24 April 2010

Saturday's light reading...

So we don't get too dazzled by all the besuited razzmatazz and personality politics of the election, I thought it only fair that I fill your Saturdays with scholarly joy, and mention a few pieces of research which have emanated from the Scottish Government over the last few days. The first, wonderfully ideosyncratic piece doesn't have the most creative or opaque title in the history of social research - it merely wishes to generate an  Understanding Why Some People Don't Use Buses (2010). Although it is easy to make light of such things, its easy to forget that particular modes of travel aren't just one way of facilitating movement from A to B. In many cases, it is the necessary condition for some folk to make any voyage across their towns and communities at all. A bus can stand like a metal sentinel before the portals that lead to life's richness and connectedness. 

It is dowdy, for all that, not a heavenly chariot. But we shouldn't be surprised. We'll always find more justice in small things, close to home, than we will scrutinising the cyan vaults of heaven. On point, someone recently related an appalling story to me of a  physically disabled woman, who lives in Glasgow, but who never now uses its buses. In the days when she tried, regularly she said, the driver slowed up at her stop - took one look at her waiting there and calculating that his sloth mattered more than this woman getting accessible access to the bus on equal terms with her fellow citizens - sped off instead of stopping, leaving her standing there. Scandalous and contemptible. Like justice, injustice too makes itself felt in these little places of life - even in bus stops.

The second couple of publications I wanted to mention concern reviews of two innovative approaches in criminal justice in Scotland, Drug Courts and Youth Courts. Review of the Glasgow & Fife Drug Courts (2010). With penny-pinching in the air, these well-intentioned and imaginative attempts to take new tacks with stubborn social ills begin to look precarious. Pilot Drug Courts were introduced in October 2001 in Glasgow and in August 2002 in Fife. Obviously, money isn't everything about these processes - and not all goods are reducible in a straightforward way to coin of the realm. What will become of the project - i.e. if it will continue to receive Scottish Government funding hereafter - remains to be seen.

With similar themes in mind, the Review of the Hamilton & Airdrie Youth Courts (2010) is also worth a look, primarily for the substance of the thing itself, secondly because it has political dimensions. The pilot Youth Courts' goals are:
  • To reduce the frequency and seriousness of re-offending by persistent 16 and 17 year old offenders (and some 15 year olds who are referred to the courts).
  • To promote the social inclusion, citizenship and personal responsibility of these young offenders whilst maximising their potential.
  • To establish fast track procedures for those young offenders appearing before the Youth Courts.
  • To enhance community safety, by reducing the harm caused to individual victims of crime and providing respite to those communities who are experiencing high levels of crime.
  • To test the viability and usefulness of a Youth Court using existing legislation and to demonstrate whether legislative and practical improvements might be appropriate.
A bit of background on the whole project furnishes us with some helpful context - and also references the political ballyhoo that may be to come concerning non-renewal or expansion of this particular project. The Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament are very committed to the notion of Youth Courts. Any non-renewal would be like catapulting an Arctic fox into the midst of a colony of nesting Terns ~ met with much screeching, pecking and ruffled feathers all around.


1. Pilot Youth Courts were established at Hamilton Sheriff Court in June 2003 and at Airdrie Sheriff Court in June 2004. The Youth Courts were evaluated by external consultants whose report was published in April 2006. The report concluded that the Youth Courts had been successful in meeting their objectives, as far as could be assessed at that time. The particular strengths of the Youth Court were noted as being the fast-tracking of young people to and through the court, the reduction in trials, the availability of a wider range of resources and services for young people and ongoing judicial review. It was too early at that stage to ascertain whether the Youth Courts had had an impact on offending behaviour.

2. In November 2006, the previous Administration announced continued funding of the Youth Courts for a further 3 years, with a view to their position being reviewed in Spring 2009. This review would assess the Youth Courts' impact on reoffending rates, with regard to the impact on the Youth Courts of the recent reforms of summary justice. The current Administration announced in January 2008 that a decision would be made about any further Youth Courts in the light of this review.

Perhaps the stickiest, albeit caveated conclusion of the report is that "Overall, the analysis, whilst not conclusive due to low sample sizes, suggests that the Youth Courts have not been particularly successful in terms of reducing reoffending." This might not make very compelling reading for a Government which will be eager to find areas where extra expenditure can be cut, without apparent decrease in overall efficacy.  The image of Youth Courts emanating from this Review reads as a classic in that genre. The report finds that the cost of fast-tracking amounts to £1,812 extra cost, per offender, per process, compared to the more stately pace which prevails in your ordinary Sheriff Court. Which, as the authors make clear, is not to say that dedicated Youth Courts don't have positive aspects. Merely that the connection between these good things and diminishing re-offending seems limited. Given the foregoing, given that this will be on Kenny MacAskill's desk for decision, Youth Courts with fast tracked processes may not be an experiment in justice which we can afford.


  1. Ohh no, not another one.

    Karen Whitefield has been obsessing about busses on her blog for a few weeks. I'm not allowed to mention the war, I mentioned it once (or twice) and I didn't get away with it. Those messages get deleted from her "Have your say" section.

    Anyway, for most things I find a bike is better than the bus and the train… or the car.

  2. Fear not, my biking friend!

    I can give you an assurance that this is the only reference to an omnibus that you are likely to encounter on this blog for the foreseeable future. It isn't the first bubo of a wider outbreak, à la Karen Whitefield (whose writings, I admit, I haven't the heart to follow myself).

  3. Alas Miss Whitefield is my MSP, when not decorating cakes.

    She hasn't managed to tell us when she last used a bus herself but, allegedly, her constituents speak of little else.

  4. Interesting report on buses. Having been subjected to First Bus in Glasgow for several years, I now avoid buses at all costs. For some reason, I still get strange looks from other people when I explain, but it's good to know other people agree.

    It'll be interesting to see if Transport Scotland and the Government do anything about the recommendations. The answer, I suspect, may be in the negative given it's an election next year and no-one wants to annoy a certain someone.

  5. You have my most profound sympathies, wee folding bike.

    Even by the depressed standards of Scottish Labour in Holyrood, you've drawn yourself a lousy constituency hand there.

  6. Hythlodaeus,

    “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking”, Nietzsche suggested once, if I remember rightly. Optimistically, I trust in the truth of this particular aphorism, generally plodding from my pillars to my posts in life. Over decent distances of course, generally trains intercede. For that reason, its been yonks and yonks since I set a single small toe in a bus. Still, if any soul squints at you oddly in future as you bash buses - you can produce verbatim social research generalising your own position. Not perhaps the best party trick, but not without its comfort!

  7. Nietzsche missed a trick. Since 1841 we have had another option to help us think.


    "I thought of it while riding my bicycle", is reputedly what Albert Einstein said about his Special Theory of Relativity.

  8. Touché! Offhand, I think Nietzsche was having a go at a French author - maybe Baudelaire - who was equally sure of the virtues of sitting down for mulling things over.

    Three new ages of man, perhaps?

  9. Was the bus photo taken at the railway bridge in Hyndland about two years ago when the Transport Museum had a vintage bus day?

    I took two of my boys on an early '70s decker and they were surprised there were no seat belts and didn't know what the ashtrays were for.

    Earlier in the week I was explaining to one of them about dropping off film at the chemist when it occurred to me that my 7 yr old and two of his brothers have never seen actual film.

    Boys awake, time to let them see last night's Dr Who.