THE latest figures show there were 722 suspected drug deaths in the first six months of 2021 in Scotland.The headlines say this is appalling, but in fact it is a slight improvement, as 1% (nine) fewer people have died from drugs than for the same period in 2020. There is more good news, as there were only 35 such deaths of those under 25, representing a drop of 14 young deaths compared to a year ago. Even this tiny bit of progress is good news to all but the Conservatives, it seems.

Douglas Ross never misses a chance to repeat his mantra of “Nicola has taken her eye off the ball” as he demands instant access to residential rehabilitation for all drug addicts. Now Sue Webber, the Scottish Conservatives’ new spokesperson on drugs, churns out the same mantra.

Clearly her party has taken their eyes off the ball as they have not noticed that Angela Constance MSP is very much on the ball, listening to anyone who can contribute positively to the work of her drugs deaths committee to find workable solutions. For a start we are now getting more regular updates of the deaths.

The committee has acknowledged that we must ensure people are treated not only for their physical addiction but that well must also address their underlying mental health problems to have any hope of success. That is serious progress.

The Conservatives demand for mainly private clinics to be filled with addicts at £3-4k per week, for a treatment that only works for a small number of people, is no solution. Our 61,500 drug addicts would be in a very long queue for decades to get this treatment, as there are only 416 beds available in such clinics in Scotland. Most of these beds are filled with people from abroad, whose private insurance or governments can afford such treatments. We would need thousands of such beds and thousands of highly specialist staff to treat addicts in such facilities. This is simply unaffordable, even if we could prove that it actually works. Lining the pockets of multi-national private health clinics to profit from people’s ill-health is utterly immoral.

If Ross and Webber are serious about finding ways of reducing our drugs deaths then they should be concentrating on convincing their Westminster masters that Scotland must be allowed to introduce its own drug laws, allowing us to find and try new solutions to our particular problems. To do so would not only give hope to those trapped in addictions, it could well produce new, effective and affordable solutions to addiction that everyone in the UK could benefit from.

Max Cruickshank

DOUGLAS Ross was in full warring mode this morning at yesterday’s FMQs, demanding the FM call the terrible situation with ambulances a “crisis” and call in the Army. England has already called in the Army – does that mean England was in crisis before Scotland and is still in crisis?

I note he appeared in Holyrood yesterday morning in person after virtually appearing on Tuesday, because taking part virtually is not allowed in Westminster – three jobs DRoss will soon be meeting himself coming back. Considering no Scottish Tory found a backbone to speak against the loss of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit claimants, can he inform Jeremy Balfour (who was last week demanding that the Scottish Government give out more in child payments) that his party is taking away from poorer households much more than the Scottish Government is giving?

Most importantly, can all Tories be reminded that many who claim Universal Credit are working full time and, if the benefit was deemed to be inadequate during the pandemic and in need of the uplift, can they explain what has changed? The only changes I can see are an increase in inflation, increase in National Insurance and increases in utility bills and petrol.

Winifred McCartney

ALL talk and no action! It is said we will know them by their deeds! Well, that was very evident in the House of Commons on Wednesday night when voting took place on the opposition day motion to scrap the withdrawal of the £20/week uplift to Universal Credit.

Previous calls from more than 100 Conservative MPs and six former Conservative Work and Pension Secretaries not to withdraw the £20/week saw those very MPs abstain on the vote, guilty of the sin of omission. Guilty of plunging hard-working families into poverty.

Included were the six Scottish Conservative MPs, who in no represented their constituencies – so who are they representing, whose interests are they putting first?

This cut is the largest welfare cut since the establishment of the welfare state and the Conservatives should be thoroughly ashamed. But this cut does not stand alone, other attacks on low earners by the Westminster government include furlough ending this month and National Insurance increases. Other increases coming include rises in fuel charges and inflation running at 3.2%. Where does the PM’s commitment to “levelling up” across the country fit into this action? Where is the support for those working in our care sector, our supermarkets, our hospitals? This is yet again evidence of the Conservative government going after the easy option of the poor.

Catriona C Clark