon is right and that they do work. But, perhaps more significantly, he has also pledged to actively lobby UK ministers not to block the trial.

This is a one of those decisions which Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes Minister would have described as “very courageous” – in other words, don’t even think about doing it. But Mr Ross has done it and must live with the consequences. They might be quite severe in political terms, given that he is battling senior Tories in England over premises that, under the present law, would be deemed illegal.

But, speaking personally and as a native of Dundee, Scotland’s worst drug death city, I think that something must be done and quickly. If these fix rooms do prevent addicts killing themselves with dirty needles in filthy surroundings, then they are worth the trial that Mr Ross now proposes. The worry is that these government-backed premises will outlast any trial period and become a permanent feature of Scotland’s cities.

Mr Ross believes that his party’s demand that addicts should have the automatic right to rehabilitation and counselling is at least as good a way of fighting the current scourge. And, frankly, there’s very little point in Scottish Tory supporters attacking Mr Ross unless they are content to accept for ever their country’s record as the drug death capital of Europe.

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