31 May 2010

Salmond leaps: "dropping independence for the time being"

I've been a mite busy these last few days, cheerfully but largely frivolously so. I wanted to anticipate tomorrow's post on the subject by drawing your attention, in case you missed it, to this story from the Torygraph of the 29th of May entitled 'Alex Salmond “drops independence for the time being”'. Naming their source as Ben Thomson of Reform Scotland, the paper outlines, albeit in loose detail, Salmond nodding and winking to Thomson that his central goal is making Scotland “fiscally responsible” and “dropping the ideas of independence for a time”. This statement, suggests the article, is not denied by that most slippery of Scots fishes, the Greater Tun-Bellied Salmond. I stress, no promise here of ditching the anticipated bill to hold a referendum. Rather, I fancy, a question of emphasis. Emphasis on securing new - and permanent - shifts towards the economic empowerment of Holyrood and Scots institutions. In short, the dynamics seem to have changed since Labour left office and the Liberal Democrats entered it. A possibility presents itself to advance the gradualist position in a way that the independence referendum, at present, seems unable to supply.

Is this a leap upstream? Or a painful smack in the guts for Scottish nationalist politics as it impacts against the naked rock and sharp shoals that seem to be shoring up a new Unionism? Will it propel Eck towards independent spawning grounds - or send his form bouncing bruisingly back out to a sea of electoral sterility? Is failing to emphasise independence a problem, or a strength? What might such institutional changes - if extensive and convincing - do to the Nationalist movement anyway? Are there risks here as well as prospects, which we would do well to try and think about nowish? There has been relatively little discussion of this in the Scottish blogosphere as far as I can make out, supportive or critical. I intend to have my say about some of these issues, some time tomorrow.

29 May 2010

Tales from Parliament House Vol. 4

Make no mistake. If you stand up in the dock and respond "Guilty M'lord" and subsequently think the better of it, don't expect to find sympathetic judicial faces at your appeal. You can understand the suspicion. Why plead guilty in the first place? And what's more, it looks more than a little iffy to suddenly realise you didn't want to confess, after you have been sentenced - perhaps significantly more harshly than you had anticipated. Yet in Nicola Gallagher v. H.M. Advocate, Gallagher attempted to do just this.  And  rather astonishingly, succeeded. The facts of her case are worth paying attention to, as they disclose the extent to which ignorant people can be prodded around by their lawyers, how the theoretical "equality of arms" between citizen and state is readily, all too readily transformed by the bustle and rush and shove of procedures - into a version of Kafka's The Trial. Nicola Gallagher had been charged with fraudulently obtaining Working Tax Credit by failing to disclose her husband's earnings and claiming them on the part of her son - who is deceased - to the tune of £23,927.35.  She plead guilty to an amended version of the charge, limiting the sum alleged to £16,000, and was sentenced to a year a prison. The appellant said:

"...that she pled guilty only because her former solicitor, Mr Matthew Berlow of Beltrami Berlow, solicitors, Glasgow, told her that unless she did so, he would withdraw from acting and leave her to defend herself. Furthermore, she did not understand the nature of the charge to which she was pleading guilty. She therefore did not give a true and informed consent to the tendering of the plea."

Not a point of appeal you'd generally get good odds on. Here is the evidence, as it was set down in the opinion. Much of interest here, for outsiders peering in, trying to get a sense of how plea bargaining works in our criminal justice system. Not a pretty sight, I'd say. First, here was the evidence adduced by the appellant, her side of the story:

[5] The appellant said that she had had no previous experience of the criminal courts. After being interviewed by HM Revenue and Customs, she consulted a solicitor; but the solicitor left practice soon after. She then approached Beltrami Berlow. At her first meeting at their office, Mr Berlow was stuck in traffic. She saw Mr Beltrami instead. On this occasion, she signed legal aid papers. There was no discussion of the case. There was no further meeting at that office. She had one conversation with Mr Berlow on the telephone. He seemed not to be familiar with the case. He told her that he would discuss matters with her on the day. She met Mr Berlow for the first time on the morning on which she pled guilty. The question of his negotiating a plea was then discussed for the first time. Her conversation with Mr Berlow took place in the street outside the court building. It was a busy main street with buses passing. The conversation lasted for about ten minutes. She said that Mr Berlow told her in forceful terms that she would have to plead guilty and that if she did not, she would have to represent herself or explain to the court why she did not have a lawyer. Her position was that although she had not declared income, she thought that she did not have to do so until the renewal of Working Tax Credit in July, at which point her benefits would be calculated and any adjustments would be made. Mr Berlow said that if she was admitting that she had worked but had not declared that, then she was guilty. The appellant said that she never told Mr Berlow that she wished to plead guilty. She did not ask him to negotiate a plea to a reduced amount. She pled guilty because she felt that she had no choice.

Gallacher's solicitor, Matthew Berlow, gave this account of the situation and his conduct:

[6] Mr Berlow said that the appellant had come to the office of his firm and instructed the firm to represent her. On that occasion she filled up legal aid forms. There was a general discussion about her case. He thought that he had seen her on that occasion; but he could not specifically recall it. It was possible that he did not meet her on that occasion. She might have met his partner. He had consulted with the appellant in the street because of the lack of interview facilities at the Dumbarton Sheriff Court annexe, which was being renovated at the time, and for reasons of privacy. He had been told by his assistant, Mr Sinclair, that the appellant had instructed him to negotiate a plea. She seemed not to understand the difference between guilt and mitigation. He told her that there were stacks of evidence against her and advised her to let him negotiate a reduced plea with the procurator fiscal. She instructed him to do so. Her general position was one of guilt. He had negotiated a plea with the procurator fiscal in the restricted sum and the procurator fiscal had agreed to drop the second charge. The figure that was negotiated was an arbitrary figure. There was no rhyme or reason to it. The appellant then gave him instructions to plead to the reduced charge. He also advised her about sentence discounts. Mr Berlow added that nothing that the appellant said to him left him in any doubt that she was guilty. He accepted that he indicated to her that he was considering withdrawing from acting for her. He felt that they (sc his firm) were compromised because she had clearly given an indication to Mr Sinclair to negotiate. When asked if he had made clear to her that she would be on her own, he said that he did not know if he had used those words, but that he had probably said that she would have to represent herself that day and then find new solicitors. When asked if it was possible that she took what he said to her to mean that she had to plead guilty or look after herself, he replied yes, and that that was correct from a professional point of view.

I have no idea who Ms Gallagher is and cannot speculate on her situation. That she was put in this situation by the man meant to be representing her legal interests is scandalous. It is easy enough to imagine oneself in her place, disorientated by a bemusing edifice of law and lawyers, not much bothered about you or your understanding, your attempted gauche exculpations. In a study of an English Crown Court, Paul Rock suggests that a different sense of time predominates for professional lawyers and judges - accused persons, witnesses and complainers. For the lawyers, the daily churn makes for a cyclical apprehension of time, day after day  spent dealing with similar matters, similar disposals. For the second group, coming to Court generally does not assume this cyclical form. Their experience of crossing the threshold of Law's Temple is embedded as an episode in life's linear account of time's passage. Witnesses wait to take the stand, give their evidence, and then cease to be a witness. They have little in the way of the criminal lawyer's eternal return. The grim fact is that many, many accused persons will experience "justice" in a manner very similar to that complained of by Ms Gallagher. The hurried scurrying of insiders, all significance, the alien shuffling of papers, the discomfort of being a stranger in a strange place, surrounding by professionals who seem to know what is going on, but don't let on. Yet, exceptionally, the Court accepted Ms Gallacher's argument. And quite right too. Said that Lord Justice Clerk Gill, in his usual assiduous, judicial way...

[11] It would be unfortunate if in deciding this appeal we had to attempt to resolve the conflicts in the evidence of the appellant and Mr Berlow, particularly since Mr Berlow was not represented in these proceedings for his own interest. I think that that course is unnecessary in the circumstances. From the evidence that we have heard there are, I think, five indisputable points. First, there is no direct evidence that before the day of the hearing the appellant had ever evinced a desire, orally or by letter, to plead guilty. Second, it seems to be accepted by Mr Berlow that, as the partner dealing with the appellant's case, he had no meeting with her to discuss the case, and may not have met her at all, before the day of the plea. Third, Mr Berlow did not give his critical advice to the appellant to plead guilty until the morning of the hearing, and then only minutes before the case was due to be called. Fourth, he gave this advice in a conversation on the pavement of a main road that was busy with traffic and passers-by. Fifth, he gave the advice with the clear and overt warning that if the appellant did not accept it, he would withdraw from acting and leave her to represent herself that day before the sheriff.

These circumstances, said Lord Justice-Clerk Gill, were "demonstrably prejudicial to the appellant", the on the hoof persuasion to plead guilty "unsatisfactory on any view" and concluded that "the appellant did not have a proper opportunity to consider the implications of the step that she was being pressed to take. In my view, the circumstances were clearly prejudicial to her. The conviction must therefore be regarded as a miscarriage of justice." Given the facts, this is a remarkable, humane judgement by the Court. It also has the paradoxical result that by zealously extorting his client to plead guilty, Mr Berlow has managed to have her conviction quashed. Let nobody argue that law lacks a sense of irony.

27 May 2010

Legislators' bad habits & the power of recall

Once upon time, there was a jolly old gent called Sir Reginald Sittish-Standish, who sat as Member of Parliament for Buxomdame North, Bladderpole and Widdle-on-the-Mead. His dearest wish was to become a Peer of the Realm. Being a cunning but indecisive old grandee, Sittish-Standish was convinced that the best way to  catch the PM's eye and demonstrate his elder statesman credentials was to sponsor a spiffing new Act of Parliament. His wife, the suety Hon. Phyllida Cumberbottom, having repaired to her country seat on the north point of Bladderpole, Sir Reginald sat in company in town. Supping on a beaker of after-dinner port with his grog-blossomed Tory cronies, he was primed to announce his latest cunning legislative wheeze. "Do tell!" they goaded toadily. 

Handily, Sir answered them thus. "I'm fed up of those monstrous young jackanapes with their "skateboards", clogging up the traffic and generally making a damned nuisance of themselves. Better to secure the public safety on her Majesty's highways and byways, I propose that Parliament enact at the earliest opportunity my Skateboarding (Abolition) Bill!" With a dandy flourish, Sittish-Standish produced his text: s1(1)(a) It shall be an offence to employ wheeled conveyance technologies on the roads. His boozing auxiliaries cheered this spot of splendid public policy. The Con-Dem Government included the new section in their Great Repeal Bill. Lords and Commons hastily acted to enact the full abolition of egregious skateboards on British roads. The Queen gave her frabjous consent. Lord Sittish-Standish of Buxomdame finally earned his peerly ermine overcoat.  The roads were emptied, not a skateboard (or a car) to be seen. Standstill safety reigned, and they all lived happily and locally ever after.

Obviously, this is a totally absurd example. But this tendency is merely an exaggerated form of a familiar and more ubiquitous legislator's sin. Sir Reginald's Act obviously does do what he claims it does. He hasn't wholly misnamed his project. Equally, however, his operative section covers a ludicrous gamut of concerns merely including the one he mentions. The fairytale makes brutally clear the gap which can exist between the represented purpose and goal of legislation and the actual powers and laws enacted. Legislators too readily get stuck to private gluey accounts of their business, bald guesswork and claims about the future implementation of policy which are too wedded to their legislative intention and insufficiently attentive to the full implications of the sections they're enacting. This familiar problem popped back into my head last week as I read this section of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Programme for Government. On "a power of recall":

The parties will bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall, allowing voters to force a by-election where an MP was found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing and having had a petition calling for a by-election signed by 10% of his or her constituents.

So sayeth the Coalition's Programme for Government. Which set me thinking, how might they actually do this in practice? The 10% seems reasonably clear. In my own constituency of Glasgow Central, for example, prompting such a recall would require a petition to be signed by 7,038 constituents. That isn't the bit which caused me to summon up the spectre of Sir Reginald Sittish-Standish, however. It is the phrase referring to Members "found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing".  You can see what the drafters have in mind in the context of the Westminster expenses scandals. Tribunes getting caught with their hand in the till, perhaps a conviction for some sort of offence are probably instances of the serious. But what about wrongdoing which offends the consciences of constituents, which they take to be serious?

For example, what about representing and serving them systematically poorly, incompetently and with irregular effort, entirely without distinction? What about crossing the floor? I imagine Quentin Davies' Conservative constituents were rather put out when he joined Labour in 2007. To them, such heinous disloyalty to the blues may well have constituted "serious wrongdoing". Or what about an MP sponsoring or supporting a particularly monstrous bit of legislation - or at least, legislation which offends the sensibilities of 10% of their electorate? Would that be serious wrong doing? To mention a hypothetical situation, if legislation governing abortion was reconsidered in this Parliament, surely we can imagine campaigns originating in religious districts trying to displace an MP supporting the practice. Recall elections, on this legal prospectus, have all the capacity to be a campaigner's dream and a means of securing significant publicity for an issue.

Crucial here is the question who decides? The phrases found and serious wrongdoing seems to imply some sort of articulated standard which will constrain the electorate's capacity to force an election. It smells of secretive frauds, uncovered peccadilloes made notorious. Alternatively, it might suggest a procedure where individual MPs are certified to be odious scoundrels by some body so empowered for the task. If the right of recall is bounded by technical definitions of wrongdoing - then it really will be an anaemic standard. In particular, if it is tied up with criminal convictions, chances are that recall elections will remain instruments of potential resort, but practically exceedingly difficult to bring about. Merely reflect how few MPs are actually being dragged before the courts. However, the phrase engaged in wrongdoing seems to suggest a looser standard, which isn't bound up with the criminal vocabulary of guilt and conviction. Accusations of wrongdoing, rightly, are not exhausted by legislative standards of minimal rule-following. But how could such a less-technical standard work in practice? Who gets the final word and why should they have it? A vote of parliament on each individual petition?

As you can see, the Government will have to be very nimble and subtle legal draftsmen, if they are going to produce a text remotely capable of the empowerment and constraint implied by the Programme's present language. So nimble and so flexible, in fact, that I have my doubts about the sturdiness of any legal document trying to reconcile these two commitments, limiting MPs who are at risk of extraordinary election on one hand - and claiming that this is a policy of popular empowerment on the other.

Alternatively, if there is no statutory definition of serious wrongdoing, ruling some petitions in and others out, then the section of the Programme for Government is misleading. What will then have been constructed is not a situation where a recall election can be forced in specific circumstances of serious wrongdoing but where a petition of 10% of the electorate can bring about an election simpliciter. This second approach seems to me preferable, leaving the least room for institutional special pleading and the most room for the electorate themselves to determine what is good or bad representation, what is faithful service and what is unacceptable voting behaviour, having to be justified before the full constituency. Limiting such a power seems to me most happily achieved in terms of the threshold of signatures which a petition would have to marshal, if an election is to be forced. We should expect, however, campaigning groups to use such a power creatively - in ways that aren't I think anticipated at the moment. Equally, in order to reach such thresholds, the formation of strange and poised coalitions of interest is a distinct possibility.

Either way, the Con-Dem coalition have two options. Create a limp mechanism, of use only in the most extreme circumstances of criminality and technical blameworthiness - or alternatively, launch a wholly new, unstable experiment in Westminster democracy. Fingers crossed for the latter.

26 May 2010

The end of "Scottish" Labour?

More of a question today, I think. Labour's lamp in shattered, its government in the dust lies dead.  Historic forth terms, consigned to  mere historical speculation. Nevermore Prime Minister, Gordon Brown shall be. Out traipses Alistair Darling too, repairing with Brown to Labour's back benches.  It is easy not to notice yet, with all the old familiars in their same old places.   All that will change soon. Chatting to pater peat worrier the other day, he pointed out that a  more general transformation in the Labour leadership seems imminent. Under Brown's dispensation, several Scots were in prominent positions in the Cabinet, himself not least. Under Blair, of course, there was Broon as his constant Scotch prop. What is the promise of tomorrow? What of the Miliband(s') administration(s), or the Balls mob? And frankly, does it matter? Form line! eyes front! Atten-shun! Here are the forty one Labour souls Scotland sent to Westminster this time round.  Specimens, fit to serve, do you think?
  • Douglas Alexander
  • Willie Bain
  • Gordon Banks
  • Anne Begg
  • Gordon Brown
  • Russell Brown
  • David Cairns
  • Katy Clark
  • Tom Clarke
  • Michael Connarty
  • Margaret Curran
  • Alistair Darling
  • Ian Davidson
  • Thomas Docherty
  • Brian Donohoe
  • Frank Doran
  • Gemma Doyle
  • Sheila Gilmore
  • Tom Greatrex
  • David Hamilton
  • Tom Harris
  • Jimmy Hood
  • Cathy Jamieson
  • Eric Joyce
  • Mark Lazarowicz
  • Michael McCann
  • Gregg McClymont
  • James McGovern
  • Anne McGuire
  • Ann McKechin
  • Graeme Morrice
  • Jim Murphy
  • Ian Murray
  • Pamela Nash
  • Fiona O'Donnell
  • Sandra Osborne
  • John Robertson
  • Frank Roy
  • Lindsay Roy
  • Anas Sarwar
  • James Sheridan
Hard to see any new leader picking any of these folk to be their Chancellor. Without chortling at the absurdity of the suggestion, that is. None of these souls are running as the Gordon Brown Memorial Candidate for Leader either, while very few of them have any Westminster ministerial experience at all, despite the "long service" of many of them. There is a scattering of Parliamentary Private Secretaries. Several of them have lurked about in the Scotland Office over the years, but without slighting new-boy Danny Alexander - hardly one of the Great Offices of State, is it?  And hardly a heart-popping shock to see a fellow Scot in the role, frankly. Pater peat worrier's point is that the probable Anglicisation of the Labour hierarchy following their ongoing leadership election represents an important shift. How interesting, of course, will depend on what consequences it might actually have in the future. 

To work this out, we'll have to make some judgement about just how tribal Scottish voters are. Or more precisely, to what extent were Labour's 2010 General Election fortunes a consequence of Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling being identifiably "one of us"? In that cloying phrase: "Scotland's men in the cabinet"? Comparisons with the Tory fortunes are probably undue. After all, Scottish Labour MPs haven't been wiped out - they've merely been reduced to a backstage burbling throng. Silent lobby fodder, occasionally permitted to rise to ask a glottal and inarticulate question in the House of Commons. Or to descend to College Green, all gripe and vacuity, to trot out the party line and generally insult the intelligence of their constituents. In this respect, however, not much has changed. The nub seems to be the disappearance of one or two prominent Scots MPs frontstage, welcomed back into the obscure, primordial company and Stygian clutter of fossils that slump on Labour's benches. 

A fate of overwhelming anonymity seems likely to await this forty-one. Will it make a difference? Will the Anglicisation of the Labour front bench affect their capacity to woo Scottish constituents?  Will the departure of familiar Scottish mainstays weaken the party's ramshackle structure? I'm not convinced either way, but it seems extremely likely that we are now observing a significant 'break' in terms of the prominence of Labour Scots in Westminster. Worth speculating on. I'm interested in any theorems you might have, one way or t'other.

24 May 2010

Thomas A Swift’s Electric Rifle in our sights...

Do you know why they’re called Tasers? Rather picturesquely, Taser is an acronym for Thomas A Swift’s Electric Rifle, a title selected by its inventor Jack Cover in honour of the Tom Swift series of youth fiction novels. First published in 1910, I gather they were full of youthful inventiveness, high jinks and juvenile firearm production. Like Enid Blyton’s much-neglected Famous Five Try Nuclear Fission (1944) title or the Secret Seven Stage a Small-Scale Covert Incursion into Enemy Territory (1956). The title referenced in the Taser acronym is the jolly old Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle edition of (1911). You won’t be frolicking if you get needled by one, however, although you may flail about like a manikin with its strings rattled. Contemporary taser technology flings out a crackling 50,000 volts and costs the polis £1,000 a piece to purchase.

The nub of recent controversy over police use of taser technology in Scotland concerns a pilot that is being undertaken in Glasgow City Centre and Rutherglen. Thirty officers in Strathclyde Polis were trained “over a three day period” in the use of stun-guns, including on “the proportionate use of tasers in line with human rights.” The pilot commenced on the Monday 12th of April. As I mentioned at the end of last week, Amnesty International secured a legal opinion from Aidan O’Neill QC on the legality of this pilot project and have called for it to be suspended, based on his submissions. 

But what is the nature of his legal arguments? How do these relate to Amnesty's overall argument against the deployment of Taser technology? And just how effective is that combination anyway? Headlines cry – taser pilot contrary to human rights! - taser pilot unlawful! Which rights, and unlawful in what way you might well enquire. I agree with the Scottish programme director of Amnesty, John Watson that "... most folk just want to hear the basic arguments and leave the legal detail to others."  Equally, the detail is fundamentally important for the law and politics of the thing. Or at least, that is what I intend to try to demonstrate in the subsequent discussion. 

I must admit, I was initially rather suspicious of the lack of information on Amnesty's site, when I searched for the relevant news release. I have a magic piece of paper in my pocket that says you are wrong - but no, you can't see it - that smells fishy to me. To be fair, all it took was a brisk e-mail and they were gracious and helpful in providing me with full copies of O'Neill's advice, the letter to Kenny MacAskill and the Executive Summary. Interestingly, I also gather that it was this summary that was sent to all MSPs and members of Strathclyde police authority. Compared with the more closely worked, more intertextual advocate's opinion, the summary contains a very much reduced version of O'Neill's more nuanced arguments. My point is that our tribunes aren't being asked to scrutinise or even engage with the legal analysis itself - there is a significant dollop of argument from authority, here. Even more so in the case of a casual member of the public, interested in the issue, who could not even access the summary document without being impertinent enough to ask for it individually. This fact in itself is somewhat interesting, in the sense that it shows how groups like Amnesty operate in a network of those in the know, strategically facilitating press reductions of complexity into happy headlines sure to put pressure on your opponents in the public sphere. It also tells us something significant about how difficult they seem to find it to get policy makers, never mind the public common, to actually read detailed documents on complex issues.
Thus, those just skimming headlines, without getting an eye full of the argument, may be disposed to conclude that O'Neill suggests that the pilot is fundamentally unlawful. That the electric eels coiled inside the instruments themselves are wicked and pernicious and cannot but inflict degrading and inhuman treatment on those they strike at.  Not quite. O'Neill's arguments focus on Article 2 of the Convention - the Right to Life. It being admitted that the use of Tasers can kill people, the question becomes one minimisation and control of the State's death-dealing technology. In fact, O’Neill’s submissions (although not unimportant) are a classic of a certain sort of dry human rights genre. Loosely, we can think about it as the Arbitrariness Problem. It is not really concerned with suffering caused or potential fatalities induced by massive, crippling bursts of electrical energy, per se. Nor does it specifically address the virtue of the use of tasers whether as a general bit of kit, common to all police officers, or the limited armament of a particular specifically-trained cadre of Authorised Firearms Officers. Rather the human rights argument is primarily about the demand for law. Its formulation is - because tasers can kill people - we need clearly delineated guidelines for their use. Not - tasers can kill people, therefore law enforcement officers shouldn't use them.

"Unregulated and arbitrary action by State agents is incompatible with effective respect for human rights. This means that, as well as being authorised under national law, policing operations must be sufficiently regulated by it, within the framework of a system of adequate and effective safeguards against arbitrariness and abuse of force "

This is not human rights law at its most expressive. Previous examples of the Arbitrariness Problem in Britain included wire-tapping. In the days when there was no legislative framework, the Chief Police Constable merely gave his fellow officers the nod to invade the suspected criminal's house, stick bugs in his furniture and generally play official Peeping Tom to find out what he was up to. No on, said the European Court. We can blame Napoleon for the restless typographic spirit of European legalism. It sits, sometimes rather uncomfortably, beside the apparently looser strictures of the Common Law. In sum:

What is of particular concern from a Convention rights standpoint is that there appears to be no readily accessible clear and unequivocal policy setting out the circumstances under which Taser might be used and the legal limitations on its use. Certainly the Scottish Ministers have not set out any such policy document.  No such policy appears on the web-site of policies of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland. A search of “Taser” on the Strathclyde Police web-site as at 6 April 2010 bring only a reference or link to a police press release publicizing the fact that the pilot scheme extending Taser operational use was now in place.

Not what you expected, perhaps? The structure of the argument should alert you to one clear conclusion. If such orderly ministerial material was available and such guidelines clearly delineated, there is nothing in European Human Rights law to stop every police officer in Scotland carrying a taser in his or her back pocket. The human rights problem appears because of a lack of lawful authority and the need for lawful authority which human rights law requires. Aidan O'Neill QC's note of advice again:

I do not consider that, under the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 , the local police authority is given the power - whether by its consent (or failure to object) - to clothe the scheme in any lawful authority.    And I do not consider that the Chief Constable of police forces in Scotland are given authority under the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 to provide the necessary written authority required under Section 54(3) of the Firearms Act 1968 for the purchase or acquisition of firearms and ammunition for the public service. Instead the power to grant such authority is one which Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 invests in the Scottish Ministers.

Politically, where does that leave us? MacAskill is probably wriggling, uncomfortably. The Maximum Eck seemed to be sticking to his guns at First Minister's Questions last week. If we are hostile to tasers, is this helpful? Not necessarily. As you will have seen, this is a proceduralist type argument. Not unimportant, certainly not unimportant. But as I say, it is not a firm basis to oppose the use of tasers per se. In fact, if I was an enthusiastic supporter of electrifying recalcitrant arrestees, it would be all too easy to take all of these arguments on board and outfit my whole force with the stun guns. The good of it, at best, is that it drags the issue from an "operational matter for the Chief Constable" into the public forum. I strongly doubt, however, whether European human rights law is a strong rampart from which to defend the further political argument - that we should strictly limit how many police officers are armed with these instruments of electrical incapacitation and in what circumstances they should deploy them in. After all, just visit Europe. One cannot help but be struck by the ubiquity of firearms in the holsters of the more our neighbours more militaristic gendarmes.

This, in an important sense, is as it should be. Human rights law may draw lines on the edges of the map - but it is for us, through our politics, to chart our way across the landscapes of possibility that remain to us. Amnesty won't be able to lean long on legalisms. The question, it seems to me, is this. Do we want  police forces fully armed or not? On this point, it is illuminating- very briefly - to quote from some of the Parliamentary answers which O'Neill arrays in his Note from the period of 2004 till the present day.  They disclose the recent shifts in position. On the 18th January 2006, Cathy Jamieson told the parliament that:

The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) approached the Scottish Executive in September 2004 seeking Scottish ministers’ views on extending the operational trial of Taser as a less lethal option for Scottish forces in dealing with firearms incidents.

Also in 2006, Jack McConnell said that:

Tasers will be issued only to authorised firearms officers who have successfully completed an approved training course in the use of the device.

Yet the Strathclyde Police notice, announcing the pilot, declares that the:

The aim of the pilot is to curb the number of assaults on officers.

And crucially, the thirty pilot officers equipped with Tom Swift's Electric Rifles are also not authorised firearms officers, either. Like a scruffy Vicomte Sébastien de Valmont, Kenny MacAskill's repeated answers to all of this is that it is an operational matter for Police Chief Constables: "Its beyond my control". Fundamentally, I don't find this terribly convincing, nor is it a satisfactory answer to the police on their own motion accumulating any number of instruments of death or painful incapacitation. If I had to guess, much of this Ministerial stubbornness may be brought on by anxieties about the ever-more-familiar "soft touch Scotland" line. After all, how soft touch is nabbing a suspect by blasting them into a fugue by subjecting their gonads with massive electrical currents? I've always supported the idea of our police force not carrying guns, but having access to well-trained fellow firearms officers, if the situation was of sufficient extremity to call for it. I would therefore entertain significant qualms about any scheme to arm every Scottish officer with an electric rifle, however orderly and lawful the governing provisions might be, setting down circumstances for their proper use.  Amnesty's intervention may be a mechanism to begin a public discourse on Tasers. In that discussion, however, we largely leave behind the arguments of human rights law, and assume all the responsibility and difficulty of politics. As it should be.

23 May 2010

Human Rights Act: "Oh what a tangled web we weave..."

Before the General Election, I strongly criticised the declared Tory manifesto policy:

"To protect our freedoms from state encroachment and encourage greater social responsibility, we will replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights."

There are many different grounds on which a cogent critique of this policy could have been (and can be) mounted. I spent most of my time trying to tease out the Scottish implications in the legal context of the devolution settlement. As it happens, these objections have been at best peripheral to the debate in Westminster, which is largely seen as being informed by Conservative and Liberal Democrat divisions on the goodness of the Act. Cries of "Scrap the Act!" may be understandable agonistic declaration of feeling, if I was a tubby Tory  tribune, bloated with an inchoate sense of resentment and with loose but undeniable suspicion of Europeans - but the detail never really stacked up. How could international standards be lowered or altered, if you simultaneously refuse to loose the international obligations which compel the observation of those standards? Some critics will be consistent of course. Leave the Council of Europe! Leave the EU! In one fell swoop, the deed is done. The point is that Tory critics of the Act propose and proposed neither of these things. In the event, Tory notions were overtaken by the hung parliament and their new elbow-friends in the Liberal Democratic Party, with rather different ideas on keeping the Act. In this week's 30 page coalition agreement, the relevant section reads as follows...

We will establish a Commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties.

As others have noted, the wording here is important. It may be that between their Commissioners, the Westminster Government can agree on a Bill of Rights. This could be a British affair and the Human Rights Act might be repealed. Or to put it another way, the Human Rights Act would be discreetly wrapped in the Union Jack with a few more friendly sections and guarantees added. Would that satisfy hostile critics? Largely, this depends on the basis of their objections. If the standards are the problematic thing - whether on non-deportation of those likely to suffer torture or death or fair trial rights or what have you - we can expect a British Bill of Rights to replicate precisely the same issues which some of the tabloids find so troubling. A Bill of Rights, the the context of continued observation of Convention standards, could never be a solution to their problem. If, by contrast, your ire is stoked by the word European, in your simplicity you might well feel soothed by the domestication, distracted by the packaging. Life is more complicated. Most criticisms tack somewhere in the centre of these two poles, interchangeably moving from one register to the other as the rhythms of their outrage dictates.

A multitude of examples can be culled from the Daily Mail's sputtering outrage at the text of the coalition agreement. Crying "Human Rights cave-in including this monstrous quote from the crackingly fatuous Tory MP for Monmouth, David Davies, who suggests:

"Active members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban are living in this country and not being deported because of concerns about their human rights if something horrible happens to them if they are sent home. Personally I would have thought that would be a bonus rather than a reason for not sending them back."

"No middle way on Human Rights Act" proclaims the Daily Mail's leader article. Yet even here, there are hints about the practicality - and implications - of implementing the Tory manifesto commitment, if it is understood as fundamentally removing the standards of human rights protections required by signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Quoths the opinionated column...

"... on a question such as this - to repeal an effectively unamendable law or leave it in force - there can be no middle way..."

Quite so. And that is why it was always a daffy dunceman's policy. The Conservatives deliberately mislead their voters about what was possible and what they were actually proposing to do. This wasn't a great secret. It is complex, perhaps, the legal implications taking a bit of time to spell out. However, it doesn't and didn't take a genius to figure out the fatuousness of the Tory's Janus-faced rhetoric on the Act. If tabloid newspapers couldn't see this, more fool them. Stick it to the sods who lied to you, certainly, but don't pray try to convince us that you're wholly surprised. Three articles over the second half of the week basically reiterate this essential point. Love and Garbage rightly takes Nick Robinson to task for his amazing ignorance of the relationship between the Human Rights Act and the international obligations of the European Convention. I repeat, none of this was a great mystery. The impracticality of the Tory position was self-evident and repeatedly identified as such in the blogosphere well before the campaign. As the learned L&G says, part of it might be that:

"The Conservatives were not questioned on the policy before the election because the journalists didn't understand it was cobblers."

I'm not so convinced that we should take ignorance to be quite so general (but in Robinson's case, I'm willing to stipulate that it is probably genuine). Nevertheless, the fact that a BBC political editor doesn't know the legal status of his arse from his elbow is a crushing indictment of the expert amateurs in the press who so loftily snoot and sniffishly condescend about writing in the blogosphere, from their comfortable "professional" armchairs. Maybe we'd bashfully take the telling, if only these learned media souls didn't cock up so regularly and spin total misinformation. On this theme, advocate and former SNP MSP, Duncan Hamilton, reiterates the confusions which beset the "scrap the Act" policy in his article in Scotland on Sunday that the "Bill of Rights debacle exposes Tory and Lib Dem divide".  Unlike the gormless Nick Robinson, fellow BBC man Mark Easton is on the ball and sets out cleanly and clearly why in substantial policy terms and practical politics, there has been no Tory U-Turn on Human Rights. For those of you new to this area, unfamiliar with the finicky details, I commend the piece to you as a clearer exposition than I could rustle up. 

Meanwhile, expect the Daily Mail and company to whine their vengeful whines, purple with a sense of betrayal. And indulge in laughably ignorant histories of "Britain" and her ancient rights, no doubt as a form of cathartic transcendence. It is only just to say that their feelings are not wholly unjust - it is without doubt that the Tories were fundamentally dishonest in how they talked about the Human Rights Act and what meaningful steps they intended to take to change its strictures, if elected to governmental office. The cynicism of the thing is that the Daily Mail and other organs of public commentary must have known this was the case. Yet they continued to draft their righteous and fatuous Jeremiads, inevitably screwing the Tories, whether they had won an outright majority in the General election or not. There is simply no way that the Daily Mail's outrage is anything other than carefully staged, carefully calculated based on the anticipation that the Conservatives renege. While I agree that there will be dissent on the Government benches on this issue, its important to realise that this ballyhoo isn't solely or even primarily the result of the  divergent attitudes to the Act in the unanticipated coalition government. The practical constraints and wilful misrepresentation of the Tory position on the Act was always going to lead to this crunch. Oh what a tangled web we weave, when at first we practice to deceive...

"Yarr, Compass points Nor'-Nor'-East Cap'n!"

"Now north, now south, now east, now west,
The wavering point was shaken,
'Twas past the whole philosophy
Of Newton, or of Bacon;
Never by compass, till that hour,
Such latitudes were taken!"
~ Thomas Hood, From The Compass, With Variations

My declared intention on Thursday was to write some more involved comment on Amnesty's International's legal conflict with the Scottish Government of the legality of the Strathclyde Taser pilot. I anticipated tthat his would appear on Friday. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to obtain the relevant documents - including the whole text of Aidan O'Neill QC's opinion - until Friday morning and then the usual tyrannical hobgoblins of work dragged me back to the duties of my day job. At any rate, I have now accumulated the relevant bits and pieces of text. (Thanks for your gracious assistance, by the by, are owed both to Amnesty's Scottish office and the ever-estimable James of Two Doctors). The promised blawg on Tasers should slip free of the treacly inhibitions of delay and manifest here at the beginning of next week.

One point I've also discussed before is how often blogging begins in media res. Many citizen commentators have particular affiliations that allow us to allocate them to a particular groups, your Labour activist, Tory boy, SNP sympathiser, Liberal Democrat member and whatnot. These affiliations may imply general features of these authors' political beliefs, allowing us - as readers - to predict somewhat that their  principles  they will be committed to, what partisan tribes they've joined, and hence, what their response to the political subjects of the day will be. Categorisation in this way can be a great comfort, a great compressor of diverse complexities into a word or two that condenses multiplicities into workmanlike categories of understanding. It can also lead to befuddling confusions, if we don't narrow our eyes and strive to understand the judgements underlying the polemic. Starting in the middle of things frequently leaves these judgements deferred. As a result, as Malcolm Harvey has repeated discovered (to his sometime mortification), folk can acquire the queerest ideas of where you stand on the political spectrum and who you stand beside. 

It never seems appropriate to draft a post entitled My first principles, from which all subsequent postings shall be derived. This pervasive source of uncertainty in blogging - and reading blogs - was brought back to my mind earlier when I noticed that  Subrosa has been orientating her x values against her y values on the Political Compass. Although not an unproblematic mapping device, the Compass is a fun way of reflecting on our positions and where we sit in the relational field of opinion, when everyone is asked the same questions. To save you the tedium of my First Principles chapter, in the interests of disclosure, here is where the Political Compass places me on the political grid. Thereafter, I've also appended where the Compass folk placed the UK parties in the  late 2010 Westminster General Election.

21 May 2010

IDS alchemy and Cameron's "new" Cabinet..

I suppose it was my first foray into the field as a gauche young amateur anthropologist. My subject's habitat was totally alien to me. The climate was somewhat hotter and nobody I met sounded like me at all. My primary impression was one of entering a distinct Lebensführing, full of its own meanings and significances, replete with innumerable obviousnesses which hadn't disclosed themselves to my common sense. Like a buoyant bit of flotsam, I clung gratefully onto this ignorance, not much caring to begin the transformation which might transmogrify me into a member of this curious community I was observing. Critical distance was maintained, political distance absolutely confirmed. This odd political village was a conference on Compassionate Conservatism, hosted by Iain Duncan Smith, during his abortive phase as Tory leader. The milling crowd was striking. I vividly recall an oleaginous young man who was clearly trying too hard, cramped by petit-bourgeois anxieties. His lapel was graced with a Union-Jack flag and in case anyone missed the hint, his tie was decorated in the same pattern. If I ever bake a National Front gingerbread man, I will take him as my inspiration. On storky narrow beams, he crept close-sightedly about the room in his ill-fitted suit, awkwardly sipping tea like social-climbing Mr Collins,  a slimy absurdity. Pride & Prejudice indeed.

I also dimly recall others who surprised me. Gentle improbable souls whose Toryism seemed misplaced. These were all too frequently drowned out by confident, breezy louts who strutted around and generally capered like fawning sprites at the bottom of the greasy pole. Attractive bronzed young Tory women and strapping English chaps with massive hair. Being a well-balanced Scotsman, with chips on both shoulders, I can still recall the charmer who suggested to me - in addition to declaring his future intention to become a Tory MP - that "everywhere north of Manchester is basically the same, isn't it"? Just the sort of rhetoric to sneak up the Scottish Tory vote, I reckon. This was Englishness of a sort I'd never actually encountered before - confident, dominant - and as is so often the case about confident and dominant cultures - apparently blessed with relatively limited self-consciousness. Here is where it gets interesting. I've blogged a little before on how we think about the Scottish middle class. Ideas of the Scots bourgeois' mounting Anglicisation are probably best captured by the wobble, when it comes to identifying Edinburgh as a Scottish city. Frequently phrases like most English of Scottish cities, not really Scottish in the same way are bandied about concerning our capital. On this theory, Scottishness becomes most associated  and most generously distributed in working class styles (not an unproblematic concept, but bear with me).  The middle class Scot comes to be imagined as diminishingly Scottish and even increasingly Anglicised, this shift being demonstrated by their accents, a standard English vocabulary, bearing out in questions of taste, education, bearing, costume. Interestingly, survey research seems to show that this theory isn't borne out in how people think of themselves. Self-identification as Scottish being strong across traditional categories of social stratification.

This is something I'm familiar with myself. Having been educated in my youth in a small state school in rural Argyll, around the age of twelve I joined the 4% of children in Scotland educated in private schools. While there, I recall my gentle West Coast accent was subjected to close scrutiny and critical attention, suspicions of Englishness frequently falling upon me. There is much that is absurd and interesting about how the children and young adults orientated themselves towards problematic ideas of class and national identity. Now isn't the moment for a fulsome discussion of these themes.  My point, returning to the  crowd at the compassionate conservatism conference, is that in the main, I think crude versions of the Anglicisation thesis are misguided. Thrust into a centre of self-conscious Englishness, comfortably and authoritatively in its own place, as a bourgeois Scot, speaking Standard Scottish English permitted me to be readily understood by the English folk I encountered. It did not make their conceptual orientations or manners any more understandable to me. They were unrecognisable characters, stepping out of an almost novelistic, Edwardian version of Englishness which I'd encountered in prose and in film. So much for the crowd. I get similar pangs when I meet Americans these days, always feeling dumbly rather astounded to discover that they are real. Rationally, of course, I know that America exists and that fictional simulacra correlate, in a complex way, with underlying apprehensions of a cultural reality. Encountering the real old-school-tie Englishman or an individual poodle-brained American - both still retain a novel frisson.

Watching Westminster's recent rituals and the mannered nonsense of parliamentary form brought this juvenile apprehension back to mind. Questions of who is an expression of institutional authenticity are important questions. Who feels comfortable? Who feels (and is felt) to represent the best traditions of a place?  Who occupies that public sphere, confident that they belong? And crucially, whose alternative discomforted versions are sidelined or silenced? Characters like Sir Peter Tapsell and associated other tedious old  green bench bores and earnest parliamentarians, who rejoice in the dismal liturgies of fawning institutionalism, furnish an excellent example of this. If parliament had a school song, they would undoubtedly baritone it out, belly bust and bellow. These crusty right honourable grandees bob by like coelacanths of Victorian or Edwardian Angliciana. They strike me as a bizarre species, their continued existence improbable, fit to be stuffed and mounted in some fustian library of undead neo-Platonist philosophy and Anglican theology. Can one even begin to imagine a Sir Peter Tapsell in Holyrood? Every encounter I've had with this sort of entitled-church-queen-and-country-ancient-tradition-Toryism has left me totally befuddled. Its spirit is totally lost on me. Humble appeal to her Majesty, dribble, dribble, Royal Commission, ooze ooze, The ancient rights and privileges of this House, fawn fawn, Right Honourable Members - etcetera, etcetera. Meanwhile, its floppy dominance sets my pulse racing with mounting irritation. I dearly want to dismiss it as fatuous, lay traps and hooks for its more bloated leviathans and whip them from the body politick like varicose veins. Watching Westminster go about its business is like peering into a particularly farcical and tedious historical enactment society. Despite Holyrood's capacity for its own nonsense, and the inadequacies of our own tribunes, we are well shot of the Palace of Westminster's fatuous and effeminate fantoosh.

Another thought occurred to me, observing these earnest parliamentary farces. Scrutinising the Tory front bench, I realised that I had seen most of these faces before, mostly at the Conference I mentioned, during the doldrum days of the early 2000s when Iain Duncan Smith with leader of his party. Here are the members of IDS shadow cabinets who are presently new ministers of state or in the Con-Dem Cabinet. Sound familiar? David Lidington, Oliver Letwin, Iain Duncan Smith himself, Theresa May, Caroline Spelman, David Willetts, Lord Strathclyde, Liam Fox, Damian Green, Eric Pickles. That without mentioning the other conspicuous Tory revenants reanimated by Cameron's necromancy - the old carthorse Kenneth Clark and the new First Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary, William Hague. As I recall, a younger, not-yet elected Michael Gove also sat on a panel with demented shrew and justified journalistic sinner, Melanie Phillips. The dear lady informed the discomfited audience, as I remember, that compassionate conservatism was an awful idea and the Tories deserved to be flailing in the mire, as Labour political dominance continued. I can't bring to mind the substance of what Gove had to say, but I remember he was engaging and spoke without a trace of a Scottish accent, all of his vowels flattened out like a squashed penny, in the English style. As you can see, the status quo isn't what it once was. The unleavened bread of IDS Toryism, with a little Cameron yeast, has risen to high office, changed changed utterly. And all using the same ingredients! Forego the temptations of the philosopher's stone. This is impressive alchemy with real results.

20 May 2010

Mora, acquiescence and taciturnity...

As a blogger who aspires to revivify the connections between Scots law and Scottish politics, it has been culpably remiss of me to have failed to mention one of the politico-legal stories of the week. As most of you will have heard in media outline, Amnesty International commissioned a legal opinion from QC Aidan O'Neill (who is becoming something of a regular character in these parts), on the lawfulness of an ongoing Taser pilot in Strathclyde. This six-month experiment, authorised by the Chief constable of Strathclyde Police, provided for tasers to be issued to non-firearms officers after a short period of training.  The pilot proposes to 'test' the efficacy of this arrangement, cognisant of the future possibility that tasers become a standard piece of equipment of all officers in the force. Concerns have been expressed on many bases about the pilot-trial, resulting in a Liberal Democrat debate on the question in Holyrood on the 25th of February this year.  I also neglected this debate at the time - happily I've now got a chance to amend my previous dereliction. As you will know by now, Aidan O'Neill submits in his opinion that the Strathclyde taser pilot is unlawful. The question got a couple of mentions (and a couple of Eckly rebuffs) at First Minister's Questions today. For today, my mora, acquiescence and taciturnity will have to continue. Tomorrow, however, I'll be publishing a more substantial piece, trying to untangle the ugly yarnball of politics and law at issue here, which Amnesty International and the Scottish Government have been busily knotting and intertwining into the present almost impenetrable guddle.

19 May 2010

Fare thee weel, Baillie Bill Aitken!

Woe to all Aitken-watchers! The BBC are reporting that Baillie Bill Aitken, Glasgow Tory and MSP since the Scottish Parliament began work in 1999 will not seek re-election in the 2011 Holyrood elections. Quoth the Everlasting Baillie, "I don't want to hang about. Once you've done all you can do, it's time to move on. I've firmly enjoyed my council service and parliamentary service. But it's time to go." Poetic stuff, but hardly, I fancy, an appropriately eloquent epitaph to this estimable public servant. Having a penchant for profane and unnatural odes and ballads, I instantly commissioned long dead Elizabethan poet, Michael Drayton, to knock off a new edition of his famous poem, The Parting, to commemorate the end of Baillie Bill's penal servitude. Here is what the ghoulish rhapsodist threw together for old Bill~

Baillie Bill's Departing

Oh Baillie Bill, come, from the Tory list depart
Nay, do not stay, time Holyrood to flee,
And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,         
That thus so cleanly we get rid of thee.
Packed off for ever, gone his baldy pow
Being just, Bill always threw the first stone.  
Old Reaction’s judgements are quieted now ~
Oddly absent Aitken’s adenoid moan.
Now at his last gasp of parliamentary breath,
Baillie’s pulse racing, Vainly the Lords lists he eyes,
Slumped on his bed of political death
As we cheerfully rehearse gleeful - farewell, goodbyes!
In time we might grow wistful
For Baillie’s one-syllable "police"
And recall quite fondly how
It used to rhyme with grease.

~ Michael Drayton, on hearing that Tory MSP Baillie Bill Aitken would leave Holyrood in 2011

18 May 2010

Unemployment benefits "too high & discourage job seeking"?

Last week, I brought you some of the detail from the recently published Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. Much there of interest for those concerned with the authority of devolved institutions, but concerning notes on women's faith in the capacity of the Scottish Government to reach fair decisions. Concerning material too for Iain Gray's on the efficacy of his anti-Eck rhetoric on health and the state of the public finances. If the findings of the survey are to be believed, Scottish Labour may face significant difficulties tacking Sturgeon and Swinney to the wall with their storied tales of Salmond slumps and SNP cuts. Voters seem minded to follow the public penny from spending back to its source. Like Theseuses, lost and befuddled in the midst of a maze of competing claims about final responsibility for economic downturns, they pluck on the financial threads and follow the skein of Scotland's block grant back to Westminster. Unlike our Greek hero, who escaped Daedalus' labyrinth by following Ariadne's thread, Scottish voters find themselves faced with the plump spider's figure of the Chancellor of the UK Exchequer.  Some stop here and set about accusing the Westminster government - still others press onward and lay the blame, finally, with the occult forces of the global economy. Very few seem disposed to share the conclusion which the bull-headed, charging Gray invites them to reach, that an SNP government with extremely limited economic powers is primarily responsible.

One finding which I didn't mention but which is worth lingering over concerns recorded attitudes to unemployment benefits. Here is a reproduction of Table A.13 from the survey:


Too low and cause hardship
Too high and discourage job seeking
Other response
Don’t know
Not answered
Total respondents

Although the shifting direction of opinion since 1999 can be seen from the foregoing arrangement of columns, a tidy little graph visualises the developments in Figure 3.4, which I've replicated below. Just click on the image for a clearer view.

An important question which the researchers could have asked the respondents is - on your understanding, what is the weekly amount of jobseeker's allowance paid to the unemployed? And equally importantly -  what level income seems to you the minimum acceptable amount per week? Think about this yourself, if you are not familiar with the first figure. Just how much do you think it is? In a recent  Guardian article, also picked up by Joan McAlpine, David Conn suggests that in his experience, folk tend to answer around £100 a week or so. A look at the government figures, however, hastily disabuses you of such preconceptions. The maximum weekly figures vary depending on one's status. Single people aged under 25 receive £51.85. The seven-day benefit  for singletons older than 25 leaps to the dizzy heights of £65.45. Lone parents receive exactly the same amount.

It is a dominant theme of this week - but the devil really is in the detail and justice is in small places, close to home. Gusty rhetoric and hymns to the crowned, winged goddess Fairness will mean next to bugger all to those scratching out a living of amazing niggardliness on the penury of Jobseeker's Allowance. Yet increasingly, the Social Attitude Survey seems to suggest that many Scots have been distracted by dominant discourses that the unemployed are a tawdry band of lazy shirkers, idlers and would-be apprentices to the leech-craft of the professional and permanent state beneficiary. Labour must bear the great weight of responsibility for fostering this distorted attitude while neglecting the substantive, significant figures. It is  scandalous. That's why it is a pity that the survey didn't attempt to gauge the level of benefits which its respondents apprehended  were paid or challenge them with the actual level of money which this pinching paternalistic allowance allots to those who have lost their jobs.

How many of those who thought benefits were too high would be shocked, as their vague notions sharply impact with the reality? Faced with the figures, certainly, some die-hard opponents might well still insist that such benefits are pandering and unproductive. I would hope, however, that civil conscience would prevail in many, many more instances, when people realised the true levels of benefit paid to those out of work. Given the new coalition's disposition towards airiness and grand narratives, we can anticipate much skirting over of these concrete figures in the months and years to come. We must insistently, time and time again, throw the detail back in their faces, niggle at their good consciences and prick the noisy declarations of their own virtue and their much vaunted Fairness. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say.