While the focus has been on Westminster politics, and the coming firestorm of public services (Well, you’re not expecting the various managers & heads of services to cut their own wages are you? Turkey’s? Christmas anyone?) the SNP administration have been quietly getting on with the job of, you know, running Scotland. Last week saw voting on the Crofting Bill and more controversially the Criminal Justice & Licensing Bill.
The headline piece of the Criminal justice bill, and the one which has garnered the headlines has been the proposal to end jail sentences for offences which would have garnered a six month (or less) term in jail. This is controversial because New Labour believes that this is soft on criminals, they have been pushing for their own amendment, a statutory 6 month sentence for possession of a knife. I’m glad that New Labour have suddenly realised that there is a “problem” with knife crime, but I’m rather perplexed that this is a problem which has “suddenly” appeared. Going back 15 years Paisley used to have a serious problem with knife crime, which is why I tended to go out in Glasgow. This is not a new problem. What is new is that we have a generation of particularly nasty, vulgar, violent young people who do not appear interested in anyone but themselves.
What is particularly depressing is that Scottish New Labour has adopted the “prison works” mantra of the former Tory Home Secretary, Michael Howard. According to Paisley’s own Howard wannabe, Hugh Henry “Every week three violent criminals would dodge jail, and every week 12 knife criminals would dodge jail. That’s nearly 800 (no, that’s 654 Hugh, Ed) violent and knife criminals dodging jail every year because Alex Salmond thinks they should be kept in the community” The assumption being made here is that violent criminals should be locked away, regardless of whether prison is a deterrent or will rehabilitate or not.
What this shows is that politicians don’t really have an understanding of criminals, and why crime occurs. Crime is born of circumstances, of economic environment, a feeling of hopelessness, a lack of trust and of mentality. The former shadow home secretary made his name with the “Tough on crime… and tough on the causes of crime” sound bite. It seams somewhat remiss of those following in Blair’s footsteps to concentrate on the first part, but not the latter part. No understanding is shown by New Labour as to why there is a problem with the section of our population who are violent, and no attempt is made to formulate policies which will act as a deterrent to a life of crime.
Something else which has occurred to me with New Labour’s attacks on the Criminal Justice & Licensing Bill is a complete ignorance of the facts and of worldwide opinion. Both Hugh Henry and Richard Baker have raised again the release of Abdelbasset Ali Mohamed Al Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie, as a stick to beat the SNP’s justice secretary Kenny MacAskil. Megrahi, is depending on who you believe either months from death or could go on for another 10 years, much to the embarrassment of the man who released him because of some sense of pity and sympathy towards his plight. As opposed to the fact that he was innocent and his continued incarceration was a weeping sore on the face of Scottish justice, and continue to be a weeping sore. Even now, the likes of Michael Forsyth are content to keep the myth going.
Henry & Baker really have shown themselves to be totally ignorant of the facts in this case. To summarise, the case was built around Megrahi and Fihimah (you know, the guy acquitted) who were supposed to have put a bomb on the flight from Malta to Frankfurt, which would then carry on to London and then onwards. Except there was an existing security alert in West Germany where the authorities were investigating a Syrian terrorist cell who were putting together bombs housed in Toshiba radio cassette players. This meant that every single piece of luggage was screened, especially for bombs housed in radio cassette players. Of course many people argued that there was no way the bomb could have been put on in Heathrow, but there is no way that the bomb could have been put on its course any other way. Apart from the above, the baggage handler John Bedford testified at the trial about a “maroony brown Samsonite” case appearing in the baggage container for Flight 103 after the team came back from a tea break and the trial also heard that the majority of timers used by middle-eastern terrorist cells were triggered by air pressure so could not have been used had the bomb come from Malta. Kept from the trial was the most damming evidence, that there was a break in reported at Heathrow on the morning of December 21 1988. Is it any wonder the official report into the trial for the UN states “The trial, seen in its entirety, was not fair and was not conducted in an objective manner. Indeed, there are many more questions and doubts at the end of the trial than there were at the beginning… Irrespective of this regrettable outcome, the search for the truth must continue”.
If the likes of Henry & Baker are happy to swallow the myth that Megrahi single handed put a bomb on a plane in Malta, which exploded about 24 hours later over a small Scottish town, what hope do we have that they can understand what will deter people from committing crime.