Alex Massie doesn’t understand.
There’s a line that isn’t a first but, in this case, his lack of understanding and the conclusions he draws are more wrong than ever.
Massie went to private boys boarding school, Glenalmond College in Perthshire and was ‘educated’ (degree subject not mentioned) at Trinity College, Dublin. Despite this, he seems not to have read any of the research on the nature and the reasons for Scotland’s current high drug death rate and simply accepts that the current party of government is responsible for everything including phenomena that may, on further investigation, have longer roots, going back for decades or more.
By the same reasoning, England’s recent high knife crime is due to the lack of efforts of the Conservatives, in power now for more than a decade? I don’t think that. I think it has its roots in government policies going back for decades, in the failure of both Labour and Conservatives to deal with the massive inequality and lack of opportunity afflicting some communities.
So, what research is there on Scotland’s drug deaths and what does it say?
Drug-related deaths in Scotland 1979–2013: evidence of a vulnerable cohort of young men living in deprived areas by researchers at Glasgow University, published in 2018 in peer-reviewed BMC Public Health found that drug-related deaths (DRDs) were more common among those born between 1960 and 1980 and, especially, those born between 1970 and 1975.
After some very thorough investigation, the researchers concluded:
Age-standardised rates for DRDs among young adults rose during the 1990s in Scotland due to an increased risk of DRD for the cohort born between 1960 and 1980, especially for males living in the most deprived areas. This cohort effect is consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to the changing social, economic and political contexts of the 1980s created a delayed negative health impact.
So, to be clear, the researchers found that drug-related deaths are not high in Scotland as a result of the policies of the SNP or, for that matter of previous Labour administrations in Scotland or in the UK under Blair but are to a large extent the result of what happened to Scotland in the 1980s.
The researchers describe what happened:
It has been proposed that these mortality phenomena are best explained in terms of the interaction of the neoliberal political and economic policies of the 1980s (which favoured monetarist economic policies and led to a rapid rise in income inequality and an increase in unemployment) with the underlying vulnerabilities in the Scottish population due to historical regional and urban policy (which meant that the population in Scotland had different housing, employment and social context, which was more badly affected) [6, 7, 9, 10]. These policy changes may have impacted on health in the same way as in other countries [11,12,13]. Part of the Scottish population, particularly the working class living in the deindustrialising regions, may have been particularly badly affected by these dramatic changes of the 1980s [6, 10, 11, 14,15,16,17].
If this impact of political change was partially responsible for the mortality phenomena in Scotland, then the worst affected cohort of individuals would be those most directly exposed (i.e. working class, young adults first experiencing working life during 1979–1990). While more males would have been impacted directly in terms of job losses, females would have been affected by the loss of household income and the associated effect of the changing political context. There is, however, ambiguity around this exposure cohort; the timing of the exposure is rather indistinct with deindustrialisation occurring earlier  and the change in political approach persisted after [11, 12].
Note that the researchers do not just point to the ‘Thatcher‘ era and its ‘rapid rise in income inequality and an increase in unemployment‘ as at the root of this delayed effect now being witnessed under the SNP, but also to the longer-term ‘underlying vulnerabilities in the Scottish population due to historical regional and urban policy.’
Labour shares the blame for this longer-term failure to protect the people of Scotland, going back nearly 100 years.
Perhaps more worrying, the researchers see a risk that recent policies may be creating a new cohort of drug users for whom life will be short too:
There is also a risk that more recent exposures to a more ‘flexible’ labour market and greater conditionality and sanctions in the social security system, particularly for young working-age adults, may in time lead to another cohort at high risk [45, 46].
You’ll note that, unlike Massie, the researchers have sources to back them up. You can follow them up at: https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-018-5267-2
Thoroughly scientific though it may be and peer-reviewed, unlike the Times, critics will say it’s only one report.
I won’t elaborate fully on these but, making very similar points:
Both the Netherlands and Sweden have much lower rates of poverty than Scotland – crucially, opportunity is spread more evenly across their society. This is a result of the social policy of successive governments in those countries. So it is wider government policy that has the greatest bearing on the scale of a country’s drug problem.
Scotland’s drug problem has its roots in the harsh climate of 1980s deindustrialisation and the economic and social impact in the subsequent decades. Other countries chose a more interventionist approach by which the state created alternative employment and opportunity during these changes. This was not the policy in the UK. The consequence of this ongoing approach is a large and more entrenched drug problem nationally.
Scottish Drugs Forum: https://www.sdf.org.uk/blog-poverty-is-the-root-of-scotlands-fatal-drug-overdose-crisis/
We heard accounts which suggested that there is a particular link between problem drug use and poverty and inequality caused by the UK’s socio-economic policies of the 1970s and 80s—notably de-industrialisation.78 Dr Saket Priyadarshi, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, explained that the closure of Scotland’s industries—“everything from ship building, coal mining, steel industries and so on”—resulted in a loss of employment, and a loss of “meaning” in many Scottish communities.79 Dr McAuley added that these closures “may have impacted a population that was more dependent than others on those economies and industries”.80 Elinor Dickie, NHS Health Scotland, explained:
It appears that the policies in the ‘70s and ‘80s […] those changing socio-economic circumstances and the displacement of communities, disentangling their resilience, appears to have had a greater impact in Scotland.81
UK Parliament Report on Problem Drug Use in Scotland 2019 https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201919/cmselect/cmscotaf/44/4405.htm
I know these reports can be heavy-going but if you write for a big newspaper you have a responsibility not to mislead your readers.