I would like to take the opportunity presented by this month’s column to express what an incredible honour it was for me to have been selected to be the Scottish Conservative and Unionist candidate for Stirling at the next Scottish Parliament election in 2021.
It has been a great privilege to represent the Stirling area as a regional MSP over the last three years.
As a member of Ruth Davidson’s Shadow Cabinet, I have been at the forefront of opposition to the SNP’s obsession with independence.
Leading up to the next election, I will continue to do all I can to ensure that the focus of this SNP Government is back on the issues which really matter to the people of Stirling and beyond, our schools, our hospitals and our economy.
One such issue which the SNP have full responsibility for is that of the public health of the people of Scotland.
The figures which were released last month on the number of drugs-related deaths made for some disturbing reading.
Nearly 1,200 people across the country lost their lives as a result of problems with drugs. This amounted to a shocking 27 per cent rise on last year. This means that Scotland now has the highest recorded rate of drug-related deaths in Europe, and three times that of the UK as a whole.
In the Stirling Council area, deaths have almost doubled in a decade.
The response of the SNP, and local SNP representatives, has been nothing short of appalling and I wrote into the Stirling Observer expressing my horror at their complete abdication of responsibility for their record in government on this issue.
It’s a national scandal that, under the SNP, Scotland has become Europe’s drug deaths capital.
The nationalists now think they can point to nearly 1200 tragedies and – rather than take responsibility themselves – appear to lay this at the door of the UK Government.
It’s a conceited and cowardly approach, and one which abdicates accountability to a terrifying extent.
Here is the more pertinent fact: a year after the SNP came to power in 2007, there were 574 drug-related deaths in Scotland. Since then, they SNP has had sole control over the health and justice briefs, arming it with a range of powers and policy areas to make a difference here.
The human cost if immense – drugs wreck families, destroy lives, push relationships beyond the point of no return, and hold back our most deprived communities.
Every one of those 1187 deaths were avoidable, and the cost to society in financial terms has been estimated at £3.5 billion a year.
It is clear that the current approach is not working, and has not been working for the last two decades.
So when my party sets out its prospectus for government in 2021, we shall do so with a comprehensive plan to tackle the problem- but this is not enough, we need SNP ministers to adopt our proposals now.
Our first proposal is to establish local commissions to deal with those caught in possession of drugs for the first time.
Most of these individuals should not have to feel the full force of the law but should instead be given the option to undergo treatment in exchange for avoiding a criminal record.
An independent review of Scotland’s methadone programme is also essential as for some addicts, methadone can lead to years left exposed to this substance with no hope of making even a partial recovery.
We must also see a complete re-design of the alcohol and drugs services and more resources put into rehabilitation, recovery and abstinence support.
The Scottish Conservatives are ready to be part of the solution to turn around the situation in Scotland. We must end this national public health crisis, and what for too many individuals and families has also become a national tragedy.
This article was originally published in the Stirling Observer on Wednesday 7th and Friday 9th August 2019.