HOW long do we need to wait to fix problems in society? I’ve been struck this week by the ability of our new Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain Q.C., to act quickly and decisively in recognising that drug addiction is a health problem within our communities.

The extension of the Recorded Police Warnings (RPW) scheme to those in possession of Class A drugs is a progressive and common-sense alternative to prosecution.

The RPW can be issued to anyone over the age of 16 and is not a finding of guilt but will be recorded on the police criminal history system for two years. An accused person is entitled to reject an RPW and defend any prosecution before the court.

The scheme has operated for other low-level offences in Scotland – including for possession of Class B and C drugs – since 2016 and isn’t decriminalisation as some politicians have unfortunately claimed.

The Lord Advocate took the opportunity last week to explain how the prosecution service considers whether diversion from prosecution is appropriate in any case: “Where the prosecutor is satisfied that the public interest would be best served by an offer of diversion, they refer the individual to social work or another agreed agency who then assess whether the person is suitable for diversion and report the assessment to the prosecutor”.

In 2017/18 there were 57 diversions offered for drugs possession cases; for 2020/21, the number of diversions was 1,000. This is very encouraging progress to try and get those addicted to drugs back on their feet instead of putting them through the anguish and futility of a criminal trial with a fine, community service order or other punishment.

That said, we need to recognise we’ll never make any real inroad on drug addiction unless we fix the lack of access to and supply of rehabilitation facilities. A Scottish Government survey earlier this year found we had 418 residential beds for the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction but because of Covid-19 capacity was reduced to 386. Around 70% of those beds were already occupied and only 10% were funded by the NHS. 15% were privately funded bodies, while 75% were not-for-profit or voluntary sector providers.

To put that in context, Glasgow has an estimated 13,000 problem drug users and 69,000 problem drinkers, and at best we only have 17 or 18 residential rehabilitation beds potentially open to drug users via statutory services. Until we resolve this issue, those with chronic addiction problems will never get the help they need. This problem could be fixed quickly if the political will was there to invest in rehab beds – it isn’t rocket science.

In contrast, I fear the solution to Glasgow’s never-ending problem of public marches that descend into anti-Irish and anti-Catholic racism and hatred looks set to be kicked into the political long grass. The other week we had over 50 Orange parades through the city with 32 roads closed, with the usual toxicity of abuse and bigotry.

Last week the First Minister said she would ask the Justice Secretary to look at setting up a Parades Commission similar to Northern Ireland. The Parades Commission in Belfast was set up in 1997 and is empowered to “facilitate mediation between parties to particular disputes concerning proposed public processions” and “issue determinations in respect of particular proposed public processions”.

In 2020/21, the Parades Commission classified 59 application for marches as “sensitive” of which 52 were “Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist (PUL)”. A total of 19 parades had conditions imposed by the Commission in that year, of which 18 were from PUL applications.

It’s fair to say Scotland itself doesn’t need a Parades Commission. How can you justify this when there isn’t any problem with “sensitive” marches in 31 out of 32 Scottish council areas? Does Glasgow need a Commission? Possibly. It would certainly help to have a specialist and dedicated body that could get to grips with the problems we have.

However, what we shouldn’t do is kick this shameful issue into the political wilderness for the next five years, with a proposal to introduce legislation in the next Parliament. Let’s not forget the Scottish Government has already conducted two review on parades in Scotland – one in 2016 and a follow up one in 2020, both authored by Dr Michael Rosie of Edinburgh University.

Let’s also not forget that Glasgow City Council is empowered under section 63 of the 1982 Civil Government (Scotland) Act to impose conditions on parades or prohibit them on the grounds of public safety or public order.

Whatever we do there is no excuse for further inaction. Interim solutions can always be found if there is a justifiable need to await new legislation and statutory bodies being set up.