Minneapolis riots

No doubt you’re aware of the events currently unravelling in Minneapolis and now across other American cities. With so much noise and confusion on the subject we at the ACU thought we would do our best to provide our readers a timeline of the causes and responses to this wave of civil unrest that has swept across the United States. 

On the 25th of May police were called to Cup Foods– a supermarket in Minneapolis- as it was reported by the teenage clerk behind the counter that a man by the name of George Floyd had attempted to use a fake $20 bill to pay for his groceries. It was never proven if this $20 bill was a forgery or not. When the police arrived on the scene four officers restrained George after pulling him out of his car. The police force would later claim that George was resisting arrest, a claim which has not been backed up by any video evidence, but bystanders did manage to capture the image of Derek Chauvin- one of the arresting officers- kneeling on George’s neck. During the film George repeatedly pleaded that he could not breath, and eventually lost consciousness. The crowd can be heard begging the officers to let him up at this point, with people pointing out that he was not resisting and that he had a bleeding nose. Officer Chauvin did not respond to these pleas and instead kept his knee on George’s neck for a total of 8 minutes; he did not release his grip on the man’s neck until 7 minutes after George had started gasping for air, 6 minutes after the crowd had started to beg for the man’s life and 3 minutes after George had lost consciousness. Instead Derek put his hands in his pockets and maintained the choke hold that would take George’s life, with three officers in support who at no point acted to prevent their colleague from murdering George Floyd. George never regained consciousness from the police assault and died from his injuries in hospital. 

The video of this incident would go viral and strike a chord with many communities across America, with its brutal similarity to the racially charged murder of Eric Garner (17 July 2014), where Eric also repeatedly said on video that he could not breathe as police officers used a chokehold to bring him to the ground. He was also pronounced dead at a hospital hours later. 

The local government in Minneapolis was quick to respond to the outcry and all four officers involved in the arrest of George Floyd have been fired. The mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey released a press statement on how the incident showed just how far America still has to go in terms of racial equality. The same day, members of George Floyds family began to push for the four former police officers to be charged with murder, feeling that simply firing these individuals did not go far enough to deliver justice. The next day Mayor Frey would add his voice to this demand for justice.

By the 28th of May prosecutors were still undecided on whether or not to charge Derek Chauvin for the murder of George, and as a result of this indecision and the slow action of authorities, protests began in the city, in front of the police station. Similar protests in support also got underway in other cities across America. Once these peaceful protestors had been outside the police station for nearly half a day, the police force opened fire into the crowd with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. 

The next day, President Trump tweeted out several things regarding the protests, including calling the protestors thugs, offering the support of the military to the Governor of Minnesota Tim Walz and ending by quoting Miami police Chief Walter Headley from the 60’s- a man famous for his bigotry and racism to the black community in Florida- saying, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”. This, alongside the violent police response the day before and the release of information showing that Derek had been involved in 18 police complaints– including one involving the shooting of another person of colour- only raised passions further. 

In the most decisive blow ever struck by Liberalism against the Trump administration, Twitter, seeing the reckless incitement to violence of the commander-in-chief, decided to… put a warning tag on the tweet.

On the same day another video became public as a CNN news crew was arrested live on TV. The video showed the black newsman asking multiple times if where they were standing was okay with the police, while showing his media pass. The police never responded and then put the man under arrest whilst not reading him his rights. The entire crew was released later that day but the incident only served to further distance the police from public sympathy by highlighting another incident where they broke the law to put yet another black person under arrest without cause. 

This was the day that Derek Chauvin was finally put under arrest. He had been in police custody from the night of the incident, but this was actually a police protection measure as there had been credible threats on his life, rather than as part of any formal criminal proceedings: where he had previously been treated like a witness under protection, he was now being treated as a murder suspect. However, another point of contention emerged as the charges were revealed; third degree murder and manslaughter, without any of the other arresting officers being formally charged. The charge of third degree murder- essentially murder without foreknowledge, malice or intent- became especially difficult to justify when it emerged that Derek had known George for 17 years, having previously worked in security with each other. 

Protesters again took to the streets and this time burnt down a police precinct, after looting and redistributing goods from a Target supermarket. 8pm on Friday, Mayor Frey declared a curfew that started at 8pm that night. 

Saturday began with Trump threatening to use the national guard to suppress civil unrest; a terrifying prospect for anyone concerned about human life, out of the 12 times this has happened previously in American history, 10 of these times had been in response to black communities protesting state violence and 8 of these deployments resulted in the National Guard using firing on American citizens. Trump’s words clearly had the desired effect as later last night the Governor released a statement that 80% of those arrested had come from outside of his state, a claim unsupported by arrest records, which show that those arrested were predominantly from inside Minnesota and Minneapolis. This false pretext has since been used to justify the full mobilisation of the National Guard. At the time of writing, no one has yet been killed, but with 2500 troops heading into the state, with maybe 12000 more mobilised across the US- ostensibly to assist in the coronavirus pandemic response– this looks likely to change knowing the historic reputation of the Guard.

We at the ACU would like to encourage readers to support the protests in any way they are able. For those of us watching across the world, the most easily accessible avenue for support will be the Minnesota Freedom Fund.

Pandemic Perspective: Community Response in Vietnam

As the coronavirus pandemic affects nations across the globe, we should continue to consider the circumstances which have helped or hindered countries in handling the situation. With this in mind, friend of the ACU Ian sheds light on Vietnam’s response measures.

Ask anyone what comes to mind when you mention Vietnam and they will probably respond with one of two words: war, or communism. Vietnam’s civil war began in 1955 between the communist led North Vietnam, officially the Democratic Republic of Vietnam(DRV) and South Vietnam, officially the Republic of Vietnam. The USA provided support to the South Vietnamese from the beginning. This was part of US efforts to curb the spread of communism worldwide, efforts that would eventually lead to a ground invasion of Vietnam in March 1963, which didn’t end until 1973 when all US personnel were withdrawn from the country. 2 years after this withdrawal the North Vietnamese and their southern Việt Minh allies captured Sai Gon in the south, bringing an end to the 20 year conflict known in Vietnamese as Kháng chiến chống Mỹ cứu nước (“Anti-American Resistance War for National Salvation”).

North and South Vietnamese governments finally united in 1976 forming the modern Socialist Republic of Vietnam and this new united government was immediately faced with the task of rebuilding the country after a devastating war in which an estimated 1,353,000 Vietnamese were killed. The war itself was over, but with countless people wounded or suffering from the effects of America’s use of poisonous chemicals such as Agent Orange, the aftershock would be felt for many years afterwards. Other damage from the war included villages and arable land being littered with mines and unexploded bombs, an economy in ruins and the destruction of critical infrastructure. Rebuilding efforts were made even more difficult by a trade embargo imposed on Vietnam by the USA in an attempt to economically isolate the fledgling nation that had so valiantly fought for its independence. This embargo lasted for 19 years.

Despite all of the challenges the nation has faced, Vietnam has persevered and in recent years has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Since 2010, Vietnam’s GDP growth has been at least 5% per year, and in 2017 it peaked at 6.8%. With such rapid economic growth, the country grew from one of the poorest countries to a comfortably middle-income one. Whereas its GDP per capita was barely $230 in 1985, it was more than ten times that in 2017 ($2,343).

Vietnam has experienced almost miraculous success in the face of adversity, and this article will address another situation in which the country has been incredibly successful – the 2020 world coronavirus pandemic.

We’ve all seen by now that with few exceptions, the coronavirus pandemic has expanded at an alarming rate, particularly among western countries. The U.S government, much like the UK, has been strongly criticised for its lack of coherent nationwide response measures, with many commenting that eventual implementation of response measures have been too little, too late. As a result of the Trump administration’s dysfunctional handling of the pandemic, federal scientists have predicted that the U.S is likely to see millions of people infected, with a sobering prediction of over 100,000 deaths.

By contrast, the number of COVID-19 cases in Vietnam, according to the government’s figures, is staggeringly low.

So far the South East Asian nation has reported just 245 cases of the disease, with 95 recoveries and, almost unbelievably, zero recorded deaths. They have only 2.99% of the number of cases it’s neighbour China has, and 0.072% of the cases of the nation with the highest recorded cases (the USA). The mortality rate of 0% is incredible compared to countries (Spain and the U.K) which are experiencing rates of over 10% and in addition to this, on April 4th Vietnam reported no new cases of the virus for the first time in over a month.

Vietnam’s first case was recorded on January 23rd when a Chinese national from Wuhan who had travelled to Ha Noi to visit his son tested positive for COVID-19. Since then Vietnam has averaged only 3.6 new cases per day – in complete contrast with the USA’s 4,432. I have no doubt that by now you must be wondering how it’s possible that Vietnam, a country which shares such strong ideological ties, a 1444km land border, and counts China as its largest trading partner, can possibly have been so successful in controlling the spread of the coronavirus pandemic despite being so closely associated country from which the virus emanated.

How exactly has Vietnam managed to keep its numbers so low?

On January 24th, one day after the first confirmed case of COVID-19, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and acting Minister of Health Vũ Đức Đam held an emergency meeting with the World Health Organisation and the Steering Committee for Emerging Disease Prevention. At this meeting the Deputy Prime minister ordered the activation of the Covid-19 Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. He also declared that the government had many measures prepared to prevent the proliferation of the new coronavirus threat. The government made good on these declarations and wasted no time implementing these emergency measures.

Authorities immediately started to pursue a strategy of identification, isolation and testing. Anyone who had come into direct contact with infected individuals were found, quarantined, and tested for COVID-19, with those testing negative being released. These measures were originally considered to be drastic by WHO recommendations, however they proved to be extremely successful, with the WHO praising Vietnam for “doing a good job in monitoring and quarantining those suspected of contracting the virus and in treating infected patients, ever since the nation detected the first infection cases”.

On January 24th the Civil Aviation Authority announced a ban on flights both to and from Wuhan, China. A week later this ban was extended to include all flights to and from China. Vietnam also stopped issuing tourist visas to Chinese nationals from epidemic stricken areas in order to reduce the chance of other outbreaks.

In the first week of February and just over two weeks after the first recorded Covid-19 case educational authorities throughout the country announced the closure of schools and universities. On February 14th these closures were extended until February 23rd. This has been extended until the present and at present a date for them to re-open has yet to be announced.

On Thursday 13th of February, provincial authorities in Vinh Phuc Province quarantined Son Loi Commune after seven people tested positive for the virus, including a 3 month old child. A total of 311 people were quarantined, with a total of 10 eventually testing positive for COVID-19. Provincial authorities established disease checkpoints, distributed free face masks, established mobile food shops and provided a daily monetary food allowance for those in quarantine.

As of Tuesday 25th of February there had been 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vietnam, and just over a month after the first case the Deputy Prime Minister announced in an online meeting that “With all modesty and eagerness to learn, Vietnam has so far controlled the Covid-19 epidemic well”. Vietnam went through a period of 20 days without seeing any new infections until March 6th, when an Englishman returning to the country tested positive. This was the start of a second wave of infections, which Vietnam had hoped to prevent with its use of targeted travel bans. By this point however the epidemic was turning into a pandemic, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to prevent new arrivals carrying the illness coming into the nation as the virus has already spread over most of the globe.

On the 18th of March Vietnam stopped issuing visas to foreigners trying to enter the country. Those with visa exemption status were required to submit documentation proving they had tested negative for COVID-19. People arriving from the U.S., European countries, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were also required to stay in quarantine camps for 14 days. These precautions again proved justified when it was found that of the 68 new COVID-19 patients, 59 had returned from abroad.

By March 27th, the number of cases increased to 163. In response to this the Prime Minister rolled out new measures to strengthen COVID-19 prevention and control. These measures include: cancellation of events attended by more than 20 people, and the banning of gatherings of more than 10 people in public places. Religious ceremonies and cultural, sporting and entertainment events were suspended. All non-essential businesses and services were also ordered to close. Four days later on March 31st the government announced yet further measures to limit the spread of the virus. They demanded the implementation of social distancing throughout the entire country. Public gatherings of more than 2 people are banned, with citizens being required to keep a minimum distance of 2 metres in social interactions. Everyone is requested to stay at home and only go out when absolutely necessary, such as trips for food, medicine, emergency care or for working at essential businesses, factories, and services that have been allowed to continue operating.

“Households are advised to keep a distance from households, villages from villages, communes from communes, districts from districts, and provinces from provinces,” according to the directive.

In addition to these measures, the Ministry of Health (Bộ Y tế) has been sending regular texts to everyone in the country with updates on the situation, advice on how to prevent the spread of the disease and with messages of encouragement to help fight the pandemic. To give you an idea of the content, here is the first message, sent on February 4th.

For those of us not fluent in Vietnamese, Google Translate provides this:

Another Ministry of Health text(translated using Google), also sent on February 4th, reads:

In Vietnam we see a national government treating the virus seriously from the very first case, coordinating with the WHO and designing a quarantine that would provide support, both financial and material, to those affected.

Although an extensive array of measures have been employed, Vietnam’s success in fighting coronavirus lies not only in the government’s response, but in the communist nation’s culture. Simply put, Vietnam is a collectivistic society which manifests in a close long-term commitment to the “member” group, such as a family, extended family or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount and informs most other societal rules and norms. Such a society fosters strong relationships, where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group, whether it’s your family or your neighbourhood. The coronavirus crisis seems to have reignited the collectivism that still exists at the heart of Vietnamese society, which seemed to be diminishing as a result of Westernisation and the rise of Neoliberal individualism that follows on the coattails of Westernisation. Vietnamese citizens from all walks of life have united and are determined to beat the disease. Put simply, Vietnamese people have a greater tendency to care not only about their own health, but the health of the wider community.

In addition to being collectivist, Vietnamese society also prides itself on its pragmatism. In pragmatic societies, people believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions easily to changed conditions and a strong propensity to persevere to achieve desired results. Vietnam’s measures to control the spread of COVID-19 have been criticised by several Western media outlets as being “aggressive” or even “authoritarian” but despite this criticism, the pragmatism of Vietnamese society has contributed to Vietnam’s citizens ability to adapt their behaviour and lifestyles so swiftly to cooperate with the governments’ directives, and has certainly been a major factor in what has been an incredible effort from government employees and officials, healthcare workers and ordinary citizens in combating a potentially devastating pandemic.

I would like to end the article by sharing a personal anecdote which I believe reflects the pride that the Vietnamese people feel for their nations’ collective effort in inhibiting the spread of COVID-19. At the end of my online class on April 4th, one of my students, 12 year old Justin (his chosen name), asked me not to leave the class yet- he had some good news he wanted to share with me. He then told me that various media outlets had reported that Vietnam had recorded zero new cases of coronavirus. I said that was incredible news and I asked how he felt about this. He said, “I’m very happy for everyone in Vietnam that we can stop coronavirus together”. I believe his attitude is reflective of the majority of vietnamese in this difficult time, and is one of many factors which has led to Vietnam being so triumphant in its approach to the fight against the disease which is currently ravaging nations across the globe. Vietnam is a nation where people take pride in their community, a nation born from a long 20 year struggle, and despite the onslaught of westernisation and neoliberal individualism, has managed to preserve and stoke the communal fire in this time of crisis.

The Election and Ayrshire.

The results from the general election are in, and I’d be lying if I said I was anything other than disappointed. England has turned almost completely blue, and while Scotland itself has turned away from its flirt with Toryism, its not turned to the left. We’re going to take a look at the results in Ayrshire, the UK as a whole and what this could mean for the future.

Unlike last time I won’t go through each of the four constituencies in Ayrshire as they all tell a similar story. The whole of Ayrshire is now represented in Westminster by the SNP, with the Tories coming in second and losing their seat in Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock. In every seat Labour lost a voting share of around 10 to 14 percent, and are no longer the second party in Kilmarnock and Loudoun. While this loss has largely been the SNP’s gain- their voting share went up by around 8 to 10 percent in each seat- we can’t know if this has been a shifting of party preference or tactical voting from Labour supporters hoping to keep the Tories out. It does at least look like Labour weren’t losing voters to the Tory party here. With former mining towns in Yorkshire and elsewhere in England turning blue, this might not be as absurd a fear as once thought. Indeed, Kensington- the constituency where the Grenfell tower fire happened- also voted Tory. At least we can take some solace in the fact that there’s no longer a Tory MP in Ayrshire.

 

Across Scotland the SNP made massive gains, even managing to unseat the standing Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson. A Lib Dem leader losing their seat is becoming something of a tradition now. The SNP are already pushing for these results as a mandate for a second referendum, and with protests in Glasgow the day after the election against Boris as PM there is clearly some visible groundswell behind this idea. My concern however, is two fold: firstly, that while the SNP have gained a sizeable share of the vote, some or even most of this could have been tactical voting by supporters of other, unionist parties that were worried about Brexit and Boris. Scotland voted overwhelmingly against Brexit, and now the SNP will have to position independence as a question of remaining in the UK or the EU. Will this be enough to convince the unionist remainers to still support the SNP? How many will go back to supporting the union when asked to put an X next to a Yes or No ballot?  My second concern for the SNP is that despite positioning themselves further to the right than in 2017, they didn’t manage to gain many Conservative voters, instead taking a big share of Labours voter base. The SNP may therefore see fit to move further to the left, as they could be able to secure these gains from the Labour electorate long term. However, my concern is that they might see this as a battle already won- the Labour party in Scotland is in the worst state it has been in living memory-and instead double down on trying to secure the sizable part of the Scottish vote that is to the right.

A protest in Glasgow against the election results.

As a whole the UK has been washed over with a tide of blue. As mentioned before, even mining towns in Yorkshire and Wales, once hit the hardest by Thatcher, are now Tory seats, and the language of the party’s supporters is already transforming into something resembling an English nationalist party, with figures like Tommy Robinson openly supporting the party and even joining its membership. The Tory party is taking on a more nationalistic, jingoist, Britain First rhetoric rather than the traditional and bland pro business and small c conserative slogans they tended to advocate for. With new found working class support the Tories find themselves in the unique position of competing with the Brexit Party for votes that were once securely Labour. What changes this might force the party through is uncertain, but with as big a personality as Boris in the PM chair the role of Prime Minister is increasingly taking on a more presidential shape and image.

While the mainland has had significant upsets Northern Ireland is not any less interesting, with the nation set to join Scotland as another country of the union in which separatist parties are gaining ground. For the first time in history Sinn Fein has won the seat of North Belfast, and in another first shock Unionist MPs are now outnumbered by Republicans. With the SNP in Scotland and the DUP losing in Northern Ireland, it seems the Tory victory in England and Wales might have come with the cost of a disunited United Kingdom.

 

Labours results have been nothing short of devastating. There are a myriad of factors contributing to this- I do not believe the blame lies solely at Corbyn’s feet, or with his socialist policies. He had been leader in 2017 with similar positions and saw an increase in voter share larger than Brown or Milliband, who were firmly to the right of Corbyn’s labour. Two factors were different this election, the first being Brexit. Labour conceded ground to the centrist, middle class part of their voter base to argue for a second referendum, and here we see their downfall. Corbyn himself had embraced the leave vote the day after the referendum but quickly took a party position of trying to reconcile the working class leaver and middle class remainers within the voter base and Labour found itself pulled apart by two opposing forces, resulting in hamstrung fence sitting about the biggest question of this election. Unable to reconcile these two diametrically opposed views Labour lost a big part of its voting share to the Tories. It’s clear that playing a middle ground, centrist position doesn’t work, evidenced doubly in how badly the Lib Dem’s fared, and that the centrist Labour defectors lost all of their seats.

Boris was mocked for constantly repeating “Get Brexit Done”, but this is what a large part of the electorate wanted to hear. Labour’s inability to provide a clear position was something the Tories could hammer into again and again.

The second major issue for Labour this elections was the media. Losing a lot of its subtlety the Murdock papers slammed Corbyn and McDonnel as if they were a red menace with Bolshivik loyalties and the BBC found itself ill equipped and unmotivated to counter these claims or give Labour a fair trial. We saw accusations of racism levelled at Corbyn, a man who had spent his life as an anti racist campaigner, at a time when the Tory government is supporting antisemetic governments like Hungary and Suadi Arabia, openly threatening traveler communities in its manifesto and has been caught deporting black citizens in the Windrush Scandal. This isn’t to say that The Labour Party doesn’t have a problem with antisemitism, or that Jeremy Corbyn has done enough to address the issue. But clearly the media have decided to hold Labour to a higher level of scrutiny, while the Conservative government have embraced racism and antisemitism as party policy.

Instead of holding to task the powers that be, various senior media figures were having daily meetings with the PM and trying to both sides issues on which the evidence clearly showed the Tories were in the wrong. It’s not a coincidence that Corbyn was the only leader this election whose approval rating went up the more people engaged with him or that Liverpool, a city that has banned Murdock propaganda, is the only city that remained firmly red. Boris meanwhile, found himself avoiding Andrew Neil and literally hiding from reporters in a fridge. You have to question the integrity of a media landscape where one man is acknowledged as the sole journalist that will hold leaders to task, and simply avoiding an interview with him means avoiding all significant scrutiny.

The years ahead for Labour will be difficult, and many within Scotland are already arguing that Scottish Labour should embrace independence, another issue which might split the party.

What does this mean for Ayrshire? The next few years are going to be difficult, Brexit looms over us all and Ayrshire stands to lose more than most. The SNP might have a mandate to pursue independence, or at least a second referendum, but there is no legal apparatus to push for this if the Prime Minister does not give his blessing – which Boris has repeatedly said he will not do. The rise of republicanism in Northern Ireland might not lead to separatism and a united Ireland, but could still lead to trouble in Ayrshire, as we have always been more involved in the politics of our Celtic brothers across the sea and have our own troubled history with sectarianism. Vital services might also be under threat soon, as the day after the election Damian Green, a Tory MP, openly said that the nation will need to move to an insurance based healthcare system. All the while climate change is creeping up on us, and the time we have left to do anything about it is slipping through our fingers. What stands before us is an era of uncertainty, unrest and austerity, one in which Ayrshire, while not at the centre of many of these issues stands to be one of the hardest hit regions in the UK, as it has been in the past by political and social turmoil.

In times like these communities need to come together and support one another. Join your union at work; if you don’t have one this is the time to make one. Talk to your neighbours, friends and family and be sure to support the vulnerable. If you are so inclined, go out and protest, make sure people know how you feel about what’s happening. Go to your local food bank to see what you can do to help out. With the Tories in power all we can expect for the most disenfranchised in our society is more of the same neglect and disdain. A better world is possible, but it’s up to us to make it happen, together.

The Drug Crisis in Ayrshire

Ayrshire has always been an area affected by poverty and unemployment. These issues, combined with strained social services meant that a drug crisis in the area was almost inevitable.

Unfortunately, as the drug trade has boomed, organised crime has moved in, with police reporting there are now four serious and well organised groups profiting off the back of Ayrshire’s drug habit. Among the numerous measures the police have taken in response, some give cause for concern.

The police recently presented a report to South Ayrshire council stating that they had, over the previous year, put more funding into combating the rise of drug related crime, highlighting their tactic of targeting suppliers to strangle the gang’s income, as well as preventing these drugs from reaching buyers. This increase in funding has already shown results, with an increase in the number of drug apprehensions in Ayrshire compared to the same period last year.

New blood has been introduced with the appointment of Mark Hargreaves, taking over the role of Divisional Commander. Nicknamed the “Hammer of the drug dealers of Ayrshire” by the Daily Record- a title that’s a mouthful but invokes the right feeling of the man- Mark is a veteran of the police force of nearly twenty years and before moving to Ayrshire worked in the East End of Glasgow, as well as Pollock and Govan.  

Mark appears to be a man well suited to taking on the drug trade in Ayrshire, both in experience and in attitude. When appointed to the role he specifically called out drug use as a poison in communities, arguing that the presence of drugs in an area leads to an increase in more serious violent crimes.

One facet of this new anti drug trade strategy that is being implemented across Ayrshire is an increased emphasis on coordinating with the community and local businesses. This includes Taxi Marshals, street pastors and even pubs. One such incident resulted in three individuals being caught with drugs in their possession while out in Ayr in early September.

And therein lies the problem. The new spotlight on the drug problem across Ayrshire appears to target drug dealers, the people and gangs that profit from the trade and users together. Tactics like this have a history of falling apart, where the drug user is seen as a criminal rather than a victim. Instead, in areas like Portugal, where drug users are given treatment rather than jail time, far lower rates of drug use and drug related deaths are reported. Treating drug users like criminals leads to higher drug user rates and drug related deaths.

There are doubts surrounding whether or not the drug problem is getting worse in Ayrshire, or if we have simply been an area with historic issues. Ian Cavana, Counsellor for South Ayrshire, has in the past raised concerns over the narrative of increasing drug related issues in the area, instead suggested police are getting better at detecting these issues. Either way the rampancy of drug related issues is not a problem unique to Ayrshire, despite the 82 deaths reported last year; Scotland as a whole tops the charts in drug related deaths across the EU, and not by a small margin. We have nearly double the rates of Estonia, who placed second, and around three times the rate of the UK average; We also have one of the highest rates of drug use in the EU. With around 1.6% of the population estimated to be active drug users the reason behind Scotland’s depressing accolade is clear.

Benzos(like Valium and Xanax) are relatively new in terms of recreational use yet are now topping all other drugs as the leading reason for drug user deaths, with North and East Ayrshire ranking third and fourth respectively in areas of Scotland where Benzos make up the highest proportion of deaths, more so than all other drugs combined.

With new drugs entering into our community and claiming lives, what else is being done to cut off the impact of drugs in our area? The NHS offers services to help users quit drug addictions and groups like Addaction are now active in Ayrshire, trying to close any gaps in rehabilitation services. The question however, remains: Just how much enthusiasm and support do these services really receive from the powers that be?

In a recent East Ayrshire Council meeting Councillor Tom Cook said that a number of constituents had stated they find the presence of people picking up methadone from town centre pharmacies “off-putting”, with many saying “they don’t come in to the town centre because of that.” It was then suggested that the distribution of this treatment should be moved to pharmacies outside the town centre, which would further stigmatise and ghettoise sufferers of addiction, widening the gap between physical and social rehabilitation. While South Ayrshire has an incredibly high rate of supporting people to access alcohol and drug recovery services, constantly topping the Scottish Government’s target, the language of finding people recovering from addiction as “off-putting” speaks to the ongoing need to collectively undo decades of denigrating and dehumanising disinformation propagated by media and governments. This being considered by the council gives me doubts about the faith these institutions have in rehabilitation’s importance in fighting Ayrshire’s drug crisis.

While policies that seek to help users are showing to be successful abroad, is a policy of tarring drug dealers and drug users with the same brush really going to be the policy that helps our community?

Photo by Jonathan Gonzalez on Unsplash