The Scottish Government has been accused of “devastating intransigence” amid questions over the length of time it has taken for the Lord Advocate to open the door to a drug consumption facility pilot.

On Monday, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain said that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute those possessing drugs in such a facility in relation to plans to open a pilot consumption room in Glasgow.

SNP Drugs Policy Minister Elena Whitham told MSPs that she "strongly" welcomes the intervention from the Lord Advocate.

She said: “Although the position of the Lord Advocate does not sanction or approve the establishment of a safer consumption facility, it provides a necessary assurance to the Glasgow authorities, which will now take their proposal to the integration joint board for its approval.

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“Although there are still limitations around what a facility that operates within existing legislation can do, that is fantastic news and represents a real step forward in establishing the first official safer drug consumption facility in the United Kingdom.”

Despite the “significant step forward for Scotland”, Ms Whitham warned that despite the intervention by Ms Bain, “a safer drug consumption facility that operates in Scotland will still be restricted by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971”. She added that “the best approach, therefore, would be for the UK Government to give approval for a safer drug consumption facility”.

She later warned that Tory ministers in Westminster could block such a pilot taking place, but appeared to believe that the Scottish Conservatives' support for the trial would prevent the UK Government from halting it.

Ms Whitham said: “Although it is within the UK Government’s powers to prevent us from moving ahead with the pilot, I do not think that its colleagues in this chamber will stand in our way; they have said that they would welcome the evaluation that a pilot would provide.

“I urge the UK Government to listen to its colleagues here and to the rest of the chamber and allow us to move forward with what I know will be a life-saving facility in Glasgow.”

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But concerns have been raised over the time it has taken for the Lord Advocate to open the door for a pilot scheme to take place.

Labour deputy leader and health spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, told Holyrood that “since the SNP declared the drugs crisis a public health emergency in 2019, more than 4,000 lives have been lost”.

Ms Baillie said she welcomed the move by the Lord Advocate, adding that it was “a pragmatic approach that allows progress to be made in the pilot scheme in Glasgow”.

But she added: “As others, including anti-poverty campaigner Darren McGarvey, have commented, the law has not changed.

“The constitutional fighting between the two Governments has, thankfully, not stood in the way of progress, but the shame is that the measure could have been taken ages ago, and perhaps more lives would have been saved.”

Labour MSP Paul Sweeney also hit out at the apparent delays.

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He said: “In 2017, the previous Lord Advocate said that it was not possible, despite operating under the same laws and guidance as the current Lord Advocate.

“Over those six years, what exactly has changed in the latest proposal to make it possible?

“What does the minister have to say to the 7,127 families who have lost loved ones since the previous Lord Advocate rejected the original proposal, many of whom would still be alive today if there had not been such devastating intransigence from people in positions of power in this country?”

Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, claimed that “the Scottish Government always had the ability to act on a pilot of drug consumption rooms, if only the SNP had asked the right question, but it did not”.

In response, Ms Whitham insisted that the Lord Advocate’s position set out on Monday “concerned a very specific proposal that was placed in front of her by us and the Glasgow health and social care partnership”.

She added: “That varies hugely from the original proposal that went to the Lord Advocate previously. Although the law has not changed, we needed a very specific proposal for the Lord Advocate to look at.

“We need to recognise that the proposal that was put in front of the previous Lord Advocate was much wider in its scope. That proposal asked the former Lord Advocate to change the law, which he was not able to do. In his response to that request, he set out the reasons why he could not do that.

“That was why it was important for time to be taken to work through a proposal that would meet the parameters that the new Lord Advocate set out to the Criminal Justice Committee in November 2021.

“The proposal was worked on solidly by officials in the Scottish Government and partners in the Glasgow health and social care partnership and Police Scotland, to ensure that the information that was set in front of the Lord Advocate allowed her to come to the position that she came to yesterday.”