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Scotland Needs a Radical New Approach to Drugs

08/01/2016 17:17 GMT | Updated 08/01/2017 10:12 GMT

I have noticed over the last few days that the press and the political parties are drawing up the battle lines for the Scottish election. And I have noticed, to my dismay, that drug policy isn't featuring anywhere.

To my mind there is no issue so destructive and unforgiving as the plight of drugs on Scottish communities. There isn't a village where I live in Moray or the Highlands that hasn't been affected. I've seen people have their loved-ones taken from them by the cruelty of drug addiction. And yet still Scotland's approach to tackling addiction lags behind the evidence. Still we fail those families and communities who have been ripped apart by drug addiction.

There's an idea that it's just cities that have a drug problem - and it's plain wrong. As a local Councillor, I know every little village in my ward has at least one family struggling to help a loved-one beat drugs. I have known too many people who have lost the fight. And what's the political response? Tougher rhetoric. Harsher soundbites. More criticism. It's all wrong.

We need to be tougher on the causes of addiction and kinder on the families who are struggling. Many ordinary people have taken drugs. There is no point denying it, and there's no point criminalising those who have done it once and been unaffected. But there are those who are taken in and become seriously addicted. These people are themselves victims of crime.

I'm the Labour candidate for Moray at the Scottish elections, and I'm running for the regional list election in the Highlands and Islands. And I'm doing so because we need real change on policies like drugs because what we're doing now is costing a bomb and simply doesn't work.

As a first step, anyone found in possession of small quantities of drugs for the first time should receive a caution and referral for treatment - not prosecution. It's time we gave drug users the treatment their doctors say they need, not the punishment the Daily Mail says they deserve.

Second, we should make available better support for the relatives of someone addicted. Seeing someone you love abuse themselves is hell. It's emotional torture for those around them, as much as it is abuse to the addict themselves. I'm calling for a 24/7 helpline and online advice to give those struggling families a way to cope. People can find themselves in their hour of need at any time of the day or night. Nowhere is that more true than out here in the Highlands, where in the cold, dark nights like we have through winter, the right help can feel very far away indeed.

Third - and I think this so, so important - we must change the law around helping an addict. If a person is overdosing, it should be absolutely clear in law and in the public conscience that you will not be prosecuted for helping. That's no way to treat such tragic situations. People should know that helping someone in need will not land them in prison. That extends to those who have made the mistake. Saying that someone who is found overdosing on drugs will be prosecuted severely is only making people terrified to step in. That costs Scottish lives. We can't stand for that, and I won't.

Finally, we must provide resources to help those who have come through their battle with drugs. These people have overcome the cruel grip addiction has on a human being, and we should celebrate them. An ex-addict is a Scottish hero, in my book. Our institutions should hold them up as evidence recovery is possible: the police, health boards, councils and, most of all, schools.

People are asking what Scottish Labour stands for right now. I know it's the party of justice, but our policies have to be steadfast in reflecting that.

We've held the SNP's feet to the fire on so many issues lately and we should do it on this too. They can't be allowed to get away with talking liberal while acting conservative on justice any longer. We can't attack them for that from a conservative position. We attack them because we are radical and because we know who it is we are fighting for.

It's time Scottish Labour carved out a new position on justice - more liberal, more welfarist, more distinct. Only when we stand square on the big issues like justice, on the plight of drug abuse on our communities, will people see what Labour is for in 2016. It's time to put heart and head together and change Scotland for the better.