I've been highly critical of politicians in the past for failing to engage with drug policy as an issue that is vitally important to the safety and well-being of the people of the UK (eg bit.ly/LibDrugs ). So I was absolutely delighted to hear Willie Rennie's speech to the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference at the weekend in which he laid down the gauntlet on the issue and challenged Alex Salmond to pull his finger out and get to grips with it.
The message was one seemingly designed to engender sympathy and understanding for addicts, highlighting the difficult lives that have often contributed to their situations and calling for professionals to be given the freedom to deliver the personalised services that give each individual the best chance of turning their lives around.
For a politician to try to encourage sympathy for addicts is brave and admirable. A more hard-headed politician might have tried to encourage sympathy for the many victims of the acquisitive crimes committed by addicts, or the parents of the kids that dealers draw into the drugs underworld. Who knows, perhaps that tactic might be stage 2 of the campaign. If Alex Salmond doesn't rise to the challenge, I dearly hope there is a stage 2. Too many people will continue to suffer if we don't see policies change.
Here is the passage of the speech in full (with thanks to Caron at http://carons-musings.blogspot.com/2012/03/in-full-rennie-tells-scottish.html):
"Late last year I spent a day with Turning Point in Glasgow. They help drug addicts – they give them a chance to turn their lives around with support that addresses all the issues in the life of the addict, not just the addiction.
Drug misuse is a health problem, but the solutions are not only medical.
Addiction is often a symptom of wider and deeper social problems.
Mental health, housing, lack of work skills, victims of child abuse can be factors that lead to drug misuse.
Therefore the support needs to address all these needs rather than the symptom.
Scotland continues to face a drugs crisis with thousands of homes blighted by the addiction, with addicts forced to steal, prostitute their bodies and deal in drugs just to get through one day to the next.
Drug dealers are the parasites that feed from the victim host.
On my visit to Turning Point I met Mary.
Mary has a six year old son who is cared for by her brother. Mary was in crisis but still had hope.
Her ambition was to feed her boy breakfast and take him to school.
For most this is the daily norm, for her it was a lofty dream.
Mary deserves an opportunity just like anyone else. She deserves a chance to recover.
I think we owe her that chance.
Too often moral rather than professional judgements dominate the drugs dilemma.
Every drug addict is different.
There is no one-size-fits-all-solution.
We need a flexible and patient focussed approach.
We should not seek to restrict options for moral reasons but ensure that trained professionals are able to deliver the service they think best for the patient.
I’m not sure if Alex Salmond has visited Turning Point in Glasgow. I don’t believe he’s spoken to Mary.
He’s certainly not championed the issue.
I am sure he cares about it. I don’t doubt that.
But the time that a leader devotes is a reflection of their priorities.
The leader of the Scottish Government needs to look again at his diary and make the time to lead on drugs.
Our First Minister prefers to court the rich and the powerful rather than the dispossessed and the vulnerable..."