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Think the unthinkable

Brian Taylor | 15:08 UK time, Monday, 9 June 2008

Herewith an opinion tendered by Holyrood's Presiding Officer, Alex Fergusson.

He writes: "Whatever your views and opinions of alcohol and drugs are, there is a good chance that 10 other people will disagree with you."

My only dissent would be numerical. I suspect the dispute factor might be somewhat higher - as responses to this blog may, in due course, indicate.

Mr Fergusson was previewing today's report from the Scottish Futures Forum, set up by Holyrood to think the unthinkable. (The "unthinkable" being defined as whatever an elected politican dare not advance.)

On this occasion, the Forum's report deals with drugs, part of a wider-ranging review of Scotland's nexus with addiction.

Among sundry bold statements, today's report advocates "consumption rooms" for addicts, the controlled and regulated sale of cannabis and the prescription of heroin instead of methadone.

Mr Fergusson did not have to wait long for disagreement to emerge.

His own erstwhile colleague, Annabel Goldie, said the Forum was effectively calling for "shooting galleries".

She implied that the authors were living in the past.

Ms Goldie, of course, was instrumental in encouraging SNP Ministers to develop a new drugs strategy which emphasises efforts to get users off drugs, rather than simply containing their habit.

Given that, it is perhaps understandable that she should seek to bolster the emerging new strategy, rather than pay heed to this alternative perspective.

However, I am not at all sure that it is helpful to be so instantly dismissive.

For example, here is a quotation: "Treatment interventions and recovery networks make one of the significant contributions to reducing alcohol and drug harm and should be strengthened over the short and medium term."

That could be a quote from Ms Goldie or from Fergus Ewing, the minister who announced the new strategy.

It is, in fact, a key recommendation from today's report.

Yes, the authors are advocating deliberately radical solutions. But they are trying, from a different standpoint, to bring about "successful and sustained recovery from drug and alcohol problems."

And the authors of the report? A team headed by a former Director of Education and a former Deputy Chief Constable. Scarcely anti-establishment. Why, they even contrive to quote Proust without laughing.

Do I think their report will be instantly adopted? No. Do I think it worthy of scrutiny and debate? Yes.


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