The release of the SNP manifesto is a clear demonstration of the current tension that exists between Holyrood and the UK Government. 

Glasgow is in the grips of a public health emergency, which has seen spiralling drug-related deaths and outbreaks of HIV infections among people who inject drugs. To address this crisis, the city proposed a comprehensive plan of public health measures, one of which was the implementation of a supervised drug consumption facility – where people can consume illicit drugs in a safe and non-judgmental environment. 

This proposal has repeatedly been blocked by the UK government and came to a head with Westminster blocking the SNP sponsored Private Members Bill that would have provided the necessary legislative protections for supervised drug consumption facilities to be established.

The SNP has reached the conclusion that the UK government “is actively preventing Scotland tackling vital issues that are a matter of life and death to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

Alison Thewliss, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Glasgow Central said: 

“We must be more bold in our provision in order to tackle the escalating drugs crisis not only in Scotland, but across the UK. 

“During my time as the MP for Glasgow Central, the UK Government consistently obstructed the opening of a Supervised Drug Consumption Facility (SDCF) in Glasgow – a facility that would offer a safe, clean space where patients can engage with support services. Crucially, medical staff would be on hand to prevent people dying from overdose. 

“These facilities already exist across Europe, and by refusing to grant the necessary legal exemptions to allow for a pilot in Glasgow, the UK Government is deliberately discounting the comprehensive evidence base that supports their efficacy.” 

The SNP is now making the case that the UK’s government’s approach to drugs is no longer aligning with the needs of Scotland and its manifesto is calling for “the devolution of Misuse of Drugs Act to allow for the full range of effective public health measures to tackle the drugs death crisis”. This would give Scotland the powers to decriminalise people who use drugs, which is a policy position the party formally backed in October of this year.

Ronnie Cowan, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Inverclyde said: 

“The U.K. government’s intransigence prevents Scotland from tackling vital issues that are a matter of life and death … If Westminster is not prepared to put people’s health first and take action which has proven to reduce the spread of HIV and Hep C, then the Scottish government is. The U.K. government must act or give the powers to Scotland so we can.”

Pending devolution, the SNP has said that it will call for the UK Government to introduce a supervised drug consumption facility. 

The last two SNP manifestos did not mention drugs and it is striking how quickly the party has pivoted from having no position on this issue, to one which would see a radical overhaul in Scotland’s approach to drugs. And much like the Liberal Democrats, the SNP have not shied away from giving drug reform centre stage in its manifesto, with the party naming “Tackling the Drugs Crisis” as one of its key manifesto pledges.  

The scale of the drugs crisis in Scotland has necessitated such a response and the tireless campaigning from MSPs, MPs, Glasgow City Council, NHSGGC, the third sector and advocacy groups will have played an essential role in bringing this issue to the attention of the party.

What is clear, is that as long as Westminster stands in the way of Scotland delivering this approach, there will be growing pressure for drugs to be devolved to Holyrood. The next Prime Minister will have to consider what the UK would stand to gain by continuing to block a public health based approach to drugs.

Liz McCulloch is Director of Policy at Volteface. Tweets @Liz_McCll

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