Nicola Sturgeon: Record level of Scottish drug deaths 'not acceptable', says first minister

·4-min read

Record high drug deaths in Scotland are "not acceptable", Nicola Sturgeon has acknowledged as she told Sky News "we didn't get it right" in tackling the problem.

The SNP leader made the admission as she was challenged over the figures that showed Scotland suffered more fatalities per head than any other European country, with more than 1,200 lives lost last year due to substance misuse.

However, speaking ahead of next month's Holyrood election, the Scottish first minister told the Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme that her government had set out a package of measures to try and address the crisis.

Ms Sturgeon said: "We have tried to tackle the drug deaths but we can't look at the figures for the numbers of people dying and conclude that what we have done has been enough or has been effective enough so over the past few months we've done a number of things to make a concerted attempt to turn this around."

She added: "So, there's a whole package of policies and interventions now that we are taking forward to turn that around because, to be frank, it's not acceptable."

Pressed by Ridge over the 160% rise in drug deaths during the SNP's 14 years in power, Ms Sturgeon said: "Look, we didn't get it right.

"It's not because we didn't care, it's not because we didn't try to do things but we have concluded - because I don't think we can do anything else - that we haven't got it right.

"We haven't yet implemented the policies that have turned this around so we are going to redouble our efforts, we are going to try different things."

During her interview with Ridge, Ms Sturgeon also turned her fire on her predecessor and former friend Alex Salmond, arguing his approach towards Scottish independence was "almost contemptuous" of voters and risked putting people off.

She also again ruled out working with Mr Salmond's new Alba Party, if he does return to Holyrood after the 6 May election, repeating her concerns about his "personal conduct".

The former first minister was cleared of a number of sexual assault allegations at the High Court in Edinburgh in March 2020, although his lawyer said at the trial his client could have been a "better man".

Mr Salmond is hoping his Alba Party can help see a so-called "supermajority" for independence elected, believing this can lead to the start of negotiations with Westminster for Scotland to break away from the rest of the UK.

But Ms Sturgeon said: "We need a simple majority in the Scottish Parliament to give us the mandate for an independence referendum.

"Then of course we need a majority of the Scottish people to win independence.

"When I listen to people who talk about a 'supermajority' they sound as if they think we can just bulldoze our way to independence which is almost contemptuous towards those that we need to persuade."

She added: "I listen to the rhetoric around independence and it seems to skip over the need to do the hard work of persuading those who voted 'No' in 2014, many of whom are now open minded... but want to be persuaded and want to be treated with respect and want us to make a convincing persuasive case to them.

"I am not really interested in an arm-wrestling competition with other people about who supports independence the most.

"I am interested in persuading those who are open-minded but need still to be persuaded so that we build a majority for independence that then presses itself in a legitimate process, because that's how we win independence and that's what I want to do."

On the possibility of a future tie-up with Alba, Ms Sturgeon said: "No. I am not going to work with Alex Salmond. Firstly I have concerns about his personal conduct that he hasn't acknowledged or apologised for."

She added: "I don't agree with the approach to independence, because I think it is... risking putting people off rather than bringing people towards us.

"There is no shortcut to independence."