Cross Party MSPs Launch Landmark Petition to Tackle Drug Death Crisis

Cross Party MSPs Launch Landmark Petition to Tackle Drug Death Crisis

On Thursday 18th July a cross party group of MSPs are launching a landmark petition to push the Scottish and UK Governments to reconsider their approach to drug use and how it is policed in Scotland.

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP (Scottish Liberal Democrats), Neil Findlay MSP (Scottish Labour), John Finnie MSP (Scottish Green Party), and Alex Neil MSP (SNP) have collectively launched the petition to push the Scottish Government towards action given the fact Scotland has the EU’s highest rate of drug deaths

The text of the petition reads

Scotland is experiencing what can only be described as a drug death crisis.

We have one of the highest levels of drug deaths in the world – with the situation getting worse each year. 

We cannot continue as we are.

We, the undersigned, demand immediate action to address the levels of addiction, overdose and deaths associated with drugs use in Scotland.

We call on the Scottish and UK Governments to address this major public health crisis by taking an evidence led approach to policy that examines all options, including decriminalisation. 

This unprecedented step calls for the governments of Scotland and the UK to take an evidence based approach to what is now a public health crisis, including the radical step of considering decriminalisation of certain drugs.

Portugal decriminalised personal possession of drugs in 2001 and implemented a major harm reduction and public health programme. Drug deaths subsequently fell from more than 1,000 a year to around 50 per year.

The Cross Party Group of MSPs said:

“We cannot arrest our way to a drug-free society. We have to deal with this crisis as a public health problem, rather than pretend it will go away with tougher sentences and a harsher regime for those caught in possession. This is fanciful and delusional thinking.

“The governments in Edinburgh and London have to rethink their approach and start to realise that record numbers of people are dying on our streets. This is avoidable and we have a responsibility to recognise that the current model is not working.

“As a cross party group of MSPs we are calling on both governments to change course, before it is too late.”

You can sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/the-scottish-government-end-scotland-s-drug-crisis

Continuing As We Are Is Not Acceptable- Rise in Scotland’s Drug Death Rates

Today it’s been announced there have been a record number of drug deaths in Scotland in the past year, 1,187. This number has doubled in five years. Including 67 deaths in the Highlands and Islands, up from 37 last year.

It is shocking to see Scotland with the one of the worst drug death rates in the world.

From tackling heroin and the AIDS threat in the 1990s to minimum unit pricing on alcohol, Scotland has a track record in harm reduction, which prioritises the health and safety of our people over moral judgement.

It’s needed now more than ever.

We have seen London take an interest in Scotland’s approach to knife crime. Hopefully now the UK Government will take notice of progressive thinking on drugs policy, but I have my doubts.

Drug harm is a national emergency. Sadly, the UK Government, who continue to hold all the legislative strings, appear to have little interest in Scotland’s public health crisis. Currently they are obsessed with Brexit and who will be the next prime minister.

What could Scotland do as an independent country though?

When it comes to drugs, criminalisation has caused more harm than it can claim to have prevented. The ‘war on drugs’ approach has self-evidently failed.

Addiction is better tackled by trained medical professionals, not with the strong arm of the law, and dangerous substances need to be taken out of the hands of gangsters.

Drug deaths in Scotland are now around three times that of the UK as a whole. Sadly, the stigma surrounding drug use as a criminal activity means there is not enough public outcry at these deaths.

I am proud that the Greens don’t care about looking tough. We must look at the evidence and save people’s lives, preventing harm and tackling addiction.

John pledges to fight MS during MS Awareness Week

John pledges to fight MS during MS Awareness Week

 

This Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness Week (22-28 April), MS Society Scotland were in the Scottish Parliament to raise awareness of the important role research plays in the lives of people affected by MS.

 

MS affects more than 11,000 people in Scotland and can cause problems with how we walk, move, see, think and feel. But the MS Society is driving research into more – and better – treatments.

The charity currently funds 10 research projects in Scotland with the studies receiving over £3.56million over their lifetimes.

MSPs from across the country attended a reception at Holyrood to hear from some of the leading names in MS research and people living with the condition.

John pledged his support for the crucial research being done in Scotland to stop MS.

 

John  said: “I’m pleased to be able to show my support for this important campaign. MS affects many of my constituents and everyone should be able to get the treatment, services and support they need. I will continue to work with my constituents, fellow MSPs and organisations to drive this campaign forward. As I know first-hand from my work in previous years as a Director of the MS Therapy Centre in Inverness, MS is a condition that affects hundreds of people in my region, both those diagnosed with the condition as well their families and friends.”

 

Morna Simpkins, director of MS Society Scotland said: “This MS Awareness Week we are highlighting the importance of MS research.

 

“For more than 11,000 people in Scotland, living with MS is a daily reality. This is why the MS Society is driving cutting-edge research into more – and better treatments to ultimately stop MS.

“By contributing and joining a global group of fundraisers people can help us find new treatments for people living with the often painful and exhausting condition.”

MS is an unpredictable condition that is different for everyone. It affects how a person thinks, feels and moves. For support and information, please contact the helpline on 0808 800 8000.

You can read John’s Speech in the Parliament marking MS Awareness Week here- http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=12053&i=109069

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Announced as Beaver Species Champion

John Finnie was announced this week as the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s new champion for the Eurasian beaver and as first order of business welcomed the new legal protections for the species, despite Tory attempts to block progress.

The Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee this week agreed to add the beaver to a list of European protected species, which will mean they can only be culled under licence and after other management steps have failed.

John said the decision to give legal protection was ‘vital’ and blasted the Tories for seeking to continue a free-for-all on indiscriminate culls.

Commenting further John said:

“The beaver is a keystone species because of the multiple benefits it can have on biodiversity and Scotland has already benefited from their reintroduction – but sadly they have been targeted for indiscriminate killing, including of pregnant mums and their young.

“That’s why Greens have pushed consistently for these vital legal protections – but the Tories should hang their heads in shame for trying to roll back the clock instead of boosting Scotland’s precious biodiversity.”

John Backs Climate Strikers Across Highlands and Islands

John has written to each local authority in the Highlands and Islands urging them to back young people who choose to strike from school to highlight the urgent need for climate action.

An estimated 15,000 people took part in a wave of climate strikes across the UK in February, inspired by 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Now, John has written to education bosses at local authorities urging them to support – and not to punish – young people ahead of the planned global strike on 15 March 2019.

Citing Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence and its objective of young people becoming ‘responsible citizens’ and the First Minister’s call for the voices of young people to be heard, John has implored councils to understand the struggle faced by young people who will grow up in a world gripped by total climate breakdown unless transformative action is taken immediately.

John said:

“The climate crisis – and how we all respond to it – will now unavoidably define the lives of young people at school in Scotland today. Many are, completely rationally, fearful for their futures and those of young people around the world. It’s clear why they feel compelled to speak out and urge stronger action from governments and corporations who have not just failed to tackle this crisis but who have caused it.

“Local councils should support young people who chose to strike for the climate – after all, they epitomise what it means to be responsible citizens. They should certainly ensure that there is no threat of any form of punishment.”

 

John at a recent Climate Strike outside Lochaber High

Park The Hysteria

(Originally Published in the Herald 16th February 2019)

 

Last month the Scottish Parliament voted for the £42.5billion Scottish Budget thanks to a deal between the Scottish Greens and the SNP. In previous years Greens have focused on securing funding for vital local services and this year we went much further.

 

We secured a package of measures that will reform how local government is funded, making taxes fairer and giving public sector workers and the services we all rely on security and stability. Part of that package was government support for my amendment to the Transport Bill, which aims to give local councils the power to design, consult upon and introduce a workplace parking levy if they choose.

 

This modest measure has attracted the combined fury of the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, aligned together behind a hysterical tabloid campaign that has been misleading at best. To those outside the Holyrood bubble, the cause of the current apoplexy must be baffling.

 

As the Herald’s political editor Tom Gordon observed in these pages last week: “Local governments across Europe raise and collect numerous taxes. It is the norm. Two decades on, Holyrood should surely be more adult about tax, and let councils get on with it.”

 

My proposal is based on powers that local councils in England have had for 18 years. It was first proposed by the UK Labour government but removed by the Labour-Lib Dem Scottish Executive when they caved in to pressure from the business lobby. It has been implemented by a Labour-run council in England, and Labour councillors in Edinburgh have called for it. Lib Dem MSPs used to support devolving such power but are now inexplicably opposed to it.

 

The Tories’ knee-jerk reaction was predictable but for Labour and the Lib Dems to perform such a rapid hand-brake turn reeks of opportunism. They are happy to play along by talking about “The levy proposed by the SNP and the Greens…” when there is no proposed levy.

 

Why would political parties who claim to be concerned about air pollution, climate change and local democracy rage against such a win-win policy? Could it be that they actually distrust localism?

 

The Scottish Greens believe in local decision-making. We want to rebuild local democracy in Scotland so that communities have more control to address the issues that affect them, just like local government in most other European countries. Powers to introduce a Workplace Parking Levy where appropriate – and powers to introduce a tourist tax, which we also secured as part of the Budget negotiations – are small steps towards this vision. Once introduced, however, it’s not for MSPs in Holyrood to develop such schemes. That is the job of Local Government, who understand and are able to engage with their communities, and are able to tailor policy so that it has the impact it needs to have.

 

Is it any wonder that public trust in politicians generally is so low, when some parties so readily misrepresent and exaggerate? And all to cover their own unwillingness to engage constructively in a parliament of minorities, where every day presents an opportunity to help our communities. Mind you, public trust in local councillors is greater than for members of parliament, so perhaps it’s a case of jealousy from certain MSPs that explains their irrational desire to hoard powers centrally.

 

As for the actual benefits of a parking levy, should a local council decide it’s an option they wish to pursue, let’s remember the public health crisis we face in towns and cities across Scotland.

 

A series of reports have outlined the impact of traffic fumes – including detrimental effects on teenage mental health, a huge reduction in intelligence among children growing up in polluted areas, and a record number of asthma deaths. *  On top of that, road congestion costs the UK economy nearly £8 billion a year.

 

In Nottingham, the decision to levy a charge on large employers came about after transport officers found that congestion was a significant problem in the city during peak commuter times. The charge of £400 per year per space is passed on to half of the car drivers affected. There are exemptions for emergency service workers and Blue Badge holders, and an extensive business support package.

 

The council has ensured alternatives such as car clubs and bike hire, travel planning support, and integrated ticketing for public transport. It has resulted in a big shift toward public transport, walking and cycling. Climate change emissions are down by a third. Revenue of over £50million has been raised and reinvested in the city’s transport infrastructure.

 

Campaigners and academics this week wrote to all five Scottish political leaders in frustration at some parties’ attempts to mislead and spread falsehoods about an idea that has been shown to deliver benefits to public health, the environment and the economy. Organisations such as WWF and the Confederation of Passenger Transport see the opportunity presented by my amendment. I look forward to delivering a power local government in Scotland should have had long ago. It will bring us a step closer to a transport system fit for the future.

We Must Prioritise Better Buses

This article was first published in the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald and other Scottish Provincial Press publications.

You may have heard of a report recently produced by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston.

The report has been widely cited as it takes an in depth look at the pernicious social security policies of the UK Government, describing the Tories flagship policy change, Universal Credit, as “Universal Discredit”. Professor Alston also highlighted the hugely gendered nature of the UK Government’s atrocious programme of social security cuts commenting that it looked like it had been designed by, “a group of misogynists in a room.”

One aspect of the report, which has not had a great deal of coverage so far relates to bus services.

The report states, “Transport, especially in rural areas, should be considered an essential service, equivalent to water and electricity.” I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, and it is one of the reasons I started my Better Buses campaign, which aims to capture the experience of bus users across the country.

Bus patronage has been falling year on year, and while the Scottish Government’s Transport Bill does propose some initiatives in relation to bus services, it does not go anywhere near far enough, and will do nothing to offer communities, particularly those is rural areas, the good quality services that they need.

Local Councils should be empowered to provide bus services that serve the needs of our diverse communities, many of which are currently cut off from services, with commercial operators deeming them unviable.

The Scottish Government does provide some funding to support the provision of services, but it announced a cut of £7 million to this support in its draft budget.

While the current system of bus operation is complex and frustrating, it is disappointing that the Scottish Government is neither providing the necessary financial support, nor suggesting a new model to support communities.

Around a third of people do not have access to a private car, yet the Scottish Government’s transport policies are almost exclusively focused on this mode of transport. Government policies should focus on the needs of everyone in our communities, not only those who have a car.

We need to tackle the issues of congestion, air pollution, and climate change urgently.

Academy Street in Inverness city centre is among Scotland’s most polluted streets, and air pollution is responsible for around 2500 deaths in Scotland each year. It is therefore vital that we encourage folk to leave their cars at home, but we can only achieve this if we make the alternatives more attractive.

If we are going to do this the Scottish Government needs to prioritise bus services, which are reasonably priced, clean, and reliable.