Political leaders urged to 'redouble' efforts to tackle drugs deaths and poor mental health

The Church of Scotland is urging political party leaders to redouble their efforts to tackle the country's "appalling" record on drugs deaths and suicide.

Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly, is holding online meetings with MSPs tomorrow and will press them on what action is and will be taken.

Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair
Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair.

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 has been at the forefront of supporting people living with addictions in Arbroath in Angus since 2006.

Renewed focus on tackling poverty

He set up the Havilah Project at St Andrew's Parish 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 believes that the response to the recovery must focus not on putting the world back the way it was but with a renewed effort to tackle poverty.

It acknowledges that the impact of the pandemic, particularly on children and young people, the elderly and those without access to the internet, has been severe.

Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament

Dr Fair is holding online meetings with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the SNP, 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 Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh as part of the Moderator's annual visit to the Scottish Parliament.

Mental health crisis

Speaking ahead of the meetings, 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.

Scott-Hutchison
Marion Hutchison and her family are determined to use the "voice" that the Frightened Rabbit frontman has given them to campaign for better mental health services. Scott Hutchison by Michelle Shiers.

"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.'

Other issues on the agenda include an independent review of adult social care – a topic that affects CrossReach, the operating name of the Church's social care council, which provides services across the country.

The Church has not taken a position on the Scottish independence question but Dr Fair will make clear to MSPs that it wants to be an influential voice when it comes to debate about what kind of country Scotland could be.

With a presence in communities across the country, congregations are well placed to play a role as "enablers of passionate and courteous discussion".

Marion-Hutchison
Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair and Marion Hutchison

The Church of Scotland engages with governments and parliamentarians on a regular basis to discuss a wide range of topics of mutual concern and to try and find a way to work together for the common good.

Dr Fair said he acknowledged that some people think religion and politics should be kept separate but he does not share the view.

"The Church cares about people and the communities it serves and people and communities are affected by every single decision made by politicians and political institutions," he added.

"So, of course we're interested and concerned about politics in the broadest sense, not party politics."

The Church will seek a meeting with the new leader of the Scottish Labour Party in due course.