Tag Archives: ben lawrie

Reflections on my first year as Drugs Policy spokesperson

It’s been a year since Alex Cole-Hamilton appointed me  Scottish Lib Dem  spokesperson for Drugs Policy. This is a new portfolio shadowing the Minister for Drugs Policy Angela Constance in response to an increasing trend of drug-related deaths in Scotland that has made us the Overdose Capital of Europe.

Since my appointment I have sought to learn, make connections and speak to people most affected by substance misuse while putting forward common sense proposals such as accelerating the rollout of Naloxone (overdose prevention kits), introducing supervised consumption centres, and calling for widespread drug law reform at the UK level. Here’s one TV interview with GB News where I put forward such proposals:

My primary focus  is reducing overdoses and drug-related deaths.  My first job involved travelling to Holyrood to attend a vigil  for Overdose Awareness Day.

I spoke to people who have lived with addictions and families who have lost loved ones to overdose. I even had the honour of meeting Peter Krykant, a former addict who took action into his own hands to start up Scotland’s first ever mobile overdose prevention centre in the back of a van. After being shown around the back of Peter’s old ambulance which  he’s modified into a mobile safe consumption centre, and upon hearing about all the lives he had saved, I was struck by the power of direct action, and how often it’s ordinary people taking matters in to their own hands who achieve far more than Government Ministers ever can.

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Happy Burns Night!

On 25th January 1759, Robert Burns was born. 263 year later, Scotland celebrates its most famous national poet with haggis, neeps, tatties, poetry, song and more than a small amount of decent single malt.

Whoever runs the Scottish Government digital comms for today is probably going to be feeling a bit sheepish tonight:

 

I got to wondering how Burns would deal with social media. Imagine the Twitter pile on the lady with the louse on her bonnet would get if Rabbie had live tweeted from the church service. The wider points Burns was trying to make about social justice and the importance of all life would have been entirely lost.

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about Burns’ poetry. You might have the vividness of Tam o’Shanter, the tenderness of Ae Fond Kiss and the humour of odes to mice and lice, but there’s the dark side. Telling henpecked husbands to charm their wives with the magic of a switch is never going to spark joy in my feminist heart. And he also advises the guy to kiss her maids and kick the perverse….well, it rhymes with switch.

And in the Rights of Women, he said women should have protection, decorum and admiration. You know, the vote would have been nice. You know, some actual political power. If I was writing this in Burns’ time, the copyright would have belonged to my husband. 

Nevertheless, the Edinburgh South Burns Supper is one of the highlights of my year. On Saturday, I gave the Reply to the Toast to the Lassies in a virtual event. It was bittersweet to be doing it over Zoom.

I had never been to a Burns Supper before about 2012 when I first went to the South one. Since then, I’ve been on the Naughty Table every year.

For those of you who don’t know, a traditional Burns Supper goes something like this:

The Selkirk Grace kicks off the proceedings. It’s simple:

Some hae meat and canna eat,And some wad eat that want it,But we hae meat and we can eat,Sae let the Lord be Thankit!

The Haggis is piped in and someone does a dramatic reading of Burns 1786 Address to a Haggis. On Saturday this was performed by Edinburgh South’s Rebecca Wright with so much spirit and passion. She really needs to think about a career in acting. And I am a bit scared of her, having seen her wield that knife.

Then the Chief Guest of Honour delivers the Immortal Memory, a personal reflection on Burns’ life and relevance to the modern day. On Saturday night that was delivered by Alex Cole-Hamilton and was one of the best that I have heard. He had us all in stitches with his Burns Style account of the Downing Street parties.

Then there’s a Toast to the Lassies. In the not too distant past, Burns Suppers were all male affairs and this element was served with a large amount of cringeworthy sexism. In these more progressive times, Angus Councillor Ben Lawrie, also the Scottish Party’s Spokesperson on the Drugs emergency was absolutely brilliant  He talked abut his love of Tam O’Shanter:

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Scottish Lib Dems call for measures to end the drug deaths emergency

In an emotional debate this afternoon, the Scottish Liberal Democrats passed a motion on ending Scotland’s drugs deaths emergency:

Speaker after speaker talked about the need to see the people not the numbers.

New leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, whose professional life before politics was helping disadvantaged young people, showed how important this issue was to him by proposing the motion. His speech was so effective, compassionate and caring.

Culture spokesperson Joe McCauley talked about the deaths of two of his family members.

It was a such a powerful and emotional speech.

I spoke about my friend Tracy, and her son, Nathan, who died in March at the age of 20 from an overdose of street valium.

It is so important that we reaffirm our commitment to treat drug use as a public health issue, and ensure that people caught in possession of drugs are referred for treatment and help, not put through a justice system that isn’t working.

If the justice system worked to deal with these issues, Nathan would have emerged from court and prison in better shape than he went in.

Just two days before he died, he was arrested. The day before he died, he appeared in court. He wasn’t offered any help with his issues.

Tracy told the Daily Record last month:

I begged police to make interventions with him when he was a teenager, to get him out of the way of drug dealers.
“But the bottom line with them was always the same.
“They never discussed diverting him to treatment or doing anything other than arrest people.”

“I just feel that if we had arrived at where we are today and there were proper professionals who understand trauma able to speak to him, he could have had a fighting chance.”

She feels that if the changes that Dorothy Bain announced last month had been in place a year ago, Nathan would be alive today.

After the motion passed, Alex said:

Scotland has the worst drug mortality in Europe. Nearly four times the rate of our neighbours in England and Wales. We cannot continue to witness this epidemic destroying lives.

“Despite the focus of an entire ministerial portfolio, additional investment and interventions like the rollout of naloxone, people are still dying at the same terrifying rate. That is the legacy of years of prior government inaction.

“Government must be open to learning from international best practice. It is why I have written to the Director General of the WHO to ask for a specialised taskforce, made up of leading experts in drug mortality, to analyse and mobilise against this particularly Scottish epidemic.”

And our spokesperson for the drugs death emergency Ben Lawrie said:

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Lib Dems react to “empty” announcement on drugs policy change

This week, a landmark announcement from the Lord Advocate means that people caught in possession of a Class A drug could be given a warning rather than prosecuted and instead referred to support services.

From The Guardian:

Individuals caught in possession of class A drugs in Scotland could be issued with a police warning rather than facing prosecution, in a significant policy shift announced by the country’s new lord advocate as a direct response to the ongoing drug death crisis.

Dorothy Bain, who was appointed to the role in June, said the decision to give police discretion over class A drug offences did not amount to decriminalisation but told MSPs there was “no one size fits all response” to dealing with drug addiction.

She added that the policy did not extend to drug supply offences and that neither offering a recorded police warning nor reporting a case to the procurator fiscal prevents an officer referring a vulnerable person to support services.

Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton says that this is not enough to address the crisis:

Scottish Liberal Democrat requested this statement back in June, and I was grateful to see her here today, despite the empty answer.

The government has insisted for years that diversion has been an important response, but we’ve just discovered today that it only happened 57 times in 2017/18.

The number of people imprisoned for possession only is the same now as the number we saw decade ago. The SNP are failing to turn policies into practice once again.

Thousands of children are affected by parental imprisonment and drug misuse. It is time the SNP starts acting and effectively supporting these families.

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Lib Dem council candidate Ben talks about his Depression

Yesterday my attention was taken by this excellent video of a young man talking about his experiences with Depression posted on the BBC’s The Social Facebook page.

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