SNP government’s tax choices help perpetuate drugs - Neale Hanvey

Rarely has a policy failed quite so completely as “Just Say No” to drugs. It presents a false binary choice that ignores the complexities of substance misuse and, as I said in Westminster recently, it caricatures vulnerable people as weak.

Thursday, 29th July 2021, 7:00 am
Between 2009 and 2019, there were 525 drug-related deaths in Fife.

A notable exception to this was a public-health ad from 2000. It began with a young guy being offered drugs. “What, heroin?”, he asks. “Aye, smack, you’re only smoking it”, replies his pal. The screen splits and we see the consequences of yes and no play out. The young lad who said “yes” sells his PlayStation to fund his drug habit, steals money from his dad’s coat, and suffers the pain of withdrawal. On the other side of the screen, the lad who said “no” continues to enjoy teenage life.

It was a powerful message that drug addiction can happen to anyone. But like all “Just Say No” messages, it simply didn’t work. In the intervening two decades, drug misuse in Scotland has become a cataclysmic crisis.

Between 2009 and 2019, there were 525 drug-related deaths in Fife. That compares to 387 people who have died from Covid across the Kingdom. But while Covid is treated with the utmost seriousness that a pandemic demands, we’ve been much slower to act on the drugs crisis.

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Just think, if it was yuppies in Glasgow Kelvin that were impacted, would the Scottish Government have let that crisis fester?

Of course, it is the UK government that refuses to entertain safe consumption rooms, decriminalisation, or frankly any evidence-based approach to drugs. And it is the UK government that dismisses Scottish requests that powers be devolved to Holyrood so we can chart a different path.

But the blame cannot be placed solely at Westminster’s door. Decisions from the Scottish Government not to reinstate a higher 50 per cent rate of income tax may have won votes for the SNP in Scotland’s wealthiest constituencies, but it has deprived services in our communities of funding. So, too, has the decision to persevere with council tax, despite commitments to replace it with a fairer local tax. And services have been squeezed by the Scottish Government’s fetishization with ring-fencing local funding, restricting the agility of councils to develop local solutions to drug misuse.

Drug misuse is a symptom of poverty, inequality, and hopelessness. Policies that keep wealth concentrated in already affluent areas of Scotland perpetuate, rather than solve, this deadly crisis.

Neale Hanvey is the Alba MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath