Irvine Welsh on Scottish drug deaths: We don’t have control over our politics

Irvine Welsh has said Scotland’s high level of drug deaths is down to the country not having control of its own destiny and being on the “margins of British society”.

The 64-year-old author rose to fame with the publication of Trainspotting in 1993, a novel about Edinburgh-based young people grappling with drug addiction.

His novel was adapted by Danny Boyle into the 1996 movie of the same name, starring Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner and Kelly Macdonald. It returned for a sequel in 2017, and there are also plans for a musical next year.

Irvine Welsh charity walk
Welsh has spoken out about Scotland ‘not having control of its own destiny’ (Jane Barlow/PA)

When asked about Scotland’s high drug death rates on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Welsh said: “Scottish culture about detoxification has always been unhealthy and we’ve dealt with all this debate with alcohol… really, it’s just the menu’s changed, but the behaviours are the same.

“It comes down to deprivation, it comes down to the fact that we don’t really still have political institutions to have control of our own destiny in Scotland, and we are on the margins of British society… even more so, I think, now.

“So I think all these things have an impact. There’s also basically nothing else to do if you’re a young kid… in Scotland. You used to have job opportunities, you used to have an education, you used to have a tax rebate – maybe not brilliant, but you had prospects in some ways.

T2 Trainspotting photocall – London
Ewen Bremner, Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle all starred in Trainspotting and its sequel (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“Now there’s nothing, there is literally nothing except (drugs).”

Figures reported on Tuesday showed suspected drug deaths rose in the first six months of this year in Scotland.

Statistics published by the Scottish Government showed there were 600 such fatalities over the period January to June – with this total 7% higher than the same time in 2022.

The SNP has been keen to introduce drug consumption rooms in Scotland and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has said the UK Government will not intervene to stop the plan.

When asked about the Scottish plan, Welsh said: “I think that ship has sailed … I think (the) time to do something with that (was) about 20 or 30 years ago.

“Most of the harmful drugs, aren’t illegal drugs… I mean, I do welcome it (decriminalisation), if it ever happened, but it should have happened 30 years ago – it’s (going to) take a major shake-up to our lives to sort something like that.”

He also spoke about how his younger self would have found him “a bit of a wanker” nowadays.

Welsh added: “A younger me sort of would have said that ‘anybody over 25 wasn’t worth talking to’, and they’d probably be right in some ways.”