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Sturgeon’s catalogue of catastrophe


TO describe Scotland’s separatist SNP government as shambolic can lead to accusations of understatement. Sex scandals and ministers being promoted well beyond their level of competence, in the midst of never-ending party infighting which makes the Labour Party seem a haven of sweetness and light. Where but Scotland could the party of government be under police investigation for its alleged misuse of party donations, face resignations from its finance committee including its treasurer, and carry on as though nothing had happened? With the compliance of a supine media the SNP sails on regardless.

The catalogue of Scotland’s SNP government’s failures runs long and deep. Some are simply beyond belief. How is it possible for the government of a country with many inhabited offshore islands utterly dependent upon sea transport to fail to build ferries and manage an efficient ferry service?

Some SNP failures are even more serious. Scotland once had an education system of which it rightly boasted. Today its education is the worst in the UK and is plummeting down the international PISA tables. The SNP government managed to get the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report on Scotland’s education held back until after the Scottish general election in May. Now that it has been published we learn the OECD found the Scottish education system had failed to keep pace with the latest best practice and had no long-term strategies or vision. SNP scapegoating of the quangos tasked with accrediting the qualifications system ignores the fact that the SNP themselves have been in power for more than a decade and have presided over the education decline. A generation of Scots are the losers.

Bad as these are, some SNP failures enter the realm of the tragic. If we are to judge a government on how they treat society’s most vulnerable members, the SNP have a long way to go before their practice matches their pronouncements on the country’s drug crisis.

A report released by the National Records Scotland on Friday shows that for the seventh year running Scotland had a record number of drug deaths last year with 1,339. The rate of drug deaths in Scotland, 231 people per million, is more than three and a half times higher than that in the rest of the UK and is the worst in Europe, 15 times higher than the European average. Statistics from developing countries are hard to come by but it is generally acknowledged that Scotland’s record is one of the worst in the world. 

The SNP government, which has devolved power over health, has been in place since 2007. The number of drug deaths in 2007, when it came to power, was 455. This was considered scandalous at the time.

Nicola Sturgeon said the number of lives lost ‘is unacceptable, each one a human tragedy’. She added, ‘Today, my thoughts are with every family who has lost a loved one – I am sorry for the loss you have suffered.’ Ms Sturgeon, however, has previously admitted some responsibility, saying that her government ‘took our eye off the ball’ on drug deaths.

The knee-jerk reaction of some nationalists is to blame Westminster. Whilst health policy is a devolved issue, drug laws are reserved for the UK government. The SNP argument is that if Scotland could introduce its own policies focusing on treating drug addiction and possession as a health matter rather than a criminal one, the number of drug deaths would be reduced.

At the end of last year Scottish government spokesman indicated that, while Scottish ministers support progressive services such as heroin-assisted treatment and supervised overdose prevention facilities, their hands are tied by the Westminster government retaining the power to make drug laws.

‘It is beyond comprehension that the UK government continue to block this life-saving opportunity,’ he said. ‘They have continuously refused to meaningfully discuss this matter despite the fact that it would help save lives.’

Whilst it is possible to make an argument for a health-based approach to drug use, one wonders why if present drug laws do so much supposed harm in Scotland they don’t do equivalent harm in England and Wales? Scotland’s drug problem cannot be argued away by saying ‘It wisnae me, a big boy did it and ran away’. The SNP have to take responsibility for their actions.

Rather than funding more rehab facilities and restoring the budgets of local alcohol and drug partnerships, which is within their power, the SNP have taken the easy way out by accusing the UK government of binding their hands by blocking plans for their innovative policies such as safe consumption rooms where addicts could shoot up in sanitary conditions rather than in underpasses and waste ground.

There is such an acute shortage of publicly funded rehabilitation places and cuts to local multi-agency drugs services that Scotland has entered Kafkaland where some addicts pursue what seems to them a logical course of action: they choose to commit crimes ensuring a prison sentence rather than remaining in the community because they know they have a better chance of accessing treatment behind bars. For Scotland’s addicts, HMP Barlinnie beats NHS Scotland.

failed lawyer leading a failed government is leading almost inexorably to a failed country, and the most vulnerable are paying the price.

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Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Campbell is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Stirlingshire. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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