The Scottish Liberal Democrats will “reduce the misery of drug abuse with compassion and health treatment rather than prosecution”, leader Willie Rennie said on Wednesday.
Accusing the SNP of a record of neglect, Rennie said that “apologies will not bring people back” in response to comments by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon during Tuesday night’s STV leaders debate that her government had taken its “eye off the ball” on drug deaths in Scotland.
He said: “More than 4250 people died drug-related deaths since the last time we had an election. At that election I pleaded with the First Minister to reverse her cuts to alcohol and drug partnership budgets.
“Apologies won’t bring people back. I warned that this was a mistake. The tragic truth is that Scottish ministers didn’t see drug reform as a vote winner – their Justice Secretary of seven years admitted it. That’s what happens when your priorities lie elsewhere.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats will put recovery first. We will reduce the misery of drug abuse with compassion and health treatment rather than prosecution. After years of being told no, Scottish Liberal Democrats have just won cross-party agreement for that important principle.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrats say Rennie was the only MSP to appeal for a rethink during the final parliamentary stage of the SNP’s 2016 budget that delivered a “devastating 22% cut to alcohol and drug partnership budgets”.
“Now we’re putting forward further plans for new specialist drug and alcohol commissions learning from the Portuguese model, heroin assisted treatment and safe consumption spaces, and a principle that individuals and families shouldn’t have to pay for the treatment of those at risk of death.”
Earlier this year, Sturgeon announced £250m over the next five years for addiction services to tackle rising numbers of drug deaths in Scotland.
Speaking in Parliament in January, the First Minister accepted more could and should have been done in recent years to stem the increase in deaths – which rose to 1264 in 2019.
Sturgeon said the figures are a “national disgrace” and it is a “reasonable criticism” to say the Scottish Government should have done more.
The political fallout from the release of the latest death figures saw public health minister Joe FitzPatrick resign, Angela Constance appointed as the minister responsible for drug policy and opposition MSPs ramp up calls for action.
During last night’s STV debate, Sturgeon said: “I take the view when politicians get things wrong, and we all get things wrong, it’s really important to face up to that, it’s important to recognise that and it’s important to set out what we do to fix that – that’s what I’ve done on drugs deaths, I’ve appointed a minister to lead forward that work and we are determined to turn that around.”