Nicola Sturgeon’s admission that her Government “took our eye off the ball” over drug deaths was an “astonishing shrug of the shoulders”, the Scottish Conservatives have said.
During the STV leaders’ debate on Tuesday night, Tory leader Douglas Ross challenged the First Minister about the drug death crisis that has claimed almost 2,500 lives in two years.
Nicola Sturgeon replied: “I think we took our eye off the ball,” but she said the Scottish Government had set out a package of measures to try and address the crisis.
Former Conservative leader Ruth Davidson on Wednesday claimed the reason the drug crisis escalated was because of the SNP’s focus on independence.
Speaking at the launch of a Tory advertising campaign that warns the prospect of another referendum would “wreck” Scotland’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, Ms Davidson said: “We saw Douglas [Ross] land the decisive blow in the debate last night talking about drug deaths and Nicola Sturgeon shrugging it off as ‘we took our eye off the ball’.
“Well, actually, she did a bit more than that – she cut funding, she cut rehab and she cut beds, and people died.
“We called for, and were pleased with, the package that has come forward.
“But we shouldn’t have had a situation where the number of people dying from drug-related harm in this country has doubled under her watch.
“I think it was an astonishing shrug of the shoulders from her last night.
“I think when people consider what she took the eye off the ball for, we all know where her eye was.
“We’ve got something really big and important that’s happening in Scotland and that’s going to be the Covid recovery and we can’t afford a First Minister that takes her eye off the ball for her preferred topic, which is independence.”
The SNP has repeatedly attacked Ms Davidson for her decision to join the unelected House of Lords once she stands down from the Scottish Parliament after May’s election, but the Tory has dismissed the criticism.
Ms Davidson said she was only invited to join the Lords 11 months after announcing her decision to stand down as an MSP, and she wants to push for Westminster’s upper chamber to choose its members through democratic elections.
She also revealed she has not been offered a future role in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet when she joins the Lords, and said: “I think it’s frankly quite amusing that people think that the Prime Minister might want me to be in his ministerial team.
“I’m going to be a backbencher, I’m going there to scrutinise the legislation, to challenge it, to make sure that I bring the experience from the Scottish Parliament to bear there.
“If I had wanted to stay in a big political job working with the UK Government, I could have stayed as leader of the Scottish Conservatives and I didn’t; I chose to step down,
“I’ve made a big change in my life, partly because of the arrival of my son.”
Reflecting on her prominent role in the Scottish Conservative Holyrood election campaign, she said: “Everybody knows that Douglas Ross is the leader of the party, I’m here to support him in any way that I can.
“I know absolutely that I made the right decision to stand down.
“When I look at Douglas on the television last night doing the ding dong of the debate, I used to love them but I was looking at it going: ‘thank God it’s him and not me.’
“I’m really pleased at the way he stepped up. I think he’s running a cracking campaign, and I’m here to help in any way I can.”
SNP Drugs Minister Angela Constance said: “The SNP believes a national mission is needed to tackle the drug death emergency Scotland faces.
“We remain committed to the introduction of medically supervised safe consumption facilities.
“We will explore every legal avenue in an attempt to establish them in Scotland and continue to engage with the UK government on implementing them in Scotland.”