Why the Left Has a Responsibility to Lead the Way on Substance Addiction

Craig Bolton discusses why the Labour Party must lead the charge in reforming the way drug addiction is addressed.

Addiction renders an individual both mentally and physically incapable of ceasing their use of a substance, irrespective of any detriments it poses to them (Felman, 2018). This definition of addiction was published by Medical News Today and it demonstrates how addiction has reached its long overdue status as a disease which preys on vulnerable inhabitants of society. Addiction has numerous forms, but our focus here is drug addiction. Being contingent on drugs is not just a nefarious torment for users, it ultimately kills them. Alderson (2019) reports how in Scotland, life expectancy is 13 years less for impoverished individuals when compared to the most prosperous, with drugs being an enormous influence on deaths, as 1,187 people succumbed to a drug related death in 2018. So, although anyone who suffers with the affliction that is substance dependence can be considered vulnerable, it is also incontrovertible that addiction disproportionally impacts on the most vulnerable in terms of income and wealth

The political response to this by the incumbent Scottish National Party has been to pledge support for supervised drug consumption facilities. In doing so, they have requested amendments to the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act which would devolve the relevant authority and enable them to establish these facilities in Scotland. The SNP are also committed to addressing the structurally inequalities which are determining these unfavourable outcomes. (Costello, 2019). Although this progressive and compassionate policy should be applauded, one cannot help but think the SNP are disguising their pursuit of full Scottish autonomy with apparent concerns for drug addicts. If their primary concern was the welfare of people suffering with addiction, then they surely would endeavour to help as many addicts as they possible could. Now, it is undeniable that statistically speaking addiction related deaths are a more pressing concern in Scotland (Brooks, 2019). However, this does not mean there are no people who suffer in other regions of the UK. As self-proclaimed progressives and the third largest party at Westminster, the SNP should argue for a UK wide rollout of these facilities. Instead of insisting on more border divisions, they should collaborate with England, Wales and Northern Ireland when addressing the social injustices which expose vulnerable people to this sickness. No addiction recognises borders. Therefore, Labour must assume responsibility and formulate the policies which will lead the way on substance dependence.

The question begs to be asked where Labour exactly are on drug addiction? Well, the Labour Party Manifesto (2019, p.34) did acknowledge these individual afflictions as being part of wider structurally inequalities pertaining to health. This recognition of how inequality is a prominent factor in how these disadvantageous social outcomes are moulded is a positive step. The Labour Party Manifesto (2019, p.34) also committed to treating drug, alcohol, and gambling addictions as public health issues and would remedy them by increasing the availability of support services. This represents another constructive step by Labour, however there is a mere paragraph dedicated to these afflictions and it is ultimately insufficient. For example, an arguably more effective position would be to propose the immediate decriminalisation of all drugs. This would stop vulnerable people being punished for their own vulnerability, should they be found in possession of drugs which are for personal consumption. Or a small amount of drugs that an addict intends to sell to prevent their own malnourishment. Furthermore, Labour should transcend both their manifesto and previous support for trial runs of supervised drug facilities (Busby, 2019) and back full implementation of these facilities across the UK. Not only would this provision a safe environment for addicts, by doing so, they can also vanquish yet more nationalist dogma from the Scottish National Party and demonstrate why cooperation is the necessary means for alleviating this epidemic. Surely, a party which considers itself advocates of the vulnerable and disempowered has a responsibility to lead the reform on how drug addiction is addressed.  

Craig Bolton works full-time in the printing industry. He is also studying for a BA Honours degree in Social Sciences part-time with The Open University. He was a Parliamentary Candidate for Scottish Labour at the 2019 General Election representing Edinburgh West CLP. He is also a loving father to a 3 and a half year old daughter. He has struggled with drug problems in the past, but was able to overcome this.

He tweets at @Bolton4EdinWest.



Alderson, R. (2019) ‘Deprivation, affluence and a shocking health gap’ BBC News, [Online] Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-49343740

(Accessed 11/07/2020)

Brooks, L. (2019) ‘Scotland records huge rise in drug related deaths’ The Guardian, [Online] Available at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jul/16/scotland-records-huge-rise-in-drug-related-deaths

(Accessed 11/07/2020)

Busby, M. (2019) ‘Labour supports trials of consumption rooms to cut drug deaths’ The Guardian, [Online] Available at https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/mar/04/labour-supports-trials-of-consumption-rooms-to-cut-drug-deaths

(Accessed 11/07/2020)

Costello, G. (2019) ‘We’re taking urgent action to tackle Scotland’s drug emergency’ Scottish National Party Website [Online} Available at https://www.snp.org/were-taking-urgent-action-to-tackle-scotlands-drug-emergency/

(Accessed 09/07/2020)

Felman, A. (2018) ‘What is addiction’ Medical News Today [Online] Available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323465

(Accessed 05/07/2020)

Labour Party (2019) ‘It’s time for real change’ The Labour Party Manifesto, [Online] Available at https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Real-Change-Labour-Manifesto-2019.pdf

(Accessed 06/07/2020)










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