Scotland’s Kirk Moderator is to press political leaders to redouble their efforts to tackle the nation’s “appalling” drug deaths and suicide record.
In a series of online meetings with MSPs on Tuesday, the Rt Rev. Dr Martin Fair will seek answers over what action has and will be taken to curb the rising toll of tragedy.
A total of 1,264 people in Scotland died of drug misuse in 2019, a 6% increase on the previous year.
There were 833 probable suicides in Scotland in 2019, up from 784 the previous year.
Dr Fair, the minister of Arbroath St Andrew’s Church, has been at the forefront of supporting people living with addictions in the Angus town since 2006.
He set up the Havilah Project at the church, which also provides mental health support services introduced after the suicide of Frightened Rabbit frontman, Scott Hutchison, in 2018.
The Moderator will also urge party leaders to recognise that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a “disproportionate impact” on vulnerable people in the most deprived communities.
The Church of Scotland believes the response to the recovery must focus on a renewed effort to tackle poverty and not just putting the world back to the way it was.
Dr Fair is holding online meetings with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Douglas Ross of the Scottish Conservatives, Willie Rennie of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Greens.
He will also be speaking with Holyrood Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh as part of the Moderator’s annual visit to the Scottish Parliament.
Mental health issues high on agenda
Dr Fair said: “The Church is glad that the Scottish Government has worked with us closely throughout the pandemic to try and keep people safe.
“I am looking forward to discussing the many brilliant ways in which the Church has been involved in community cohesion and support efforts.
“Given my own particular interests, I look forward to discussing how the parliament’s recent decision to declare a ‘mental health crisis’ can lead to meaningful action.”
Dr Fair met Scott Hutchison’s mother, Marion, last September to discuss mental health issues.
“I also want to ask the First Minister and party leaders about strategies to tackle Scotland’s appalling drugs deaths and suicide figures,” he said.
“Although I am the Moderator of the General Assembly, I’m first and foremost a parish minister and these subjects are ever before me in the lives of real people.
“We’ve got to do better,” he said.
The Moderator’s message to political leaders comes just days after a new fund for drug support services opened for applications.
A pair of Scottish Government schemes will be able to award up to £1 million each to improve drug services and increase the capacity of treatment centres.
Charities and third-sector organisations with annual incomes under £1m can apply for “grassroot” grants of up to £50,000 aimed at growing and improving their work in communities.
A second fund will provide up to £100,000 to residential and community services, with the intention of increasing capacity for treatment.
Administered by the Corra Foundation, both funds opened for bids last week and will allocate money before the end of the financial year on March 31.
The funding is part of the £5m support package announced by the First Minister in response to Scotland’s record-high drug deaths.
The grim statistics represented the sixth consecutive year that drug deaths rose in Scotland.
Mental health crisis
Last week, Holyrood voted to declare Scotland is facing a mental health crisis, as charities called for radical action to safeguard the emotional wellbeing of the nation in the face of the pandemic.
MSPs united against the government to vote 65 to 58 in favour of the Lib Dem motion, after a previous attempt to get parliamentarians to declare a crisis was rejected in 2019.