Thursday 26 August 2010

Top Trumps - Justice

As I said before, you can buy Top Trumps packs but they've forgotten Holyrood (how could they?). One of the comments on the Top Trumps post on the candidates for First Minister suggested that I should have added "Ability to think on ones feet" as a category - it's one I didn't consider but it would hardly be fair, would it? Salmond seems mildly disappointed if nothing unexpected happens while the Labour front bench looks like it would need to go home for instructions if the newsagent didn't have its favourite brand of chewing gum.
On to Justice though; our contenders are
SNP - Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill MSP
Lab - Shadow CSfJ Richard Baker MSP
Con - Shadow CSfJ John Lamont MSP
LD - Spokesperson on Justice Robert Brown MSP (I had to look that up)
Green - I dunno, I'll let James tell us


Tough on crime

MacAskill takes assets from criminals and recycles them into assets for communities - on his watch Scotland’s police and courts have been pursuing organised crime and getting results . This is, of course, a big change since Labour’s time in power - I think he gets 10 out of 10

Baker talks about ASBOs for teenagers drinking but won’t agree with action to address the drinking and wants to jail daft wee laddies who go out with a knife in their pocket but won’t agree with the action needed to persuade them not to. He never mentions serious crime and has never talked about taking on organised crime. He wants to appear to be tough on crime but doesn’t have what it takes to actually be tough on crime. He gets 0

Lamont is new to the job, having taken over after Bill Aitken decided to sing the closing aria on his political career so he doesn’t have much of a record to examine. He does seem to have slotted straight into the strange twilight world of the Scottish Conservatives Justice theory, though, (a pity that he doesn’t take a leaf out of the book of Ken Clarke who takes somewhere approaching sense on Justice issues) and is obsessing on a few matters rather than offering solutions. He’s for short prison sentences and agrees with Labour on jailing wee laddies – wants to appear tough on crime but doesn’t know how. He gets 0

Brown is strange, it’s never very clear where he stands on anything (enough with the ‘typical Lib Dem’ comments, now), he’s unusually indirect for a Geordie. He doesn’t actually say much about the operation of the Justice system and hasn’t brought forward any alternative policies. He most certainly hasn’t spoken about how he would like to see us tackle organised crime. He gets 0

Tough on the causes of crime

MacAskill wrote a fair bit on how to address the causes of crime in the books he wrote a few years ago as well as in articles – firstly address the three Ds – drink, drugs and deprivation, lock up the bad guys, treat those needing treatment, and find ways to give society a fair crack of the whip. In Government he’s implemented restorative justice – Cashback for Communities as already mentioned, but also in putting community service workers to work in places where it will be helpful – like clearing snow from pensioners’ paths last winter or putting headstones back up in Edinburgh graveyards or helping restore peatlands in Lanarkshire. He’s set up a review of sentencing, gave the Advocate General free reign on reforming the prosecution of rape, moved to get rid of short sentences, started the process of addressing Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and started to make sure that offenders pay back to the communities they have damaged.

He’s addressing recidivism – removing short sentences is a big part of it, keeping people out of prison as far as possible and trying to make them productive members of society, keeping prison for those who are a danger to society . He hasn’t done everything yet, so only 8 out of 10

Baker has never laid out his thought on paper as far as I can tell and only comments to say “I’m against that” – I can’t recall a single time when he has said that he agrees with something that is begin done. He’s in favour of short sentences – even wanted a mandatory six month sentence in spite of the overwhelming evidence that short sentences encourage reoffending and embed many people in a life of crime. Instead of offering the underprivileged a hand up and out of the hole they’ve landed themselves in, Baker appears to want to just put a lid on the hole and keep them down there. For a devastating indictment of the lack of vision in Labour’s Justice policy, there’s only one place to go. Scores 0

Lamont hasn’t said much (give him time) but he’s got to defend this barking policy he hasn’t scored yet, but he could do worse than learn from Malcolm Rifkind who delivered the Kenneth Younger Memorial Lecture to the Howard League for Penal Reform while he was the Minister in charge of Justice policy in Scotland in 1988 and he said:
There will always be those who commit serious or violent crimes and who pose a threat to society which requires them to be confined for significant periods. Nevertheless there are many good reasons for wishing to ensure that, as a society, we use prisons as sparingly as possible. While the use of imprisonment may be inescapable when dealing with violent offenders and those who commit the most serious crimes, we must question to what extent short sentences of imprisonment and periods of custody for fine default are an appropriate means of dealing with offenders and there is no single answer to that. Prisons are both expensive to build and to run and do not provide the ideal environment in which to teach an offender to live a normal and law-abiding life, to work at a job or to maintain a family. If offenders can remain in the community, under suitable conditions, they should be able to maintain their family ties, opportunities for work or training and they may be better placed to make some reparation for their offence.
Brown is just wishy-washy, nothing much there, but he does oppose short sentences. Give him 3 points (is this like Eurovision?)

Taking decisions while resisting undue influence

MacAskill Showed his mettle here by holding off the US Government in the decision to free Megrahi, making the decision on the basis of the evidence in front of him rather than the political pressures that were on him. 10 by gum!

Baker doesn’t have that fortitude; he even thought that MacAskill should go and beg forgiveness from the US Senate. Nil points

Lamont – nae record to examine, he hasn’t made clear how he would make decisions. He doesn’t even get to speak on Megrahi, Murdo Fraser does that.

Brown gave MacAskill full support in refusing to kowtow to the US Senate, saying that the Scottish Justice Secretary is accountable to the Scottish Parliament and not the US Senate – then he ruined it with a sly dig – 8 out of 10

This would be an awfy boring game of Top Trumps but you get the picture. I think a legal mind might do a better job of analysing these contenders, I know one who frequently opines on Mr Baker, for instance

Mind how you go!

L'esprit de l'escalier

I was having a wee debate about capital punishment last night (not with myself you cheeky rapscallion) and the deterrence effect of punishment on levels of crime (next to nought in my opinion) and I've just thought of the question I should have put to my pro-hangin-an-floggin chum:

Do you need the deterrent of capital punishment to prevent you committing murder?

Must remember in future ...

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Twits of the world unite!

You may remember that cool, hip and groovy chap, Frank McAveety MSP who turned out not to be cool, hip and groovy and had to resign from his convenorship over offensive remarks. He has decided not to be offensive in future and has, instead, decided to employ someone else to do that for him. Step forward Stuart MacLennan, onetime Labour candidate for Moray who resigned in disgrace over, erm, offensive remarks and is now happily ensconced in Mr McAveety's Glasgow office.

I'm sure that they've both learned their lessons and there will be no more behaviour treating people in a derogatory and dismissive fashion. Move along, now, nothing to see here!

Monday 23 August 2010

Art lovers

Here's a thing to go to when you're tired of seeing shows at the Edinburgh Festivals - art that you can contemplate in peace. Barbara Rae is exhibiting some prints in the Dundas Street Gallery (paintings across the road in the Open Eye Gallery).

If you fancy being really nice to me the one I like best is on the left hand wall just opposite the pillar (I've forgotten the name of it). You can see some of her stuff on her website. Mind how you go!

Sunday 22 August 2010

Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Southern Estaitis

If it hadn't been for the chance promotion of wee Danny Alexander to Chief Secretary to the Treasury the UK Government would lack a single Cabinet Secretary who represents a Scottish seat other than the Scottish Secretary. John Major's last cabinet, with fewer Scottish Members to choose from (11 Tory seats under Major, 12 Coalition seats now), had Lang at Trade and Industry and Rifkind as Foreign Secretary (Forsyth was Scottish Secretary).

Interestingly, Brown had only three (including himself) but Blair had four in his last cabinet - each with far more to choose from than Major. Is the quality of unionist MP from Scotland in decline? I suppose it is blindly obvious that Mundell does not have the quality of Rifkind or Forsyth, that Moore is no Jo Grimond and Danny Alexander isn't even Russell Johnston. It's just as clear, I suppose, that Murphy is no Tom Johnston and Douglas Alexander can't hold a candle to Willie Ross, but are they really that much worse than the fodder being served up south of the border - Vince Cable, Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Huhne, Andrew Lansley, Eric Pickles?

It's just as well we can fend for ourselves, isn't it? Mind how you go!

Saturday 21 August 2010

Remember when?

A long, long time ago there was an election and some people used videos, remember these ones?

Ah, principles, eh?

Let's play Top Trumps

Top Trumps is a series of decks of cards which all have the same theme - you compare the attributes of two of the cards and the person holding the card with the best attribute wins. So, for example, if you and I were playing with a deck of F1 cars, I might pitch speed as the attribute and whichever of us had the fastest car on our card would win the hand. A fun wee game which lots of us enjoyed as children and which covers subjects as diverse as baby animals, football players, Harry Potter, Horrible Histories and Politicos. Inexplicably, they've never done Holyrood and the politicians in Scotland's Parliament so I find myself shouldering that burden.

Let's start with the candidates for First Minister in next May's election:

Alex Salmond:
First Minister of Scotland
Leader of the Scottish National Party

Election history –
Won Banff & Buchan Westminster seat1987, re-elected in 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005 – retired undefeated
Won Banff & Buchan Scottish Parliament seat 1999 – retired undefeated
Won Gordon Scottish Parliament seat 2007

Current majority – 2,062

Age - 55

Employment immediately before election – Oil Economist and Bank Economist, Royal Bank of Scotland

Ian Gray
Opposition leader
Leader of the Labour Group of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament

Election history –
Won Pentlands 1999
Lost Pentlands 2003
Won East Lothian 2007

Current Majority – 2,448

Age - 53

Employment immediately before election – SPAD to Alistair Darling

Annabel Goldie
Opposition leader
Leader of the Scottish Conservatives

Election history –
List Member for the West of Scotland Region 1999, re-elected 2003 and 2007

Current majority – none

Age - 60

Employment immediately before election – solicitor

Tavish Scott
Opposition leader
Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

Election history –
Won Shetland 1999, re-elected 2003 and 2007

Current majority – 4, 909

Age - 44

Employment before election – councillor and farmer

Patrick Harvie
Opposition leader
Leader of the Scottish Green Party (co-convenor with Eleanor Scott)

Election history -
List Member for the Glasgow Region 2003, re-elected 2007

Current majority – none

Age - 37

Employment immediately before election – youth worker and development worker for PHACE Scotland

Other things
Then, of course, there's debating and rhetorical skills. Out of 10 points you've surely got to give Salmond at least 8 and possibly 9, Goldie probably 7 maybe 6, Harvie has to be 5 or 6, Scott about the same, and Gray 2 maybe 3.

Stature (in terms of befitting the office) - Salmond 7, Goldie 5, Harvie 3, Scott and Gray down about 2.

Capacity to develop policy (relies on party to a great extent and how much freedom there is to work) - Salmond 10, Harvie 8 maybe 9, Goldie 3, and Scott and Gray 0.

Recognisability wouldn't be a fair category, Salmond is the only one who would figure.

Courage to take decisions - Salmond 10, Harvie 10, Goldie 4, Scott 2, Gray 2

I can't think of any other categories to add at the moment, but feel free to suggest some. It doesn't look like a very even contest just now, does it? That might change when I get the chance to look at the other cabinet positions, right enough...

Mind how you go!

Charles Kennedy

The riders on the negotiations have been severe - what's wrong with red smarties anyway? Funny that the papers got it wrong and suggested he'd be joining Labour, isn't it?


Mind how you go!

Friday 20 August 2010

Effective Government?

I am indebted to m'learned friend for alerting me to the presence of a very important commission operating under the auspices of the Westminster Government - the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt, known as the National Debt Commissioners - a commission which, I hear you say, is coming not a moment too soon, it's about time the National Debt was reduced.

I thought so too, and I was about to applaud the institution of this fine and well-thought-out organisation until I realised that I would be roughly 224 years too late (we'll have no comments about my working practices, thank you!), the body was established in 1786, the year that Robert Burns published his first collection of works (Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect), the year that the first prison ship sailed for Botany Bay, the year that Mozart's Marriage of Figaro premiered, and the year that the Affair of the Diamond Necklace helped prepare the ground for the French Revolution and the creation of the First Republic - interesting times, indeed. This bit is from page 85 of the list of Ministerial responsibilities of the new Government:

The Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt (CRND), established in 1786, primarily manage the investment portfolios of a number of government and public bodies including HM Revenue & Customs (National Insurance Fund), National Savings and Investments (National Savings Bank Fund), Her Majesty’s Courts Service (Court Funds Investment Account) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (National Lottery Distribution Fund). It also manages some residual operations relating to the National Debt including Donations and Bequests and 3.5 per cent Conversion Loan Sinking Fund. The statutory functions of the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt (CRND) are carried out within the United Kingdom Debt Management Office.
There are eight commissioners:
  1. The Chancellor of the Exchequer
  2. The Governor of the Bank of England
  3. Deputy Governor of the Bank of England
  4. The other Deputy Governor of the Bank of England
  5. The Speaker of the House of Commons
  6. The Master of the Rolls
  7. The Accountant General of the Supreme Court
  8. The Lord Chief Justice

How often do they meet? Well, back to the UK Debt Management Office:

Meetings of the Commissioners were at first held regularly, but the last recorded business meeting took place on 12 October 1860.
Move along, move along, nothing to see here! They leave the responsibility for managing down the national debt in the hands of two civil servants. I have no doubt that they are extremely competent civil servants but surely the elected politicians would want to be in control of such an important function? If you were hoping that the Government of the day in Westminster was keeping an eye on the massive debt then it's probably best you don't look at the other pages on the Debt Management Office site. I looked at the sections on accounts hoping to see some figures that I could ponder upon. Alas and alack, it would appear that I must seek such information elsewhere.

That'll be for another day, I think. Mind how you go!