Labour want to install a presumption that the blade earn its bearer at least 6 months banged up with their chamber pots. (Although some Leithite wags ironise around the label of 'mandatory'.) The Swine Pursuivant, Richard Baker, cannot be terrifically chuffed that Iain Gray appears to have decided to nab his crony’s portfolio and is fronting this piece of law-and-order bunkum personally. The Tories, not to be outdone, bettered (sic) Labour’s penal promises, Baillie Bill Aitken suggesting that a two year period spent in jail would be just the thing for carrying knives.
Quoth the Baillie, “Labour's plans for a six month tariff for carrying a knife, which after early release would mean little more than a few weeks inside, are woefully inadequate … If you go out with a knife, you'll be going inside. Labour's eight years of failure paved the way for the SNP's soft-touch
This is pandering politics of the vengeful rump, which refuses to engage with the questions we are increasingly forced to engage with. The prison population is too high, unsustainable, unethical. Although I find the cost arguments among the least compelling reasons not to send folk to chokey – they are undeniable. Are we really willing to justify the economic expenditure and the social costs of vaulting rates of imprisonment, as a cathartic release? In a grand recent post by Ian Hamilton QC, entitled “Donald Dewar, Nicola Sturgeon and the wild, wild weemin”, profoundly relevant issues are explored. Highlighting the intellectual laziness of the ‘bang ‘em up’ case, Hamilton draws on his own shrieval experience to illuminate the brute reality of judicial decision-making – and the real limitations which even the wild-eyed exponents of incarceration Scotland must contend with. I find it infinitely depressing that the vision Scottish Labour and the Tories have for our nation is a panopticon, with a profusion of cells and of prisoners. I wanted to quote this section of Ian Hamilton’s late piece in particular.
“Nicola need have no fear of this mob. (Strange how everyone calls Nicola by her first name and no one knows who Mr Gray is.) In equiperating knife crime with fraud Mr Gray showed a lamentable lack of common sense. There is a world of difference between them. Crimes against the person with a deadly weapon require a prison sentence. Crimes of dishonesty are in a different category. If there is a breach of trust, if the sum is large, if the crime has been previously committed are relevant matters as is the length of time over which the crime took place. In these circumstances (and I am not discussing this case which is still sub judice) the sheriff needs all the help he can get. In asking for a non custodial sentence an MSP is pursuing government policy. Keep prison for serious crimes against the person. It costs £50,000 a year to keep someone in prison. Every penny is needed for two aircraft carriers and the son of Trident. Mr Gray should know these are Unionist priorities. If he doesn’t our sheriffs do.I was once a sheriff and a weary job it is. I read many letters put up to me. They helped focus my mind. A sheriff is there to stand between justice and the screaming mob we saw in Holyrood, bent only on punishment. Punishment? Would that a sheriff’s job were so easy! There are so many other things to be taken into account. There are the side effects. Are there children to be considered? Will the accused lose his job? Will dependents become a burden on the State. Has there been a previous offence? Has restitution been made? What are the chances of reoffending? Will there be room in prison? The public perception of the crime comes at the very end of all these. No sheriff is there to please the public.”
Political revenge-fantasies aren’t costless. Despite John Muir’s statements (however understandable they are in his circumstance), we come to be stained in blood in ways that do not come with the direct pointedness of a knife – and its easy, fatal causality. The black pathos of rampant incarceration invades the airy irresponsibility affected by these comedians of innocence, these Tory and Labour politicians whose idea of penality is a vaulted pit, with no bottom, no costs and no consequences.