Sturgeon and Ross put on ‘united front’ in fight against drug deaths

The First Minister and leader of the Scottish Conservatives put party politics aside during a visit to Bluevale Community Club.

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By Jenness Mitchell & Sharon Frew

Nicola Sturgeon and Douglas Ross have put on a united front to hear about the life-changing work of a drug recovery group in Glasgow.

The First Minister and leader of the Scottish Conservatives put party politics aside during a visit to Bluevale Community Club in the city’s Haghill on Monday.

Ross told STV News: “This is not just for us to get out in a community and get our picture taken. This is to listen to people.”

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Sturgeon added: “On an issue as serious as this, it’s important we put politics aside and work together.

“The government is absolutely intent and determined to do the variety of things that it takes to turn around the drugs crisis.”

Drug-related deaths in Scotland hit a record high of 1339 in 2020 – the highest fatality rate in Europe.

The joint visit to Bluevale was organised following an exchange at FMQ’s when Sturgeon challenged Ross to join her in a working-class community after he accused her of being “out of touch”.

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Bluevale, which helps more than 1000 households every year through its sports, youth, elderly and community work, aims to tackle poverty and drug use.

Ross heard from a man who is now one month clean due to the support received at Bluevale.

The Tory MSP and MP said: “He’s 50 now, you know decades on drugs, but because of support that he gets here and across the community he is able to turn his life around.

“And I want to hear more of those experiences, but make sure that everyone can get that. And that’s why I’m bringing forward the proposals for a right to recovery bill.”

The Scottish Conservatives are campaigning for the “right to recovery” to be enshrined in law, which would give drug users a legal entitlement to addiction treatment.

Ross said his party has worked with charities to develop the bill, adding: “The cuts to recovery and rehab facilities were from the Scottish Government. They took hundreds of millions of pounds out.

“They’ve now, after Scottish Conservative pressure, put that money back in again, and I think that’s really important, that was in last year’s budget, but we need to go further.

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“It’s so complex there is no one single answer that will suddenly turn round the fortunes of people in this area or across Scotland, but the fact that we are losing so many lives every single day means we’ve got to look at some of the issues that we can bring forward now that would change people’s lives, and a right to recovery bill would do that.”

Speaking to STV News last week, Ross said the Scottish Conservatives would not “stand in the way” if ministers look to trial drug consumption rooms in Scotland.

The First Minister said: “It’s a complex situation, but there’s no doubt we need to do more, we need to do it better and we need to really get on top of this.

“So, I’m open to ideas from wherever they come, and obviously I would hope that also people will give recognition to the actions that are now under way, led by the government and backed by significant investment.

“But we can talk about investment, we can talk about initiatives, but behind all of that are real people, lives and families, and a lot of heartbreak and grief, so that’s what we’ve got to always bear in mind.”

During the visit to Bluevale, the FM announced funding of almost £100,000 to help the community club continue its recovery and wellbeing services.

The £99,588 boost is from the Local Support Fund.

Sturgeon said: “The work being done by Bluevale Community Club in their local area helping people to live healthier lifestyles through their activity classes and recovery drop-ins is fantastic. 

“It is an excellent example of how sustained, meaningful activities and supportive social networks are key to building stronger communities.

“The rights of individuals to access effective treatment and support underpins our national drugs strategy.

“But we know there is more to do to make these rights a reality which is why we launched the National Mission backed by an additional £250m over the next five years to improve and increase access to services for people affected by drug addiction – including an investment of £100m on residential rehabilitation.

“We are determined that every penny of that will make a difference to all those affected by this public health emergency.”

Kenny Trainer, Bluevale founder and project manager, welcomed the visit and financial support.

He added: “We have run our club on a voluntary basis and welcome the investment from the Scottish Government that will allow us to employ two part-time members of staff, allowing us to focus more on developing a whole community response to recovery.

“Prior to this funding we were unsure if we would last beyond Christmas. We will continue to look at further alternatives to meet the additional shortfall in meeting our charity’s mission and ambition. 

“We now ask that all parties, and both governments, put their political differences aside and agree on how we can tackle Scotland’s problems not just at a national level, but locally – ensuring that any investment reaches the heart of our communities where it will make the biggest impact.

“We have seen too many friends and family members die while seeking access to the help they needed and that’s why we back any rights-based approach when it comes to drug treatment – one based on holding decision-makers to account where necessary.”