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MORAG LINDSAY: A mistake repeated becomes a decision and when it comes to drugs deaths that’s unforgiveable

The lorry that got stuck on the Law in Dundee.
The lorry that got stuck on the Law in Dundee.

We all make mistakes. What counts is the gravity of their consequences and their impact on other people.

I had an important video meeting with a seriously impressive woman this week. So five minutes beforehand, and 10 months after my last encounter with a hairdresser, I cut my fringe with my sharpest scissors (the ones I use to open parcels and trim the old dog’s back end).

Was it a mistake? Yes. But the only harm was to my self esteem and frankly at this point in my retreat from civilised society who cares?

On Tuesday, a lorry driver got hopelessly lost and tried to drive his 40ft low-loader and its cargo of pipes to the top of the Law in Dundee.

The lorry trapped on the Law.: Paul Reid

Anyone familiar with the narrow winding route that snakes around the city landmark will have spotted the flaw in this plan.

But the driver was a stranger in these parts and only realised the error of his ways when his HGV became stuck fast around the monument at the very top.

The four-hour operation to dislodge it – involving specialist equipment, numerous members of the emergency services and a crowd of excitable onlookers, including a man with a cockatoo perched on his shoulder – was the talk of the town.

Terry O’shea and his cockatoo Shorty enjoyed the drama.

And while it wasn’t quite on the scale of the Ever Given container ship mishap that blocked all trade along the Suez Canal for a week we’ll take any drama going at this stage in the pandemic.

Was it a mistake? Hell yes. But again no one got hurt. Shorty, the cockatoo, had a good day out and our writer got to trot out a Clash lyric – “I fought the Law and the Law won” – in the headline so not a bad day’s work all things considered.

They say it’s only really a mistake if you don’t learn from it. Google it. There’s a whole gallery of motivational quotes of the Paul Coelho (“A mistake repeated more than once is a decision”) variety out there.

Maybe Nicola Sturgeon should be printing one of them off and pinning it to the office wall. Because her statement during Tuesday night’s leaders debate that her government had “taken its eye off the ball” on drugs deaths is about as close to an admission of a mistake as you’re likely to get from a politician.

Nicola Sturgeon and her opponents in the STV leaders’ debate. Supplied by STV.

Not surprisingly it’s been seized upon by her opponents, particularly here in Tayside where 118 people lost their lives to substance misuse in the last year for which records are available.

The 72 deaths in Dundee in 2019 amounted to a record high, a sixth consecutive annual increase and the highest rate per head of population in Scotland, which had the worst record in Europe.

Writing for The Courier the following day, Michael Marra called for a renewed focus on recovery as the pandemic recedes, saying “Dundee deserves so much better”.

Dundee councillor and Scottish Labour list candidate for the north-east Michael Marra.

Mr Marra is on Scottish Labour’s north-east list for the Scottish Parliamentary election. He has political skin in this game. But he also has years of experience in this issue, as a councillor for the Lochee ward and a campaigner.

Go and read it if you missed it. He speaks with insight about Scotland’s peculiar relationship with street valium and the fractured addiction support system highlighted by the Dundee Drugs Commission in 2019.

Some might say it’s to Nicola Sturgeon’s credit that she owned up to her mistake on such a public stage; others that she had no option.

But having done so, the pressure is now on her and her Minister for Drugs Angela Constance to show their eyes are very much back on the ball when it comes to reversing the death toll.

Drugs minister
Angela Constance, minister for drug policy.

People can forgive mistakes. We’ve all been there. But a mistake repeated becomes a decision, remember, and when it’s the life and death kind that’s a different matter entirely.

I never met the Duke of Edinburgh, unless you count standing in the drizzle while he glowered from the back seat of a Range Rover at the reporters trying to make out what colour of hat his wife was wearing to Crathie Kirk that day.

But I got my measure of him when he and the Queen opened Aberdeen University’s new library in 2012.

These things are planned with military precision, from where the photographers stand to who gets to meet the royals to the moment they are bundled into the back of the limo to do it all over again at their next engagement.

The Queen carried out her queen stuff with aplomb, arriving at the end of the line right on cue, then turned back to see her husband just a third of the way along among a gaggle of hand-shakers laughing in that way you do when someone’s cracked a really inappropriate joke.

And I swear she had the exact same resigned expression my mum wears when she gets to the checkout and my dad’s still blethering to someone he just met in the beans aisle.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 2014. The couple were married in 1947: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

She seemed human is what I mean. So while I won’t be doffing my cap at today’s televised funeral or sending angry letters to the BBC, I will be thinking about an old lady whose life must be feeling a lot emptier.

Grief is a kicker, whether you’re in a Dundee tower block or Windsor Castle, and a bit of compassion goes a long way.

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