BBC Scotland’s go-to-guy on SNP anti-drugs strategy both wrong and corrupt


Former Glasgow University professor Neil McKeganey has long been BBC Scotland’s favourite go-to-guy when they wanted somebody to try to undermine the Scottish Government’s ant-drugs strategy. One rogue academic against the evidence of many experts; that’ll will be ‘balance’, I guess.

Now we hear, in the Herald today, that his research unit has been funded by those champions of addiction, the tobacco companies. What might their motivation for funding him be? Might they be worried that the decriminalisation of cannabis will affect their profits?

We saw at the SNP conference in October 2016 support moves to decriminalise and regulate the use of Marijuana for medical use. Needless to say, the UK Home Office has denied permission. At the same time, we can see the first steps toward price-control for that most deadly of drugs in Scotland, Alcohol. So, that’s two enlightened pieces of policy-making the Scottish Government can take pride in. There’s now a third, ‘supervised injection sites’ (SIS). These are places supervised by nurses and guarded by the police where addicts can inject with clean needles in a safe environment. Here’s what Susan Millar, chairwoman of the Alcohol and Drugs Partnership in Glasgow told the BBC about the value of SIS:

‘We believe it will improve the health of the target population as well as benefit local communities and businesses that are currently adversely affected by public injecting. People injecting drugs in public spaces are experiencing high levels of harm and are impacting on the wider community. We need to make our communities safer for all people living in, and visiting the city, including those who publicly inject. Similar schemes operate in 10 other countries, including Australia, Germany, France, Holland and Switzerland. ADP argues that those who inject on the streets are responsible for the majority of discarded needles which pose a health risk and contribute to public order problems. It also says street users experience problems such as homelessness, mental health issues and poverty, and are at heightened risk of blood-borne viruses, overdose and drug-related death, as well as other injecting-related complications. The Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF), a drugs policy and information organisation, has estimated there about 90 similar injecting facilities operating around the world, most of them in Europe.’

The SIS programme at UCLA in the USA also points to major benefits:

‘While conventional services in the United States include HIV counseling, outreach, and educational programs, safe injection sites are able to provide a plethora of additional benefits that are overlooked by such programs. As seen in countries that adopted these sites early on, heroin addiction rates have plummeted. In areas like Amsterdam, according to Dutch health services, virtually no heroin addicts under the age of 40 exist as their programs have successfully limited the rise of new addicts.’

So that’s the SNP conference, all the Scottish medical professions, the Scottish police force and evidence from abroad.  When you read that, it’s kind of a no-brainer, I’d say, but wait, one man disagrees and BBC Scotland with their commitment to balance felt obliged to give him an extended opportunity to make his case for continuing with the ‘War on Drugs.’ Here’s what he said to the BBC:

‘Prof Neil McKeganey, founder of the Centre of Drug Misuse Research, said Mr Liddell [Scottish Drugs Forum] was “quite wrong” to imply the rooms were not controversial. “For anyone who’s not an advocate of drugs de-criminalisation they are controversial and they will be seen as such,” he told the BBC. “Some years ago, we surveyed over 1,000 drug addicts in Scotland and we asked them what they wanted to get from treatment. “Less than 5% said they wanted to help to inject more safely and the overwhelming majority said they wanted help to become drugs free. These facilities have a role to play but there is a real danger here we are moving steadily away from services to get addicts off drugs.’

Straight-off, I’m astonished that Professor McKegany imagines that if you ask drug addicts what they want the most that they would not tell you that they want to get off the drugs. I haven’t seen his methodology but were safe injection sites mentioned at all? Could their preferences have been due to interviewer effect? Furthermore, even if we accept that drug addicts want to get off drugs more than anything else how does that reduce in any way the great advantages of the SIS for them and for the rest of us? It kind of sounds like Professor McKeganey has an obsession with winning a war everyone else wants to stop fighting. Has he seen Narcos?

The BBC report seems to suggest this is contested ground with strong evidence-based arguments being made for and against the safe injection sites but I can’t find anyone else supporting Professor McKeganey’s views. I’ve no doubt there are plenty unqualified ‘moaning minnies’ out there who would rather cold turkey was the only treatment but are we really saying this is an issue where we have to hear both sides of an argument and where the entire medical professions, the local authorities and the police forces agree SIS is a good thing? Dare I suggest that they couldn’t just let the Scottish Government get a bit of credit for progressive policy-making in the face of UK conservatism, again? I know I’m paranoid. Everybody says I am so I must be.

Back to Professor McKeganey, for further consideration of the need for his balancing views, see this:

‘In 2012 Neil was awarded the Nils Bejerot Award for Global Drug Prevention by The World Federation Against Drugs (WFAD) in recognition of career in drug research and for his contributions to drug policy, in particular for his championing of drug free policies, much like Nils Bejerot did in Sweden. Nils Bejerot (September 21, 1921 – November 29, 1988) was a Swedish psychiatrist and criminologist best known for his work on drug abuse and for coining the phrase Stockholm syndrome. His view that drug abuse was a criminal matter and that drug use should have severe penalties was highly influential in Sweden and in other countries. He believed that the cure for drug addiction was to make drugs unavailable and socially unacceptable.’

Note that Bejerot was dead by 1988! Pablo Escobar was still in his one Flamingo-land then. Might he have changed his views after another nearly 30 years of the bloody war on drugs? I know that many chiefs of police have done so.

Also, Bejerot was not influential in his home country Sweden, on government actions on drug treatment. See this from the NY Times:

‘…he remained a controversial figure in Sweden because of his emphasis on prevention rather than treatment of drug addiction. Fifteen years ago he advocated banishing drug abusers to ”therapeutic villages” to prevent the spread of what he regarded as a contagion of epidemic proportions.‘Although successive national administrations had to deal with Sweden’s growing drug problem, colleagues noted that Dr. Bejerot had never been named to a Government-sponsored study group or other official post.’

Further The World Federation Against Drugs (WFAD) is problematic if being used as a source of expertise. Wikipedia, in 2012, began an investigation into their ‘notability’, the key criterion for inclusion in Wikipedia. Here’s what one of their assessors wrote:

‘I can’t find any indication of notability for this advocacy group. The only references I can find to them are from other advocacy groups (or advocacy groups claiming to be newspapers, like the one currently in the article). Unless there is evidence of the group being the subject of significant discussion in multiple independent sources, the article should be deleted.’ 

All of this is quite damning, I’d say, for the ideas of Bejerot, especially nearly 30 years after his death when so much has changed in thinking about drug abuse treatment and for the authenticity and value of WFAD. BBC Scotland has many research assistants, all graduates. They should be right on this kind of thing.



5 thoughts on “BBC Scotland’s go-to-guy on SNP anti-drugs strategy both wrong and corrupt

  1. Alasdair Macdonald. March 31, 2019 / 4:12 pm

    Professor McKeganey has, as you say,been the ‘go to expert’ for the Scottish media for very many years. In the interviews and newspaper reports he has always ‘condemned’, ‘slammed’, etc, criticised any approach, but NEVER was he asked by any of the reporters what his research had indicated SHOULD be done. I always got the impression – and it was only a subjective one – that he saw drug addiction as a ‘moral’ issue in the narrow Mary Whitehouse sense (“I say it is morally wrong because it shows a lack of moral fibre, so it is morally wrong). The media have, in the main, been advocates of the ‘just say no’ line, and continually signal that the failure is a moral weakness within the addict (so hell mend her or him). They have always been advocates of President Nixon’s catastrophic “War on Drugs”. It has been catastrophic on the lives of millions and not just addicts and their families. It has provided a justification for the US and it’s allies to interfere in many countries. Drug use has soared worldwide. Fortunes are being made and, I am sure if we could ‘follow the money’ we would find that much of it is being laundered in the City of London and that many ‘pillars of society’ are having their hugely affluent lifestyles supported by it. They might not know, or do not want to know, but, I am sure it is hidden in the complex network of shell companies in ‘offshore UK dependencies’ (drug dependencies!?) which such people’s accountants set up.

    This story is part of a new line of attack against the SG which Nomedia have embarked on following reports (claims? distortions?) that we are in the grip of an epidemic of drugs deaths in Scotland (TWICE THE RATE OF THE REST OF THE UK!).

    I can recall, more than 20 years ago, when the Parents’ Association of one of the schools of which I was Head Teacher, arranged for a drugs seminar to be held one evening. Fifth and Sixth Year students attended, too. There was a good turnout of 150/200. The main presentations were by Strathclyde Police. The officers certainly gave the impression that decriminalisation was the way to go. The parent and student contributions were measured. There was no screaming that we were promoting drugs ( in the way that sex Education is supposed to promote sexual promiscuity, ‘recreational sex’, teenage pregnancies (to be able to ‘jump’ the housing waiting list, of course!). The consensus was pretty liberal and understanding, and things like injecting rooms’ were seen as feasible strategies amongst a range of ways. After 70+ years, I have come to the conclusion that most people are pretty sensible, generally humane, not extreme. However, what the Nomedia want are shock, horror, crises. They want rentaquote extremists not sensible normal people.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Contrary March 31, 2019 / 7:44 pm

    Well, the obvious reason the UK Home Office wouldn’t want to introduce life-saving treatment would be that they are promoting drug use, or even supplying it – or just profiting from it. We have incredibly leaky borders when it comes to drugs it seems, so I feel justified in any paranoia here. Maybe they are cutting heroin with fentonyl (?) – a big problem with that in America, where it is suspected to cause more deaths. It’s a form of control.

    I just saw Wings retweet a tweet agreeing that the revocation of article 50 may set back an independence referendum:

    I just don’t think that is the case – yes, the panic will die down (but also less hysteria, and more breathing space for an Indy campaign) and lots of people will be mollified with the UK, but I believe the case for independence is just as imperative.. I wrote this on wee ginger dug’s blog yesterday:

    “, I am starting to get an inkling that people might have the wrong idea about what revoking article 50 means. It won’t mean everything goes back to the way it was. There is only one possibility where that might happen – an overwhelming majority for remain in a new EU referendum. So, even if article 50 is revoked, under any circumstances, there is still the referendum result to take account of – either huge concessions will have to be made or a new referendum. Joanna Cherry’s new motion suggests an inquiry and a process that might involve activating article 50 again, after it has been revoked.

    So, for anyone still holding out for ‘the UK remaining in the EU, just as it is’ – it’s just not gonna happen (or a very very slim chance anyway).

    Economically, socially and culturally, Scotland is much better off in the EU (full member) — for now, at least – in a normal democracy (can we have one please?) this should be regularly evaluated to see if it’s in our best interests. I don’t hold with the trope that a referendum result somehow lasts forever. Anyway, there is only one way that any of us can have full EU membership – for the foreseeable future – and that is if Scotland is independent. There is probably round about roughly zero chance of any kind of decent EU membership deal for us while still part of the uk now.”

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I cannot see any path, politically, that would take things back to ‘normal’ (from just outright revoking article 50) – you cannot ignore the referendum result. (Unless it’s replaced by a new one, or it was deemed illegal). A people’s vote would be more harmful to the case for Indy (now that opinion polls are swinging, but even then, only maybe).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. ArtyHetty April 1, 2019 / 12:08 pm

    Indeed and is it not the case that marine police or whatever it’s called, is reserved to WM, and that Scotland’s waters are basically not policed in any significant way? Add to that the very convenient import of drugs to rural Scotland as well as our big cities, and you control the population. Has anyone ever asked WHY drugs have been such a feature and problem in Scottish society? It’s not because the people of Scotland are just natural drug users, it’s because the British state allowed drugs in, at the same time as making sure there were few opportunites for people in their own country, jobs, housing,
    ( housing built by the Britnats for the poor in Scotland was an absolute disgrace) and just generally having prospects and a life.

    It’s been a tragic waste of life, and also part of the agenda to make sure Scotland was kept in check, poor and begging. Utterly despicable. The Scotgov ie SNP are attempting to repair the damage, sometimes even carnage, of 300+ years of British nationalist rule. The Britnat political parties don’t like that, one single bit because they know that Scotland and the people of Scotland have seen what can be done, what should be done and what is being done to improve peoples’ lives, rather than curtail them. The wing clipping of the Britnat state regards Scotland has to end, getting there, but there’s a way to go yet with huge obstacles to navigate.


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