Scotland's drug death crisis: Nicola Sturgeon keeping an 'open-mind' on whether to support Tory recovery plans

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh.

Scottish Conservative leader warns 'longer we fail to act, the more lives will be lost' but the First Minister stresses that she wants to see more details of recovery plan

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Nicola Sturgeon said she is keeping an open mind on whether to support the Scottish Conservatives’ plans for a “right to recovery” in law to tackle the country’s drug deaths crisis.

The First Minister was challenged to support the Tories’ proposal by leader Douglas Ross, who warned “the longer we fail to act, the more lives will be lost”.

Ms Sturgeon said she was “open-minded” about the plans, but stressed that she would want to see more details as the Scottish Conservatives have only launched a consultation so far.

The proposed Right to Recovery Bill aims to stop people being refused residential rehabilitation treatment and enshrine in law that everyone has the right to the necessary addiction treatment they require.

Referencing the SNP leader’s challenge to visit a working class area with her in the wake of the UK Government’s £20 Universal Credit cut during FMQs, Mr Ross said: “I give an unconditional acceptance to meet any community, anywhere, at any time because this is an issue of national importance.”

He also suggested visiting Bluevale Community Club in the Haghill area of Glasgow “to see the need for a right to recovery”.

“Volunteers of the club pointed out that it’s in the second most deprived area in Scotland,” Mr Ross said.

“People in places like Haghill are 18 times more likely to die from drugs than people in the most affluent areas.

“Bluevale is trying to build a whole community and a whole system response to the drugs crisis. This Bill would help them get even more lives back on track.

“So will the First Minister agree to a joint visit with me to Bluevale so we can find some common ground and get around the table with those on the front line to hear why this Bill is so desperately needed?”

In response, Ms Sturgeon said: “I am certainly willing to meet with organisations and indeed with individuals – as I have previously – affected by drugs misuse.”

She added: “The issues faced by working class communities go beyond drugs; drug misuse can, in some cases, be a symptom of deeper issues, poverty, for example.

“So I’m sure Douglas Ross will agree with me that, if we are to undertake such a joint endeavour, it will also be important to meet with, for example, those who have just had their Universal Credit withdrawn, driving them deeper into the poverty conditions that then sometimes lead to the other issues that we are talking about.”

The exchange followed claims from the Scottish Conservative leader that Ms Sturgeon was “detached from working class communities”, to which she invited him to come to an area which would be hard hit by the £20 cut in Universal Credit that came into force this week.

He accepted the invitation, but in a letter to the First Minister sought to shift the focus onto the ongoing drug death crisis which killed 1,339 people in 2020.