I was fooled, but with the best in­ten­tions

The Press and Journal (North-East) - - AGENDA - Ross Thom­son is the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Aberdeen South Ross Thom­son

Ihave to hold my hands up and say that I was duped, 100%, by the team be­hind a prank TV show about drug mis­use on Chan­nel 4. As re­ported in The Press and Jour­nal yes­ter­day, the ‘Min­istry of Jus­tice’ film crew fooled me – as well as for­mer Cab­i­net min­is­ter Iain Dun­can Smith – into think­ing that they were gen­uine.

For any read­ers who are un­aware or who have not seen the video, a TV pro­duc­tion com­pany asked me to take part in a pro­gramme about drug mis­use.

The in­ter­view was ar­ranged through my par­lia­men­tary of­fice – as is stan­dard prac­tice.

Dur­ing the course of the meet­ing, I was shown a fake video pre­sen­ta­tion, in which I was told that a new smart­phone app had been de­vel­oped to de­liver drugs.

The video also in­cluded footage of a “co­caine fac­tory” in Colom­bia. I re­acted in a way that many peo­ple might – I was shocked and I said so.

I also made ob­ser­va­tions about the way in which the smart­phone app was pre­sented – to make it ap­pear cool to young peo­ple.

It is now clear that the whole thing was a scam – along very sim­i­lar lines to the Brass Eye satir­i­cal show in the late 1990s, on which var­i­ous politi­cians and celebri­ties were conned into be­liev­ing that a brand new drug called Cake was on the mar­ket.

Ob­vi­ously, this all makes me feel very fool­ish. I take my role as a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment very se­ri­ously, and we all like to think that we would not fall vic­tim to this type of ruse, no mat­ter how plau­si­ble the team’s cre­den­tials ap­pear to be.

But I think there is a dan­ger here of miss­ing a more im­por­tant point.

Yes, I was taken in, but my re­sponse came from a gen­uine place. I care about this sub­ject pas­sion­ately.

Il­le­gal drugs are a scourge on our society. Th­ese sub­stances wreak havoc on the lives of fam­i­lies across the north and north-east of Scot­land and par­tic­u­larly in my con­stituency of Aberdeen South.

I have sat in surg­eries and lis­tened to des­per­ate sto­ries from peo­ple look­ing for help for their sons and daugh­ters caught up in the spi­ral of ad­dic­tion.

One woman re­cently lost her 32-yearold sis­ter – a woman who left be­hind three chil­dren.

Her mes­sage was sim­ple: “Get th­ese drugs off the street by pre­vent­ing the sup­ply in the first place.”

The re­al­ity is that this is a bat­tle that we are cur­rently los­ing.

Scot­land’s drugs-death rate is now two and a half times higher than the UK av­er­age, and sig­nif­i­cantly worse than any­where else in the EU.

I don’t think we are tough enough on drugs in this coun­try, and I make no apolo­gies for that stance.

Our courts should be hand­ing down puni­tive sen­tences on those who deal drugs and crim­i­nals who spread the poi­son that ru­ins the lives of so many.

How­ever, tough ac­tion against deal­ers does not mean ne­glect­ing users.

We need to pro­vide ef­fec­tive treat­ment for those re­cov­er­ing from an ad­dic­tion. We must treat those who have ad­dic­tions and en­sure sup­port for their fam­i­lies and loved ones.

I know the dev­as­ta­tion that drugs can cause to in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties.

I served on the board of the Aberdeen City Al­co­hol and Drugs Part­ner­ship, which brings to­gether or­gan­i­sa­tions in­volved in tack­ling drugs from polic­ing to so­cial care, from hous­ing to health.

We looked at the ef­fec­tive­ness of drugs strate­gies and worked to im­prove drugs ser­vices in Aberdeen. We en­sured that the views of ser­vice users, car­ers and mem­bers of the pub­lic were fully con­sid­ered in the de­vel­op­ment of those strate­gies.

From my time on the board, it could not be clearer to me that by tak­ing a soft-touch ap­proach to drugs pol­icy, the SNP gov­ern­ment is los­ing the fight.

Cur­rent pol­icy on polic­ing and jus­tice has led to a weak­ness in en­force­ment and sen­tenc­ing.

To com­pound this, fund­ing to al­co­hol and drugs part­ner­ships across the coun­try has been cut, af­fect­ing the ser­vices avail­able to sup­port peo­ple into re­cov­ery.

We need a new drugs strat­egy. One that has more em­pha­sis and fo­cus on re­cov­ery, one that pro­vides the sup­port, ad­vice and re­la­tion­ship of trust needed to help peo­ple to man­age their sit­u­a­tion, to pre­vent harm­ful drug use and help them beat their habit.

I can take some re­as­sur­ance from the fact that I am not the first, nor am I likely to be the last politi­cian to be conned in this way.

In fact, I have dis­cov­ered to­day that Tony Blair, Jeremy Cor­byn and David Cameron are among the other politi­cians tar­geted by th­ese very same film­mak­ers.

I will be a lot more care­ful in fu­ture. How­ever, I hope that this sorry episode does not de­tract from the im­por­tant de­bate we need around drug abuse in this coun­try.

Yes, I was taken in, but my re­sponse came from a gen­uine place. I care about this sub­ject pas­sion­ately

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