THE stark differences in social attitudes to drugs policy between England and Scotland show the cultural divide and underline arguments for independence, two documentary makers have told The National.

Emily Brunsdon and Dominic Streeter, from Hide and Seek Films, have spent two years now working on their project on Scotland’s drug death rate. The two first came to Glasgow in 2019 when, Brunsdon says, the issue “was already a national crisis”.

There is a one-year lag to the release of Scotland’s drugs deaths figures. In December 2020, when 2019’s figures were finally revealed, they sent shockwaves across the country.

The data showed that 1264 people in Scotland had died from drug overdoses in just 12 months, double the figure for 2014, the worst rate recorded in Europe, and about three-and-a-half times the rate for England and Wales.

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Since then the issue has been front-and-centre in Scotland, with the SNP government even creating a new ministerial role to deal specifically with the crisis.

But there has been little change in policy as Westminster and Holyrood clash over competencies. Furthermore, Streeter is concerned that “Covid has really exacerbated a problem that was already extreme”.

He explains: “The way to control a virus is to get people to isolate and be on their own. It’s good practice in terms of controlling coronavirus but it’s quite harmful and quite dangerous for the drug-using community. It’s going to lead to higher levels of isolation, which is how you die from an overdose.”

The National:

Streeter (shown above with Brunsdon) says reversing an overdose is actually “quite easy … that’s what’s so tragic, people have just got to be there”. With all of the pressure of Covid and the associated lockdowns, 2020’s drug deaths figures seem likely to outstrip even 2019’s dark record.

But there is evidence of changing attitudes north of the Border.

The two English filmmakers say it was hard to find any Scots who thought addiction should be treated as a criminal issue, not a health one, which made it difficult to maintain a balance of views.

Brunsdon said: “It got to the point where it looked like we were picking out people who only said they wanted it to be a health-based approach. It seems that no-one here really wants it to be treated as a criminal issue. If we had shot that particular bit in England it would have been more 50/50.”

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Streeter drew attention to the totem issue of safe consumption spaces for drug users, asking: “There’s political will here in Scotland and there’s public support, so why isn’t there one?”

He went on: “The simple answer to that is that Westminster has blocked it. It’s just not good enough when there’s 1200 people a year dying from drug use in Scotland, we can’t wait six months, 12 months, two years, until Westminster have got their sh*t together. This is needed now. These are the lives of Scottish people.

“We share the view that on a very selfish level we don’t want Scotland to leave the Union, but when it comes to issues like that we completely understand why you would want to.”

But the issues created by the “red tape” of devolution are not “insurmountable”, Streeter says. He is sure Scotland “could do more and faster”.

“You could tell Westminster where to shove it and be a bit more militant around what is needed to save Scottish lives. Not take no for an answer, or red tape, or bureaucracy,” he says.

“We’ve seen through Covid that things happen quickly when it needs to. We’re wasting time with red tape and liaison between Westminster and Edinburgh. If it was any other health condition we wouldn’t tolerate it for two minutes.”

The film will be released “at the end of this year”. You can view the trailer here: