Practical but Posturing – 14 July 2023


Ending the war on drugs is sensible. It’s the route to travel, whether within the UK or as an independent nation. Sadly, the practical benefits of radical change are being lost amid the political posturing: the Scottish Government doing it simply for show, while Tory and Labour line up under an irredentist “it’s irresponsible” banner.

That latter position’s as vacuous as Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No”. The USA’s not the strategy to follow and yet it’s largely what’s preached by Westminster’s main parties. It has been an abject failure, costing lives, damaging our society, seeing violence escalate, and even undermining legitimate parts of our economy.

The Scottish Government’s recent proposals were therefore welcome, and the Portuguese model’s the direction to follow. Health supplanting law enforcement, decriminalisation rather than legalisation. The denigration of those ideas was wrong. No one’s suggesting it’s the solution to all ills. Legislative changes can’t eliminate poverty that underlies so much substance abuse. Life’s simply so grim for many that finding ways to take yourself out of it, even if only mentally, holds allure.

So, of course, drug use continues in Portugal whether by the hedonistic or life’s downtrodden. It’ll probably always be with us. But what’s clear in Portugal’s that the situation’s better than what was before.

Meanwhile, Scottish drug deaths have soared with the level of violence escalating exponentially. Even during my tenure as Justice Secretary, enforcing a drug debt moved typically from a stab in the buttocks to the production of a firearm. Now the discharge of the latter’s routine and in parts of England gun crime’s rampant. That all goes back to the money to be made in drugs.

It’s undermining communities where drug gangs operate almost with impunity and where youngsters see them as role models with their trappings of wealth and supposed status. It might not be Colombian cartels but it’s ruining lives and the influence is pervasive and pernicious. Areas of our economy are also being corroded with entire businesses literally taken over by “dirty money”, with legitimate concerns simply unable to compete whether through intimidation or financially.

Again, Portugal doesn’t provide a complete solution, but it would mitigate and likely improve the current trend. Why can’t the powers be devolved so that Scotland can try it? On a lesser scale, a reduction in the blood-alcohol limit for drink-driving and licensing air weapons have worked well and far from threatened the Union. Portugal hasn’t become the drug mecca for the Iberian Peninsula, nor would Scotland destabilise the UK. Muscular unionism won’t help any more than militant prohibition has in the UK or USA.

So, the new route’s to be welcomed even if belated. However, whilst the dead hand of Sturgeonism’s lifted, Yousaf’s new age is hardly dawning. It’s fine rhetoric but with no practical action. Police and prosecutors have already implemented personal possession decriminalisation in many cases. Why not just open drug-consumption rooms and challenge Westminster to close them? Why wait?

Instead, the SNP’s trying to be seen as moderately radical, whilst actually doing very little. Being more radical than Starmer’s Tory-lite Labour party but with no prospect of it happening. It’s the way to go but it requires independence. However, on independence as with drugs, the Scottish Government’s only posturing.