As we dust off the Hogmanay hangovers, we begin to think about the year that lies ahead.
Many of us will have priorities to focus our minds, alongside goals and ambitions that we hope to fulfil over the course of the next twelve months and beyond. Whether personally or professionally, we all seek to make 2023 a better year than those that have preceded it.
The past twelve months have been turbulent. They brought us a cost of living crisis on a scale last seen in the 1970s and a renewed war on workers, working-class communities and the trade unions that represent those workers.
It was a year that saw Scotland’s drug death crisis continue while our cities and towns were subjected to further austerity. For me, it is fundamental that we address each of these structural problems in 2023, and as my constituents you should be in no doubt that addressing these issues and improving your lives in the process will be my priority.
You may be aware that last year I launched a proposal to introduce legislation in Scotland that would help to address what I consider the biggest crisis our country faces, drug deaths.
The most recent figures available show the scale of the crisis as 1,330 of our fellow Scots died from entirely preventable drug-related deaths in 2021.
My proposed bill would see facilities called Overdose Prevention Centres introduced in Scotland, adding another tool to the existing arsenal at the disposal of the Scottish Government. I have seen first-hand the difference Overdose Prevention Centres can make. For almost a year, I volunteered alongside others at Scotland’s first unofficial Overdose Prevention Centre run by my friend Peter Krykant, before, in Glasgow’s Trongate.
In a period of less than 12 months, working sporadically and with no public funding, we reversed nine overdoses, saving eight lives in the process. We provided a safe space, free of judgment and stigma, where some of the most vulnerable people in our city could seek help and support.
I am incredibly proud of our work, and I am hopeful that my legislation will be a building block that allows Overdose Prevention Centres to be officially licensed, regulated and accessible in communities that need them most.
Problematic drug use is a symptom of poverty and destitution, and it is of grave concern to me that at a time where poverty is rife there has been very little movement to address the drugs death crisis in Scotland.
With the cost-of-living crisis biting hard and impacting on families who will never have experienced poverty previously it is possible that they could turn to drugs to dull the stress and pain of their daily lives. It is incumbent on all of us, politicians and the public alike, to ensure that does not happen.
Those most likely to fall into poverty are low income families and workers whose wages are not keeping up with inflation. That is why I will always stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for better pay and terms and conditions across Scotland. 2022 saw a huge increase in the number of industrial disputes taking place and currently 2023 looks likely to see that continue.
In the public sector we have seen trade unions representing nurses, ambulance drivers, paramedics, teachers, cleansing workers and railway workers ballot their members for industrial action. Some strikes have been avoided, but for many low paid workers they have been left with no choice but to withdraw their labour.
We simply cannot allow that to continue, and it is imperative that the government improve their pay offers to workers in the public sector, so that we don’t see families plunged further into debt, and economic growth continue to stagnate. I will continue to advocate on their behalf and in Parliament I will put pressure on the government to do just that.
Let me be clear – workers are not to blame for the current economic problems the country faces. They create the wealth in this country, so they deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Anything less is a slap in the face, as well as being self-defeating economics.
But it’s not just workers and families bearing the brunt of government timidity in the face of the present economic malaise. Our city and our once great built environment have been visibly scarred by a decade of austerity and a declining public realm. I have always believed that people are a product of their environment and if our local communities are left to decay then we will all suffer from the resulting blight.
My record in standing up for Glasgow speaks for itself, but I am not complacent or naïve. Our city deserves better, and its people deserve more. Glasgow is my home; it is in my blood. It is the honour of a lifetime to represent you in the Scottish Parliament, and I will never stop working to improve your lives.
We are one of the greatest cities on Earth, a city that helped to shape the modern world. We have a huge amount to be proud of and are still capable of transformational change when we work together to achieve it. It’s time for us to set our city back on a trajectory towards growth and prosperity.
That should be our goal for 2023.
Let’s make it a reality.
You can read my column on the Glasgow Times website here: Paul Sweeney column: 2023: The Year of Real Change | Glasgow Times