30 May 2015

Justice in small places, close to home...

This week has seen the publication of the UK government's nigh-impenetrable Scotland Bill. I have a lot of sympathy with Stuart Campbell's diagnosis that the proposals are opaque, and extremely difficult for even the informed reader of reasonable intelligence to follow. Even as someone with some experience of analysing statutes, it taxes the synapses to keep the 1998 Scotland Act, the 2012 changes, and these fragmented and technical reform proposals in your mind simultaneously. It is tough.

With my legal hat on, I recognise that legislation must be to some extent a technical, careful business. But that's no excuse for the UK government's remarkable failure to present its plans to the public in an accessible, intelligible way. David Mundell's PR has been dire. The Smith Commission PR was dire. If I was a unionist, concerned that the enhanced devolution proposals should be presented in the clearest, best light, I'd be bald as a coot with the frustration.  The promise of more devolution may or may not have secured the majority against independence, but to present your Big Plan with so little energy seems bananas. And yet another Scotland Bill falls stillborn from the parliamentary press.

In a small attempt to cut through the legal thicket, I took a look at the proposals in yesterday's National, trying to offer an even-handed, pro-indy look at what Cameron's majority is and is not proposing. An excerpt:

"IF THE Bedroom Tax debacle taught us nothing else, it is that injustice often begins in small places, close to home. Injustice is felt in individual lives, blighted; in potential, squandered; in nights and winters spent light-less, heat-less, cold. “Your application has been denied.” “You have been appraised as fit to work.” “Sanctions will now be imposed.” The tools by which these injustices are achieved are not glamorous. Nor are they overtly wicked. They are technical, abstract and bureaucratic. Regulations and policy papers, ministerial statements and working committees, statutory instruments and legislative details. They are dispassionate, dominating. The hand that signed the paper has no tears to let flow.  But the same is true of justice. You won’t find it in soaring speeches, in inspiring rallies and bold, vague statements of principle. Scotland has already seen and heard too much, far too much, of that. If justice is to mean anything substantial, anything real, it must mean justice in small places close to home."

Read the whole thing here.


  1. I've often wondered why the resulting act (ie post any changes) is not also published with such things. Is it simply deemed to be too much work? To avoid confusion should an incorrectly modified version be put out? To deliberately obfuscate?

    1. With the rise of information technology, these cumbersome, text and paper based methods are becoming increasingly indefensible. Legislating by AP: the way of the future.