Bagpipes, shortbread, and haggis- the fever dream known as Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. A mere 15 minutes away from this stomach-churning, saccharine tatification of Scottish culture, you are confronted by Scotland’s darker stereotype. Whilst our political class posture on how much greener the grass north of the Border is, they ignore the elephant in the room. This issue doesn’t involve yet more constitutional headbanging, or defending the rights of landlords, after all. When 1,339 lives are lost to drugs in just a year, would it be naïve to expect a serious response from the Scottish government?
England sees 48 drug deaths per million of the population. In Scotland, that figure reads 234 per million. These statistics, published in a 2019 study, starkly highlight the disproportionality of Scotland’s drug death epidemic. Is there something innate to the Scottish character that explains why we are more likely to die from drug use than, say, the English or the Welsh? Obviously not. This disparity between Scotland and the rest of Britain– indeed most of the developed world, is a result of our very tangible, economic conditions. High rates of poverty corelate to high rates of drug abuse, or—to use the academic term — Problem Drug Use (PDU).
Deaths both directly and indirectly related to PDU are inextricably linked to social status; drug overdose is a sorrow suffered almost solely by the working class. The overlap of numerous economic factors to increased drug deaths (homelessness and drug deaths; food poverty and drug deaths, etc.) confirms the underlying determinant is class.
Liberals may well frame the drug death epidemic in terms of wealth inequality, and ask the government to alleviate the worst of Scotland’s inequity, reduce the quantity of people drawn to opiates to cope with their lives, announce a soothing policy in The Herald, aiming to reduce drug deaths by some optimally heroic percentage. What we as communists must communicate to the wider working class, is that inequality is not a fact of life, but the foundation of a functioning capitalist economic system. Drug deaths, and all the other immiseration we face for that matter, are the by-product of an indifferent social order designed to make a tiny number of people richer than God. I must reiterate: the guilt of the drug death epidemic is not solely upon the Scottish government, but the entire capitalist class, whom the government protect and serve.
In Scotland, the crisis of drug use is exacerbated by treating it as a criminal issue. This approach creates a paradigm where those who suffer from drug addiction are disregarded as ‘junkies’. We can then ignore these individuals, believing we ‘would never end up like them’. This in turn reinforces divisions within the working class and leads many to be unconcerned with the inhumane manner in which the police deal with drug users. This is not only callous and needlessly cruel, but more importantly, ineffectual. It is neither successful in combatting PDU in working-class communities, as is evidenced by the 1,339 drug deaths in Scotland, nor is it even financially viable.
Viewing drug addiction as a criminal issue as opposed to a health issue is one of the most expensive failures of liberal idealism. PDU comes with a cost of £500 million per year in Edinburgh alone. The prime cause of HIV in Scotland is the use of unclean needles, and the average lifetime cost of treating one person with HIV is £360,000. A Safer Drug Consumption Facility (SDCF), on the other hand, would cost just £2.35million, according to a Glasgow City Integration joint board. The UK Advisory Council on the misuse of drugs concluded that Safer Drug Consumption Facilities (SDCF): “save more money than they cost.”
But what is an SDCF? An SDCF is a place people can go to safely administer their drugs, instead of vacant stairwells, or hunched in doorways. A place drug users can access clean needles, instead of having to reuse or share needles. Medically trained personnel remain on standby to resuscitate people in the event of overdose. These facilities will also offer resources for visitors to start the process of recovery, and rebuild their lives: citizens advice to help them register with a doctor; a housing service to help them access homeless accommodation and find long-term accommodation; counsellors to help them address some of the deeper, psychological issues causing them to turn to drugs in the first place.
It’s important to stress this: SDCFs save lives in longer-term ways than reversing overdose. SDCFs set working-class people from being drug addicts, homeless, jobless, existing on the periphery of society, and restore them to a dignified life.
SDCF’s have been trialled in many countries, from Canada to Portugal, and they have always delivered on their goals. In Portugal, when SDCFs were implemented, they saw 776 overdoses in one year– but not a single death. With professional supervision, everyone was kept safe. Concerns around the creation of antisocial behaviour, littering, or other issues around these sites were proven specious, as none of these problems materialised.
When confronted on the drug death epidemic back in 2021, Nicola Sturgeon said the SNP government had: “taken their eye off the ball”. I fail to picture Sturgeon casually dropping by one of our blocks of social housing in Wester Hailes, to tell the bereft mother of a victim of drugs that she’s sorry she ‘took her eye off the ball’. Everyone of those 1,339 deaths represents a partner, a parent, a child, a friend gone forever, and lives shattered without them. This should be a national scandal, but since it only affects the ‘junkies’ in Muirhouse and Milton, not the middle-class voters in Morningside or Bearsden, it can be shrugged-off as some innocuous hiccup, like a hasty typo in a tweet. Everything about this response, highlights the utter contempt the so-called Scottish National Party hold for the working people who built Scotland.
Contrast this to what our nation’s brave leader, the mascot of ‘independence’, had to say about the death of Queen Elizabeth, the object of reverence for supporters of the United Kingdom. Emblazoned on the website of the SNP, are the commiserations of Sturgeon, including the frankly bizarre claim that Elizabeth Windsor: “inspired us, on occasion comforted us, and always personified values we hold dear”.
Whilst I’m unsure which particular values of mine were embodied in the late divine ruler of the peasantry, it is clear to see the difference in framing the SNP offers the tribulations of the working class, compared to exaltation of a 96 year-old monarch doing what is by far the least surprising thing a 96 year-old can do. Perhaps the values in reference are those which motivated the SNP to guide our country to the highest rate of child poverty in Europe? Or maybe they served as inspiration to completely commodify housing, and virtually forbid the average worker from the faintest prospect of homeownership? You shall own nothing, you shall be content, and you shall be to your landlord true and faithful. God save the King. No wonder so many have turned to drugs in this increasingly-feudal nightmare.
We as communists recognise that SDCF’s will not solve the drugs issues faced in Scotland or Britain – that can only come from addressing the route cause; the capitalist economic system which has created these problems. We are doing this to start the battle on this front, to protect the working class, and to dissolve the capitalist-made divisions within the working class through solidarity.
- The immediate implementation of an SDCF in Edinburgh with the view to build more in the city, Scotland, and Britain.
- A change to laws regarding drug possession and consumption, which will reduce the number of dealers, combat the proliferation of drugs in communities, and support those who abuse drugs, offering them an exit strategy.
- Investment in the NHS sectors related to drug issues.
- An end to homelessness and unemployment which influence PDU rates, which we recognise will only be truly achieved by the overthrow of the capitalist system.