I have blogged significantly and at length before, both on ongoing debates about Labour and Tory plots to impose minimum prison sentences on knife carriers and on the legality of the Taser pilot presently being conducted by officers of Strathclyde police. On the 3rd of June, both of these issues reappeared at Holyrood, during the Justice & Law Officers themed Question Time. Ted Brocklebank - not usually a Tory contender for would-be Inquisitor-in-Chief - pressed Kenny MacAskill by asking "... what percentage of those prosecuted for carrying a knife in the last year have received a sentence of six months or less (S3O-10781)? The answer for 2008-09 is 18%. Prompted, a certain Labour tribune took to his trotters. When Ian Gray doesn't feel like it, Richard Baker - Labour's Swine Pursuivant - is given this egregious, uncosted policy to play with. Usually his tenor is of pigling bland outrage, his rind seasoned just a little with the flippant spice of the student debater. Today, our punitive red roaster attempts stinging wry befuddlement.
Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab): Why has the cabinet secretary lodged an amendment to delete the provisions for minimum mandatory sentences for knife crime that were passed by the Justice Committee at stage 2 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill? That is particularly puzzling, given that the president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, Chief Superintendent David O'Connor, has said: "we find it increasingly difficult to oppose calls for the introduction of a minimum mandatory period of imprisonment of six months for any person carrying a knife ... in a public place."
Kenny MacAskill: I have done so because I take the advice of Chief Constable David Strang, Chief Constable Stephen House and Chief Superintendent John Carnochan of the violence reduction unit, all of whom have argued that the proposal by Mr Baker and others would not work. We do not need an unseemly bidding war, with six months from Mr Baker, two years from Mr Brocklebank and four years from Mr Bain, the member of Parliament for Glasgow North East—yes, four years he said, simply for carrying a knife. Why not add a zero to that or two zeros and let us get on with it? We have to support the measures that are working—tough enforcement, more stop and searches, visible enforcement in the courts and ploughing money back into diversionary activities to ensure that kids are given the opportunity to be all that they can be. Members can say what they like, but the record speaks for itself. In Strathclyde and elsewhere, progress is being made.
Rather well put, I thought. Matters subsequently turned to the legality of tasers. Canny Robert Brown asked the Scottish Executive about its responsibilities for policing - clearly echoing the human rights law analysis conducted by Aidan O'Neill QC on behalf of Amnesty International. MacAskill reiterated his entrenched position, namely, that ~
Kenny MacAskill: The Scottish ministers do not have legislative powers to direct the police on operational matters. We have no competence to issue guidance on the use of firearms, including Tasers, since the matter is reserved to Westminster. For the same reason, the Scottish Parliament has no power to legislate on that. In 2004, the Scottish ministers in a Labour-Lib Dem coalition supported trials of Tasers in Scotland, which led to the operational use of Tasers starting in 2005. Mr Brown might have been dealing with matters expeditiously then, but what we are seeing now is a bit of cant and gross hypocrisy. Members can rest assured that, when officers are in situations in which they and members of the public face danger, they will have the Government's full support in doing what is necessary. The matter is an operational one, but Tasers are used proportionately and legitimately by hard-working and brave Scottish police officers to defend themselves and other citizens in our communities. We will make no apology for that and we will never interfere in it.
Not to be outdone, and so we don't forget how pig-headed and vilely idiotic the man can be, Baillie Bill Aitken took to his feet and opined:
Bill Aitken (Glasgow) (Con): Does the cabinet secretary agree that the problems that are associated with Tasers have been exaggerated, and that if anyone wishes to avoid coming into conflict with police officers armed with Tasers, they simply have to refrain from acting violently?
I can almost imagine his pickled onion face, peeling in self satisfaction as he declaimed this profound self-evidence. Oh how we shall miss ye, Old Judgement, the People's Baillie.
Holyrood Student Fees Debate
The 3rd proved a rich debating day at Holyrood, in the afternoon turning to a motion on student fees sponsored by the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Michael Russell. Quite frankly, it astounds and astonishes me that Scottish Labour figures find a way to speak to Scottish students at all, never mind trying to dress themselves up as improbably champions of that constituency's causes. Their tribunes seem unabashed about their attempts to block the abolition of the graduate endowment - a move which ever student affected will be able to compute very tangibly to their benefit, to the tune of around £2,000. A clear dividend of Scottish Nationalist government, one grossly threatened by any upward march of the tattie tribunes in scarlet. I should be less innocent by now. From my own university days, one of the first things I learned about student politics was how Labour specialised in creating slavish toadies in the student class, attempting to promote these compliant souls to representative positions and generally quiet the student beast with their own placemen, all too keen to caper at the base of the greasy pole. The collapsed political (and no doubt to some extent personal) life of Labour's young erstwhile Westminster candidate in Moray, Stuart MacLellan is an essay in the type. Yet modesty and shame are not Labour virtues, I'm afraid. In his usual rollicking, imperious fashion, Mike Russell stuck it to the boisterous Helium Harpy, Karen Whitefield et al. A couple of Russell's particularly pungent leapt out at me as worth general mention. As vivid parliamentary prose goes, this is the good stuff.
Michael Russell: Every Labour speaker has mentioned the need for consensus, which echoes my own desire. However, consensus must be based on facts, and I want to give the facts about a number of things that front-bench Labour members raised, because they need to be corrected. The first is the delusion about resources and funding. The Scottish Government's budget has been cut by £500 million, and further cuts are coming. We must all face that problem. I was trying to think of a comparison to illustrate the Labour approach—this morning at First Minister's questions, this afternoon and no doubt in the health debate earlier—to the reality of the situation in which we find ourselves. The only comparison I could think of was that, astonishingly, Labour now resembles a group of arsonists who, having laid waste to the Scottish budget and the finances of this entire island, now run about complaining about the heat, the smoke and the sound of fire engines. They are the people who are to blame, and nothing will allow us to avoid that."
And stressing a point which can be cheerfully expanded to much of Labour's positioning (albeit with mild qualms about imagining either Ken MacIntosh, wee Clair Baker or Karen Whitefield as a clutch of life's natural sensuous sirens) ~
"I am not listening to the siren voices of Labour members, who just want me to say something so that they can contradict it. During this afternoon's debate, I was very much reminded of the remark from my old friend Andrew Wilson, who said in the first parliamentary session that, if the SNP had invented the light bulb, Labour would have called it a dangerous anti-candle device. That is precisely what we have heard this afternoon. We cannot say anything but it is contradicted."
Sheriff Principal James Taylor: Breast Inspector
The other day, I mentioned Sheriff Principal James Taylor's judgement in the breast inspecting case which saw the restoration of the license of one of Glasgow's lap-dancing establishments. For enthusiasts and the particularly keen, his full opinion in Kell (Scotland) v. Glasgow Licensing Board is now available here.