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by Andrew Learmonth
22 November 2021
Nicola Sturgeon and Douglas Ross in visit to drugs recovery group in Glasgow

Nicola Sturgeon and Douglas Ross in visit to drugs recovery group in Glasgow

Nicola Sturgeon and Douglas Ross have met with members of a drug recovery group in Glasgow’s east end during a rare joint visit. 

The two leaders have promised to work together in tackling Scotland’s drug death shame, with the Scottish Conservative leader prepared to defy Prime Minister Boris Johnson, by not standing in the way of a trial of drug consumption rooms in Scotland. 

Meanwhile, the First Minister said she was "absolutely open minded" about backing a Tory bid to put a "right to recovery" in law.

The joint visit came about after Ross used his speech at the UK Tory conference in Manchester to claim that SNP had become “detached from working class communities”.

He said his party were now “the party of working Scotland”.

That led to criticism from Sturgeon, who said the end of the £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit would “take food out of the mouths of children across working class communities the length and breadth of Scotland.”

“Maybe Douglas Ross would like to come with me, and I’ll introduce him to some working class communities across the country, and then he will see who’s in touch with them and who is horribly out of touch with them,” she said. 

Ross took her up on the offer, suggesting at a subsequent First Minister’s Questions that he and Sturgeon should visit the project at the Bluevale Community Club, which has operated as a recovery group since mid-2021.

Ahead of this morning's visit, the Scottish Government announced the organisation based in Glasgow would be receiving almost £100,000 over the next two years.

The club's founder Kenny Trainer said he hoped the visit would not be a "one-off photo op".

He said: "We welcome the visit by Scotland’s two main political leaders today to see first-hand not only what we are trying to achieve here at Bluevale Community Club but also meet the people who remind us daily why we do it."

As well as helping people with addiction, the club seeks to divert young people away from drugs, with sports and other other activities. 

The two political leaders met with local youngsters, posing for photographs against the ropes of a boxing ring.

Sturgeon said her government acknowledged there was “much more that we need to do to turn around what is an unacceptable toll that drugs are taking on communities".

She told the BBC: "That is about faster access to treatment, it's about extending rehabilitation, both residential and non-residential, it's about supporting facilities focused on recovery and making sure we are seeing all these services in an integrated and joined-up way.

"Because behind all the discussion and terminology we are talking about human brings, real people and real families that are being torn apart by drugs."

Sturgeon said she would consider backing a Tory proposal to enshrine a "right to recovery" in law, but would first need to see the detail.

Ross said he would back ministers in setting up consumption rooms - a safe space to take substances, reducing the risks of spreading disease through dirty needles and preventing overdose deaths.

Last month, the Scottish Government confirmed it was “actively pursuing” plans to open the country’s first drugs consumption room after Dorothy Bain, the new Lord Advocate, told a committee of MSPs that she was willing to take another look at any proposals. 

Her predecessor James Wolffe had declined to issue guidance on the legality of a drug consumption room in 2017, effectively saying he was stymied by the Misuse of Drugs Act, which is reserved to Westminster. 

In August, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "instinctively" opposed to anything which could "encourage people to take more drugs".

Ross said: "I still have serious reservations about drug consumption rooms, the legality of them and how you police them. There are serious practical problems, but I also believe that when four people every day in Scotland are dying as a result of drug misuse we have to look at all the options.

"If the Scottish Government bring forward plans to have a pilot scheme in Scotland, I won't stand in the way because I want to look at all the evidence surrounding this."

The Tory leader said no party had a monopoly on the right answers to the drug deaths crisis, saying it was important to "show there is a united effort to deal with this national scandal".

He added: "On issues like this I'm sure people will expect us to leave our party politics to the side and actually work to deal with the situation in front of us."

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - SNP minister's 'disappointment and loss' over Derek Mackay texting scandal

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