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by Andrew Learmonth
25 May 2021
SNP social justice commission calls for drug decriminalisation to be explored

Jenni Davidson/Holyrood

SNP social justice commission calls for drug decriminalisation to be explored

THE SNP’s Social Justice and Fairness Commission has called for the decriminalisation of drugs, a one-off wealth tax and a written constitution.

The body was tasked by Nicola Sturgeon with detailing what an independent Scotland should “look like 15 or 20 years from now” by suggesting “transformative policies”.

This “route map to a more socially just Scotland” was launched by the First Minister at the party’s spring conference in 2019, when she told delegates it would show how independence could reduce poverty and inequality in Scotland.

The commission’s initial timescale was to produce a report in time for an autumn 2020 referendum campaign, though it was delayed by the pandemic. 

It was seen as an attempt to refute some of the criticism of Andrew Wilson’s Growth Commission. Both political opponents and a number of party members attacked Wilson’s calls for tighter spending controls to bring down the deficit after independence.

Chaired by former health secretary Shona Robison, members include former Scottish chief medical officer Professor Sir Harry Burns, activist and campaigner Chelsea Cameron and convener of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group, Dr Angela O’Hagan.

Govan Law Centre principal solicitor Mike Dailly was briefly a member, but quit, branding it “useless”. 

In their final report, the commission said there were “no silver bullets for the challenges facing our society”.

It added: “Each solution requires hard choices about how to distribute resources and the contributions people are asked to make. That is why it is imperative that decisions are taken collectively wherever possible, and grounded in consensus. 

“No single political party has all the answers, and lasting change can only be achieved by working together – across political parties, civic society and the wider public.“

Key calls in the report, include prioritising the eradication of poverty by, in part, reversing policies such as the two-child limit, the rape clause and the five-week wait for Universal Credit.

The commission says an independent Scotland should scrap Tory government welfare policies altogether and replace them with more progressive programmes, including the pilot of Universal Basic Income and Minimum Income Guarantee schemes.

On tax, the commission says those who are better off should “carry a bigger share of the load”.

To tackle the country’s drugs deaths crisis, the commission proposes the establishment of a citizens’ assembly on the issue and backs safe consumption spaces.

It calls for the Scottish Government to explore “every avenue” to permit safe consumption areas under devolved legislation. 

It also calls for decriminalisation to be explored for personal use

On immigration and asylum, the commission says an independent Scotland could “dismantle” the Tory government’s “hostile environment” strategy.

“The Scottish migration system must be made much more accessible, simpler and transparent,” the report says.

The report says there is “a strong case for the UK Government implementing a one-off wealth tax in the context of recovery from the current pandemic.”

It adds: “An excess profits tax should be applied to businesses and sectors that have benefited directly and substantially from the circumstances arising from the pandemic.”

The SNP MSP Neil Gray, who sat on the commission said: “I believe we have delivered a blueprint, a route map to a more socially just Scotland, one that focuses on how we should make policy decisions that can help us build a fairer and happier society.

“The proposals we set out are only options. Whether all or any of them are taken forward are political decisions and choices for future governments in Scotland to make. The time and pace of any such change will be determined by future Scottish governments according to the circumstances of the day.”

He added: “We have focused on issues affecting Scotland that have been particularly prominent and pressing during the pandemic, those that offer the greatest scope for tackling poverty. And while the Commission has merely scratched the surface, the potential that exists to develop policy that delivers our shared ambitions is enormous.

“This report takes the first steps but now there is a need to delve deeply, to develop detail for practical implementation, and to build consensus. To that end we would strongly recommend the establishment of a permanent Commission or body to build on and develop our work.”

Labour MSP Daniel Johnson said: “Labour agrees with much of this report and will work with the SNP where there is agreement.

“We do need to tackle drug deaths. We do need a humane asylum policy. And we do need fair work principles. But we also need honesty from the SNP.

“We know that the SNP’s blueprint for independence, the Growth Commission, sets out a plan to fund separation through cuts to public services.

“This contradicts the wish list on display here. While the SNP play fantasy economics, Labour will continue to fight for equality now.”

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