29 April 2012

Jack McConnell - and his weans - hacked...

A scoop, and a very significant one, for the Daily Record this morning.  The Labour-leaning paper exclusively reports what has apparently been known to him for "several weeks", that former FM Jack McConnell's details - and those of his two children - appear in News of the World hacker Glen Mulcaire notebooks. 

The alleged hacking of McConnell and his two children is thought to have taken place between 2001 and 2007, when McConnell was in office as First Minister.  The article implicitly - but only implicitly - posits the following as an example of the sort of material the News of the World might have gained through unlawful access to private information.

"Lawyers for Jack McConnell’s family are now scouring stories in the shamed News of the World’s Scottish edition for evidence of phone-hacking.  The now defunct Murdoch-owned Sunday carried a front page story in 2002 that former TV presenter John Leslie had begged Lord McConnell’s daughter Hannah for a night out. The newspaper claimed Leslie had sent Hannah, then 23, a “barrage of calls and text messages” after they met at a charity dinner in Glasgow.

Their story claimed: “Lusty John Leslie bombarded Jack McConnell’s daughter Hannah with text and phone messages until she finally agreed to go out with him.” The newspaper said that Hannah initially turned him down.It claimed: “Leslie called Hannah again and again, inundating her with messages until she caved in.” The pair went on one date in London and did not see each other again."

The McConnells are all, reportedly, suing civilly.  The Record piece is overlarded with a good deal of partisanship, baiting hooks for Salmond fishing, but that shouldn't distract from the significance of this development. On all sides of Scottish politics, we've heard only banal boilerplate condemnations about the hacking scandal, or a certain diffidence about the whole affair, attributable perhaps to seeing it as a Fleet Street problem, limited to London.  

Ironically, if you read the Information Commissioner's Motorman report of 2006, one of the few Scottish titles explicitly to be ranked on its hierarchy of offenders (Scottish editions of UK papers not being disaggregated) was the Record itself, against whom the Commissioner recorded seven transactions where private information was unlawfully tafficked for by two Record employees.  One of Motorman's key investigators has already indicated that Rangers' Ally McCoist was amongst those who were Scottish victims of the "black market in illegal information".  Remember, the Motorman investigator Alec Owens has also claimed that:

"Amongst the files there were a lot of Scottish telephone numbers for reporters, a lot of Scottish numbers like 0141, 0131. A lot of numbers I recognised as Scottish. There were a lot of victims in Motorman that could be related as Scottish."

And that:

"There was a lot of information about ... Scottish reporters. One in particular, who I can't name, came out very strongly and, had we been allowed to do the job we wanted to do, he would have been in the top 10."

This morning's McConnell revelations - particularly those touching on his children, and their private lives - surely ought to put pay to that complacency about the Scottish dimension which will - almost certainly, even understandably - receive scanty attention at Leveson.

27 April 2012

Salmond's astonishing naïveté...

Imagine, if you will, that you are a hoary old political warrior. Your cynicism well honed and hide scarred by innumerable past battles, you have a consuming addiction to the strategy of politics, and enjoy a reputation as an uncommonly accomplished calculator in that game. Sitting enthroned in your bastion, triumphant after having handily routed all politics foes, a queer old fellow comes knocking, professing friendship and saying he only wants a chinwag and a caramel wafer for his trouble. On closer inspection, you realise this elderly fellow is known to you. And what luck! To the rest of Britain too. 

Known, most recently, as a rapacious and reactionary corporate thuggee whose enterprises have become implicated in all manner of nefarious deeds. Perhaps not as their originator or even their accessory, but this man is certainly paymaster in all, and promoter of many of those suspected. To the rest of politics, so besmirching and risky has proximity to this character become, that all past encounters and past efforts to court him are hastily – if not entirely convincingly – jettisoned. Behind the wheezing steamship Rupe bob the flotsam of many political past friendships and courtships, hastily discarded. Sodden Labour and Tory rosettes float in his wake. 

Naturally, here’s the sort of fellow it would clearly prove politically advantageous to admit into one’s official residence for a chin-wag in February 2012. Embracing the leper may be a Christian duty, but to a politician with a speck of nous – never mind a track record of cunning application – it ought to be anathema. In that context, reconsider Johann Lamont’s remarks at FMQs yesterday, not as a partisan attempt to nail Alex to the cross – but as a matter of practical political calculation: 

“Rupert’s newspapers might be being investigated for bribery, perverting the course of justice, destroying evidence and perjury, but he is still welcome in wee Eck’s house… There are three police investigations, a judicial inquiry, and nearly 50 arrests, but Eck still puts the kettle on for Rubert.” 

On the News International side, this seems to me to be a pretty fair summary of the context, after all. It is an engulfing scandal, which may yet see a number of people adjudged guilty and clapped in irons. Above all, how it will unfold remains uncertain, so cultivating – intentionally or unintentionally – any perceptions of closeness to very visible figures entangled in it is profoundly risky. Which makes you wonder, at what point did Alex’s political acumen – or caution – desert him, and why? What the devil was he thinking, in admitting this man to Bute House last February, recognising as he did the political impact of “the revelations about phone hacking and Milly Dowler”? 

Alex’s defence is that it was all about jobs. And indeed, this account certainly finds some support in the evidence submitted to Leveson (Exhibit KRM 28), where Salmond's 12th of February lunch meeting with Murdoch is described as concerning “News Corporation’s investments in Scotland”. This is corroborated by a remark made by Salmond at First Minister’s Questions on the 1st of March 2012. Pressed by Lamont, Alex Salmond described the 12th of February meeting as:

“… a meeting to determine jobs and the economic footprint of Scotland”.

That well before the stated rationale of the encounter became a matter of generalised political controversy.  Seen as a matter of bare calculation, meeting Rupert in February was colossally risky – and indeed, is so obviously colossally risky , that one really has to wonder what possessed Salmond or his advisers to permit it to proceed. Here was a man recently pulled before parliament, whose organisation was already implicated in extensive and organised phone-hacking, including of the phone of a prominent victim of murder, the corruption of police officers, and several high profile former employees had been arrested and may yet be charged.  While the Motorman report seems strongly to support the thesis that this wasn't a Murdoch-paper problem, but an industry problem, nevertheless, with the closure of the News of the World, Murdoch has been the emblematic figure.  

Ah, but those jobs. Remember those jobs. A First Minister is under an obligation to strain every sinew to secure investment in Scotland. It would be remiss, negligent even, to do otherwise. 

Up to a point, Lord Copper. But what this argument implies – and implies none-too-convincingly – is that the only way Salmond could hope to emphasise the importance of BSkyB’s employment operations in Scotland was personally to invite the indicted figure of Murdoch over to his public residence. All of which smacks of, I’m afraid, a familiar piece of politician’s whimsy. That sense of your indispensability, fondly fancying yourself a grand man of action at the centre of it all, making all the vital directions and interventions. This is politics in the West Wing line, where the majestic charisma of the central character of the drama and their personal relations are pompously fetishised. Let us sit down, and talk, as men. 

In the past, I’ve railed against the complacency implicit the First Minister’s answers on phone-hacking, which have implied – against the grain of the available evidence – that the whole imbroglio could safely be confined to Fleet Street, and that Scottish politicians needn’t trouble themselves too much about it. I wonder now if that sense of complacency about the Scottish dimensions – and a sense of London as a different political world, and its controversies as inapplicable north of the Tweed – contributed to the insensitivity which saw Salmond serve up shimmering bar of Tunnock’s finest to one of the most embattled and maligned figures in British public life, apparently without a twinge of apprehension about how this would be perceived, or the narratives and potentially discrediting accounts of himself which it may - and now has - contributed to. 

This Salmond’s tu quoque defence, and reasonable invocation of Labour hypocrisy and mutual incrimination simply won’t – can’t – answer. While it is certainly true that Labour leaders and Prime Ministers and their Tory successors were slithering supplicants, worldly men engaged in worldly business in Rupert's court, that cannot account for Salmond's strange unwillingness to make the obvious political calculation, and like the rest, contrive to put some political distance between himself and this lighting rod of hostile commentary.  Not to have done so has demonstrated either astonishing naïveté or foolish complacency. Even accepting the First Minister’s account of his motivations in meeting Murdoch, and the economic interest at stake, keeping in so visibly with Rupe after this scandal broke was, in that cunning old dog Fouché’s phrase, “worse than a crime, it was a blunder”. 

If this is “canny” political operating, then I’m a turnip.

22 April 2012

How can the SNP cope with its incoherence?

It took me a wee while to work out why Robin McAlpine's essay for the Jimmy Reid Foundation jarred interestingly, and seemed somehow at odds with the ordinary run of Scottish political discourse.  Entitled "Loyalty never seems to get in the way of the voracious right", the core of Robin's argument is that...

"If the right of the SNP is allowed to simply disregard Party discipline and kidnap the agenda in an attempt to create a New SNP, then New SNP will pay a price. It is the left of the party which has shown loyalty and discipline that needs to stop this – by speaking out now."

Explicitly drawing parallels with the arc of the New Labour project, McAlpine concludes:

"If SNP policies are all up for debate, fine. If the position on Nato was just sort of conversational, not an actual commitment, then the left should rise up equally vociferously about the corporation tax policy. There are two simple reason for this. The first is that a message has to come out of the SNP that it is not about to be captured by the right. And the second is that the SNP leadership must get the message that if it accommodates the wilder fantasies of its right wing, it is allowing the lid to be lifted off the box and a battle for the soul of the Party is underway."

Although the essay uses the phrases easily and repeatedly, and takes its readers to think readily with the concepts, when last did you hear anybody talking about the SNP left or right wings? Who constitute these wings? What characters belong to these internal blocs within the party with consistently antagonistic perspectives on matters economic, social - or what have you? Where might we locate Alex Salmond, or Nicola Sturgeon on this spectrum? What of Kenny MacAskill or Stewart Stevenson? The interesting thing, it seems to me, is that the collectives McAlpine promotes - "the right of the SNP", the "left of the SNP" are not really part of contemporary Scottish political discourse at all.  Without a good deal of mapping of this virgin territory, the SNP isn't readily envisageable or even semi-regularly envisaged in the media, in print, in our discourses in terms of the French Révolutionary spectrum of its political "wings".

This is curious. Examine the SNP purely at the level of ideology (used here "neutrally" as opposed to pejoratively). Prima facie, one might think the diverse constitution of the SNP - a party which encompasses old style social democrats, socialists, social conservatives, social liberals and neoliberals - risks disagreement at every turn.  As political coalitions go, you might expect nationalism to prove particularly unwieldy. That being in government, and embroiled in a series of detailed policy decisions across state domains, would generate a series of political scuffles in the SNP, as incompatible policy agendas and visions for the state - united under a bare nationalism - vie for dominance.  At least in public, and for all I know, in private too - none of this has materialised.  The orderly ranks of Nationalist parliamentarians have consistently endorsed collective decisions, without a murmur, or a wayward vote being cast. If this is essentially inexplicable at the level of party ideology - which is incoherent insofar as it encompasses neoliberals and socialists in the same outfit and everything in between - how can this unyielding coherence be explained? 

One explanation might be that the diversity of party opinion isn't reflected in the parliament, which is the preserve of trimming moderates and "pragmatists", whose unrigorous and comprising ideological commitments are sunk in a thin gruel of "common sense", and accordingly amenable to direction and manipulation by the party leadership.  Yet this doesn't seem wholly convincing either.  Kate Higgins may offer a more plausible answer.  In a post last December, the Burd described SNP party discipline in the following terms:

"Years spent as apprentices on the outside looking into the establishment of Scottish politics, being snubbed, underestimated, cuckolded and belittled have taught all SNP members and luminaries the need to stick together and work together for the common cause.  Simply because it’s always been us against them, with them being practically everyone on the Unionist side.  It’s a siege mentality that has served the party well and which partly led to eventual electoral success."

McAlpine's piece suggests a language for accounting for disagreements within the SNP which illuminates rather than suppresses this internal diversity.  It seems obvious to me that effective management of such disagreement - that is, making space for the legitimate expression of different conceptions of what Scotland's future should be like without shooting the campaign in the foot - is going to be a huge challenge for the SNP in the independence referendum, for one major reason.

The SNP is a political movement (composed of disparate and sometimes jarring strains of thought), but practically arranged as a party, with its formal hierarchies and definitive policy lines. With the atrophying of Scottish socialist parties and the stalled Scottish Greens, it looks exceedingly likely that the "Yes to Independence" campaign will by overwhelmingly dominated by, and understood in terms of, SNP policy. This arrangement has its uses: a visible leadership, folk embarking on the campaign with pre-existing working relations, organised campaign structures which facilitate a network of connections between the national and local levels.

Yet this alignment between nationalism and Nationalists has clear dangers and difficulties to be navigated. As we've already seen in the early part of the campaign, parties and their leaders are expectantly asked questions it would be absurd to ask of coalitions of opinion, and definitive answers demanded.  Few should struggle to recognise that a coalition of socialists, romantic nationalists, monarchists, republicans and neoliberals might endorse the idea of Scotland as an independent sovereign state.  Equally few would imagine it made any sense to demand the monarchist neoliberal speak for his republican socialist fellow citizens, about what an independent Scotland would and should look like.  Both would recognise that the debates about the head of state, and about economic and social policy, were future struggles to be had.  For today, both endorse the possibility of having those struggles, in an independent Scotland.

In questioning a party, by contrast, there is no such reserve, whether or not that party is stitched together of a similar patchwork coalition of diverse political commitments. "These are questions for Alex Salmond to answer", Unionist politics have all-too-regularly demanded - and significantly, the SNP leader has embraced their logic.  He's started doling out the definitive answers, on the monarchy, on currency - and so on.  It may well be that given the SNP dominance of the "yes" campaign, a campaign primarily emphasising the possibilities of independence could never materialise, and the Maximum Eck had no choice but to bow to the demand that his party produce a catalogue of certitudes, rather than emphasising the diverse future democratic opportunities offered by independence, in which those presently in the SNP would be but one voice, amongst other voices.

By embracing their the logic foisted upon the party by its opposition, the SNP may have gained a blunter, less risky-seeming platform to take into the referendum. Yet that bluntness surely has its price, making it still more difficult for the SNP to publicly avow and manage its internal ideological incoherences.  It is an expedient of political seigecraft, but one which offers few obvious sally ports through which the SNP's internal ideological diversity might find legitimate expression without being stigmatised as suspect splits, schisms and politically damaging party disunity. You have to wonder. Is it really pragmatic to fetter oneself with the - basically absurd - expectation, cultivated and promoted by Unionist politicians and now apparently accepted by the SNP leadership, that (N/n)ationalism ought to be monolithic and monological?

21 April 2012

"The candidate is ... um ... wooden".

"The candidate is wooden. We fear he's a dummy.  His public speaking skills aren't up to much, and doesn't he have such unnatural, cold, hard hands?" "That's nothing.  Have you looked into his eyes? Dead, they are. I've seen livelier corpses in my puff." "Do you mind that woman we doorstepped last week who asked him what he thought about local services? Untwitching, his featureless face didn't move an inch. He just sort of... looked at her.  I had to carry the useless so-and-so out of there on my own back..."

Familiar worries for election agents, introducing their less than expressive, charismatic or socially confident charges to the electorate.  In the Aberdeen city council race, however, it seems an independent candidate for Hazlehead, Ashley and Queen's Cross - Helena Torry - has more a compelling excuse than the flabby, wan wheyfaced parade of bad suits running for office. As the council's returning officer philosophically put it...

"It has been brought to my attention that Helena Torry, for whom a nomination paper was submitted for the Hazlehead, Ashley and Queens Cross ward, does not exist."

A rather harsh conclusion one might have thought, given the photographic evidence conclusively proving that Helena Torry - "the voice of the silent majority" - can at least make a reasonable claim to material reality.  Certainly, her joints disclose a certain stiffness, but the candidate clearly has an idiosyncratic interest in fashion, showing a particular proclivity for canvass hats, pairing bright colours and diaphanous floral numbers with gay abandon.  To the drab council palette of the two-piece suit and careful tie, Torry's wardrobe offers a multicoloured rebuke. 

Such disruption to conventional fashion is rarely tolerated by the powers that be, however, and just as her political career was getting going, it is understood that Helena Torry has been taken into police custody and her election agent - Renée Slater - charged with offences under the Representation of the People Act 1983. Suffering from the stiffening condition popularly known as "dummy's elbow", and wanting effectively opposable thumbs, it is not known how Ms Torry was able successfully to submit her nomination papers, in which she is required by law to give her name, address, and an indication she consented to be nominated to run in the local election.

Since proceedings are now active for the purposes of the Contempt of Court Act, there is a limit to what one can say.  Always keen to give you all the legal angle on the great political controversies of our time, we can, however, discuss hypothetical forms of electoral jiggerypokery, criminalised under the statute Grampian police indicate Torry's designated election agent has been charged under, and the maximum penalties anyone found guilty under the Act might face.  

Say I was running for council office in the north west, but was disqualified and didn't disclose it - or I fibbed about my address - or falsified my identity altogether, purporting to be none other than the Kinlochbervie Chronicle's Ecclefechan Mackay (MA) (thereby, incidentally, also misrepresenting my qualifications). What then? What if, to humiliate a rival using a particularly queer device, I nominated them to stand for office without their knowledge, forcing them either to campaign to save face, or to fail disastrously, no doubt affording me devilish glee? The Representation of the People Act 1983 provides that:

65 Tampering with nomination papers, ballot papers, etc.

(2) In Scotland, a person shall be guilty of an offence if—
(a) at a parliamentary or local government election, he forges any nomination paper, delivers to the returning officer any nomination paper knowing it to be forged, or forges or counterfeits any ballot paper or the official mark on any ballot paper; or
(b) at a local government election, he signs any nomination paper as candidate or in any other capacity certifies the truth of any statement contained in it, knowing such statement to be false; or
(c) he fraudulently or without due authority, as the case may be, attempts to do any of the foregoing acts.

And the penalties? Interestingly, those depend on the identity of the fraudster or tamperer.  Election officials who are dishonestly compromised get handily shellacked in the statute, subject to pretty severe penalties - and quite right too:

(3) If a returning officer, a presiding officer or a clerk appointed to assist in taking the poll, counting the votes or assisting at the proceedings in connection with the issue or receipt of postal ballot papers is guilty of an offence under this section, he shall be liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment to a fine, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years, or to both;
(b) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or to both.

But what of your common-or-garden cheater or fiddler, who committed any of the acts I gave in my example, embroidering their nomination papers with fibs? What price their swindling of election officials? The 1983 Act again:

(4) If any other person is guilty of an offence under this section, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or to both.

Under the current dispensation, that amounts to a maximum imposable fine of £5,000, and effectively (given automatic early release), a quarter year spell in chokey.  Happily, however, "not existing" can be an exceedingly effective defence to any prosecution.  While the unhappy voters of Hazlehead, Ashley and Queen's Cross will be deprived of Helena Torry's candidacy, it is a fair bet that the dear lady will herself escape from this unhappy incident, with her escutcheon unblemished and her criminal record clear.

19 April 2012

Did broadcasting the Gilroy sentencing "open up" Scottish justice?

A slightly uncertain stage-presence, yesterday Lord Bracadale was recorded passing sentence on David Gilroy, convicted of murdering Suzanne Pilley. The law requiring the court to pass a life sentence, the judge determined that the “punishment part” of Gilroy’s sentence – before which he would is ineligible for parole – be set at 18 years. It was a quiet, precise decision on sentence, not a heavy, declamatory verdict viewers saw. No terrorising Braxfield, Bracadale’s delivery was understated, without many rhetorical flourishes, or tart moral denunciation of the prisoner’s actions. The hellfire tirade a hanging judge, it wasn’t.

Is this the “opening up” of Scottish justice? Did the footage afford an insight into the life of courts which a text transcript could not? Colour me sceptical, for a couple reasons. Firstly, what we saw was a bare – very bare – outcome of a process, not the process itself. For understandable reasons of sensitivity, the camera was perched in the empty jury box and fixed on the bench. The judge addresses the room, which was, I gather, thronging with people, but might have well been empty but for Bracadale, all we could discern in frame. The selectivity imposed by the camera even transfigured this event into untruth, of a sort. 

Of the evidence in chief and cross-examination, claim and counter-claim, summing up, and verdict which brought David Gilroy to “this sorry pass”, a sentencing statement affords not much insight at all. Remember that Bracadale’s statement was the also the conclusion of the sentencing hearing that morning, during which his defence representatives would have made submissions in mitigation. Again, none of this was shown, and the sentence was largely “unpicked” from its context – just as it is when the judicial prose appears in newspapers, or is read out by actors on the telly. 

My second qualm and note of caution respects selectivity. The broadcasting of Gilroy’s sentencing was owed in great part to the press’s interest in murder trials in general, and atypical murder trials in particular, STV petitioning the Lord President for permission to film in court. I don’t mean to be obtuse. Of course, I can understand why the media have a heightened interest in particular cases, and why others are neglected. It seems to me important, however, that we keep in mind the extent of the discrepancy separating proceedings provoking passionate media attention, and the day-to-day “reality” of the Scottish criminal justice system taken as a whole.

The latest (2011) statistics on court proceedings in Scotland show that some 137,000 people were prosecuted in Scottish courts during 2009-10. Scottish Government statisticians estimate 88% of those proceeded against were convicted of some charge. Of those convicted of some offence that year (120,772 people), which courts undertook the work? What percentage of cases are in the High Court, do you think? With juries, or without them? How many judges sitting alone? The pie chart below shows the breakdown for that year, which is not untypical for the past decade.


Notice that, despite the dominant impression the institution leaves on the public consciousness, jury cases made up just 4% of all Scottish cases where a charge is proved against the accused. To reorientate that detail another way, and to sharpen its surprise for those apt to prate on about the scandal of European trial by judges, 96% of people convicted of offences in Scotland see nary hide nor hair of a lay juror, except perhaps, as they dally about the court lobby.

If you are really interested in understanding the Scottish justice system in sum, you won’t do so by filming a murder trial in the High Court of Justiciary. On those 2009/10 figures again, homicide convictions constituted 115 of the 741 produced by the High Court: just 15.5% of them. Set in the broad context of Scottish criminal justice, murder convictions made up just 0.095% of all convictions that year. If we wish to understand Scottish justice aright, and know its day-to-day processes for what they are, STV would have to show as much enthusiasm for sending its crews into Justice of the Peace courts, and showing sheriffs working alone, as it expended on gaining a clip of Lord Bracadale yesterday, passing sentence.

17 April 2012

HMP Cornton Vale "not fit for purpose..."

Its contents in large part exposed beforehand by a series of discreet leaks to the press, today the independent Commission on Women Offenders, chaired by former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini, publishes its reports and recommendations.  The Commission's remit was:
"... to consider the evidence on how to improve outcomes for women in the criminal justice system; to make recommendations for practical measures in this Parliament to reduce their reoffending and reverse the recent increase in the female prisoner population".

This after a damning and profoundly saddening account from Hugh Monro of the atmosphere and facilities at Cornton Vale, Scotland's national facility for female prisoners. In April of last year, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland wrote of the "low staff morale and a general malaise" in the prison; its "very obvious and real atmosphere of boredom"; the clear inadequacies of the physical conditions of the prison itself, concluding that "the dignity, safety, infection control and health issues associated with this unacceptable situation are even more stark than in 2009". To generalise one of the Chief Inspector's particular assessments, Corton Vale was comprehensively indicted as an "utterly depressing" place, and a totally "unsuitable environment in which to hold very vulnerable girls and women". 

The Angiolini Commission agree. I've only had the briefest moment or two to scan the 108 page document, but the main coverage of the report will doubtless focus on the Commission's recommendations that Cornton Vale women's prison be flattened, and replaced by a ...

"... smaller specialist prison for those women offenders serving a statutory defined long term sentence and those who present a significant risk to the public.  Additional places for women offenders should be provided in local prisons to enable improved community integration and family contact (...) and supported accommodation should be commissioned as an alternative to custody and to support women on release."

About bloody time. The monstrous scandal of the place has resisted every well-intentioned attempt at modest improvement and reform. Like the Bastille, the problem it represents can only be assuaged by wholesale demolition.  The fug of sorrow and despair which clings to the place, and its melancholy roll-call of self-harm and suicide, ought to be a source of national mortification. Of Cornton Vale itself, the commissioners concluded that:
"Cornton Vale is not fit for purpose. Overcrowding has caused significant problems for the management and staff, and has inhibited opportunities to rehabilitate women and reduce their reoffending on release. The mental health needs of women are not being addressed adequately. There are high levels of self-harm and there is a lack of constructive and meaningful activity. Staff working in Cornton Vale also find it very challenging due to the nature and complexity of women’s needs."

As you might expect, the Angiolini Commission's recommendations ranged more broadly across the criminal justice system.  Here are their essential conclusions, in summary.

1. Community Justice Centres (one stop shops based on the 218 Service, Willow Project and Women’s Centres in England) are established for women offenders to enable them to access a consistent range of services to reduce reoffending and bring about behavioural change.

2. Multi-disciplinary teams (comprising, as a minimum, a criminal justice social worker, a health professional and an addictions worker, where relevant) are established in the Community Justice Centres to co-ordinate offending interventions and needs, reduce duplication of effort and make more efficient use of resources.

3.  Women at risk of reoffending or custody should have a named key worker from the multi-disciplinary team as a single point of contact as they move through the criminal justice system, including any periods in custody, to co-ordinate the planning and delivery of interventions.

4.  Intensive mentoring (a one-to-one relationship where practical support and monitoring is provided by mentors on a wide range of issues relating to offending behaviour) should be available to women offenders at risk of reoffending or custody to support compliance with court orders.

5.  Supported accommodation should be more widely available for women offenders to increase the likelihood of a woman successfully completing an order or complying with bail conditions.

6.  A national service level agreement for the provision of psychiatric reports is developed between the National Health Service (NHS) and the Scottish Court Service to increase access and timeliness of such reports to assist the court with a sentencing decision.

7.  Mental health services and approaches should be developed in such a way that facilitates women with borderline personality disorder to access them. Mental health programmes and interventions for short-term prisoners are designed so that they can continue to be delivered in a seamless way in the community.

8.  The Scottish Government’s mental health strategy must place a greater focus on women offenders, specifically the provision of services to address trauma, self-harm and borderline personality disorder.

9.  An urgent review of the provision and resourcing of services for women with borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (in relation to previous abuse and neglect) should be carried out.

10.  Mental health training for police, prison officers, criminal justice social workers and third sector must be widely available, with ongoing supervision.

Alternatives to prosecution

11. Fiscal Work Orders (unpaid work orders of between 10 and 50 hours – ’fine on time‘) are rolled out across Scotland for offenders as an alternative to prosecution. Procurators Fiscal are given new powers to impose a composite diversion order, which could include both unpaid work and rehabilitative elements.

12.  New powers are given to the police to divert women offenders from prosecution by issuing a conditional caution directing women offenders to attend Community Justice Centres so that appropriate services can be delivered.

13.  To ensure the availability of appropriate diversion schemes across Scotland and more consistent use of this measure, the services and programmes provided or coordinated by Community Justice Centres will be available to women at the point of diversion from prosecution.

14.  To help Procurators Fiscal quickly identify suitable cases for diversion, the police should highlight in their report whether a person is suitable for diversion, taking into consideration the victim and community.

15.  Alternatives to remand Bail supervision is available consistently across Scotland. For women offenders (‘bail supervision plus’) it will include mentoring, supported accommodation and access to Community Justice Centres to enable better compliance with bail orders and provide decision makers with the confidence to release on supervised bail rather than place women on remand.

16.  The Scottish Government examines further the potential of using electronic monitoring as a condition of bail, taking into account the findings of the pilot conducted in 2008.

17.  Immediate steps are taken by the Scottish Government to encourage and ensure that communication and awareness of alternatives to remand in custody among all of those dealing with offenders is improved.


18.  In order to provide a broader evidence base than is currently available on the effectiveness of the problem solving approach, a pilot of a problem solving summary criminal court should be established for repeat offenders with multiple and complex needs who commit lower level crimes. This pilot should run for male and female offenders.

19.  A truncated Criminal Justice Social Work Report, a Rapid Report, is available in summary criminal courts on the day of conviction, where possible or within two working days to enable the appropriate sentence to be imposed and implemented as quickly as possible.

20.  That in every case where the sentencing court assigns subsequent Progress Review Hearings, the judge who passed sentence should, wherever possible, deal with the subsequent hearings.

21.  The introduction of two new sentences; a composite sentence of imprisonment which would comprise a custodial element and a community based element and a suspended sentence.

22.  The Judicial Studies Committee is supported in being able to provide comprehensive training at appropriate intervals including induction training and engagement with local prisons and community based criminal justice services.


23.  Cornton Vale is replaced with a smaller specialist prison for those women offenders serving a statutory defined long-term sentence and those who present a significant risk to the public. The new national prison for women offenders should include:
  • Meaningful and consistent work with sufficient premises to allow that work to take place and enable all women prisoners to build skills for release and improve self-esteem and mental health. 
  • A medical centre with adequate space for group work and individual appointments to address physical and mental health problems.
  •  A separate unit for young women. 
  • A purpose built mother and baby unit.
  • A family-friendly visitor centre with an outside play area for children. 
24.  Most women prisoners on remand or serving short-term sentences are held in local prisons to improve liaison with local communities and reintegration once their sentence is complete.

25.  Video conferencing facilities are widely used to help manage the logistical demands made on Cornton Vale, reduce travel and improve communication between women and their families, and social workers, and make significant cost savings.

26.  We recommend that an independent non-executive member of the Scottish Prison Service Board is appointed with a specific remit for women offenders, championing and driving through change.

27.   Gender specific training is provided to all professionals working with women prisoners.

Community reintegration 

28.  Inter-agency protocols on prison discharge and homelessness are introduced across all areas of Scotland with the twin aims of sustaining tenancies when women are in custody and of securing access to safe accommodation for every woman prisoner upon release from custody.

29.  In order to prevent financial instability that may lead to the recommencement of offending behaviour, the UK Government, which has responsibility for Social Security matters, puts arrangements in place, as a matter of urgency, to ensure that every woman prisoner can access her benefit entitlement, immediately upon release from prison.

30.  Community reintegration support is available for all women offenders, during and after their custodial sentence is completed, irrespective of the local authority they are from. Offenders are met at the gate on release from prison by their key worker or appointed mentor.

Making it work (leadership, structures and delivery) 

31.  A new national service, called the Community Justice Service, is established to commission, provide and manage adult offender services in the community.

32.  A National Community Justice and Prison Delivery Board, with an independently appointed Chair, is set up to promote integration between the Community Justice Service and the Scottish Prison Service, and deliver a shared vision for reducing reoffending across the community and within custodial settings.

33. A senior director in each of the key agencies is identified to take responsibility for women offenders, championing and driving through change.

34.  The Cabinet Secretary for Justice reports to the Scottish Parliament within six months of the publication of this report, and annually thereafter, on the steps taken to implement the recommendations in this report. 

15 April 2012

That exclusive Kinlochbervie Chronicle latest...

After a slight communications mix-up (Ecclefechan Mackay was sending messenger pigeons to Cambridge rather than Oxford, the numpty), effective connection has been restored to that redoubtable organ of record, the Kinlochbervie Chronicle. A sagacious looking plover has been deputed to bear all missives between me and he henceforth.  Perusing the latest edition's pages, I noticed the following interesting "exclusive" and thought it of sufficient interest to justify bringing it to more general attention.  Once again, the Scottish national press is left standing and mouthing incoherently, before the blistering journalistic skills of the folk of the north west.

SNP to consider "imperial war" change
Ecclefechan Mackay (MA), Political Correspondent 

The SNP is considering reversing its decades held position on the undesirability of Britain's colonial wars, the Kinlochbervie Chronicle has been told.

The party has been opposed to the country's military adventures for more than 30 years. But in the strongest signal yet that the leadership intends to move the party towards embracing the United Kingdom's legacy of red-coated imperialism, last night Alex Salmond personally coordinated a re-enactment of the Battle of Assaye (1803) outside his Strichen home, cheerfully monstering an actor dressed as the Tippoo Sultan with the blunt end of a period flintlock musket. 

The SNP would maintain its commitment to ditching "outdated" leather stocks for Her Majesty's scarlet-jacketed infantrymen.

"The warlike Caledon was and remains the mainstay of the British military, and I hope that would continue after independence", a sweat-streaked First Minister declared from under his Major-General's shako. It is understood Moira Salmond served as an enthusiastic rum-jenny during the skirmish, while Alex Neil deputed as a traditional gloomy, hatchet-faced British sergeant-major with a burning pathological hatred for his men and the enemy alike.

Professor Moan Chompy, of the Inverness Millennium Institute, said his research suggested any proposal to endorse "popular colonial adventures" would get a fair hearing from the SNP membership.

He said: "The majority of members would support the occasional drubbing of Johnny Foreigner, pocketing his tin and installing an imperial governor to keep a steady boot on his gonads, to keep him civilised. But it has to be said that it is a bare majority and the strength of feeling on this is not great. In other words very few of the SNP's members feel that this is a matter of great urgency and great importance".

One senior party figure, who did not wish to be named, told the Chronicle "we've been aware for some time that a substantial section of the Scottish electorate are war-fantacists who are rendered tumescent by the damp whizz of a cruise missile slapping off the Middle Eastern coastline. Messing yourself over military uniforms symbolises, in its way, what the social union in these islands is all about. As Scotland's party, it is only right for the SNP to reflect on this engorgement and adopt policies to take the country forward towards a united independence".

Another former advisor, who conspicuously refers to the Nationalists as "they" while continuing to work with the party, continued "I'm delighted that the leadership have finally taken this wonderful opportunity to advance the pragmatically pragmatic case for endorsing British imperial and colonial fantasies abroad. The SNP has come a long way since the days when it argued John Bull was an Englishman. We're all John Bull now."

12 April 2012

The latest Operation Rubiconia...

"Operation Rubicon mothballed?" I wondered last month, after the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police appeared before the Leveson Inquiry.  This wasn't a piece of wild speculation on my part. Lord Leveson himself implied (or at least seemed to me to imply) that the force's investigation into phone hacking, unlawful access to data and police corruption in Scotland had shrunk to encompass only the first point of the Crown Office's four-point term of reference for the operation:

1. Allegations that witnesses gave perjured evidence in the trial of Tommy Sheridan.

2. Allegations that, in respect of persons resident in Scotland, there are breaches of data protection legislation or other offences in relation to unlawful access to personal data.

3. Alleged offences determined from material held by the Metropolitan Police in respect of 'phone hacking' (Contraventions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) and breaches of data protection legislation in Scotland.

4. Alleged instances of police corruption linked to items 2 and 3 above, in respect of the unlawful provision of information or other personal data to journalists or persons acting on their behalf.
Leveson said the following to the Chief Constable at an early stage of his evidence:

“Your operation, I understand it is very specific, and covers one particular incident. I have no intention whatsoever to – of – impeding or affecting any criminal investigation or inquiry.”
As I pointed out, no reading of the Crown Office remit for Strathclyde could support this proposition. So what was going on? Had the Operation been quietly scaled back, focussing solely - or "very specifically" on aspects of H.M. Advocate v. Sheridan? There have been a couple of interesting developments on this score I wanted to flag up, in case you missed them. 

Last week, Steven Raeburn published a piece headlined "Exclusive: Sources claim police corruption and phone hacking investigation in Scotland scaled back".  The nub of the piece was that sources "close to the investigation" had confirmed those suspicions "that the operation has been restricted to probing a single item on its remit, the Tommy Sheridan perjury case."  A day later (Thursday April 5th), the Firm published a second story on point: "No arrests, but police say Operation Rubicon not scaled back".  Confuting those anonymous sources, and the impression made by Lord Justice Leveson in his remarks to House, Christine Allison of Strathclyde Police told the magazine that "Operation Rubicon has not been scaled back nor has its original intention been changed" and confirmed that "The enquiry is not solely restricted to matters arising from the Tommy Sheridan case." The police source also confirmed that no arrests had yet been made.

But what do you know? Uncannily coincidental though it may seem, this morning investigative journalist Charles Lavery reveals that a Glasgow-based police officer was apparently arrested last Friday (6th of April) as part of the Rubicon operation.  Writes Lavery:
"The officer was based at Govan police office in Glasgow and is believed to work in an intelligence capacity. His home was raided and searched on Friday morning and he was arrested over alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act. He was held in custody over the weekend. It is unclear at this stage whether he appeared at court on Monday, either on petition or from custody."

Read his full story here. 


Curiouser and curiouser. According to the Firmthey've been told that the police officer referred to in Lavery's story "was not arrested as part of Operation Rubicon."

10 April 2012

Glasgow: A seagull's eye view...

In my recent series of posts on the upcoming Council elections in Glasgow (one, two and three), I've focussed on a) how the electoral system works; b) the new SNP candidate strategy in the city and c) the challenges posed to the Labour party by their main competitor's change of approach, the proportionality of the system, and the toxicity that may make coalition-forming after the election profoundly difficult.

The obvious next subject to be addressed is: what fate awaits our custard-coloured friends, the Liberals, and who might benefit from the curdling of their modest Glaswegian support? Who could break through and where? Before getting into that, I thought it might he helpful for folk (particularly those from outwith the city) to etch something of an overview of how the council stood geographically after the 2007 elections, and how the various major parties fared in each of the city's twenty one wards. In particular, assessing concentrations of support and likely transfers will be essential calculations in assessing who might benefit from Liberal collapse.

First, a little context. I've attached an image of all of the Glasgow wards below.  Underneath the number designating each, I've notched the number of councillors returned from the ward in 2007, coloured for their party allegiances (the solitary purple I in the south west of the city represents Solidarity. Liberal Democrat and SNP are orange and yellow respectively). 

Since the election which generated this map, we've had the 2010 General Election, the formation of the coalition - and the 2011 Holyrood election.  In 2007, both the Greens and Liberals saw an MSP elected with respect to Glasgow (Robert Brown and Patrick Harvie).  In 2007, the Liberals took 14,767 votes in Glasgow (7.2% of the region, comparing to 11.3% of list votes cast nationally in their favour).  Come 2011, the posterior fell through his already modest level of support in the city, their accumulated regional vote decreasing to just 5,312.  Losing 9,455 votes in a trice is hardly a sign of political life prospering well, and I fancy the coalition will have done little in the intervening period to endear Liberals to their prodigal supporters.  It may be that cherished local candidates shall evade the national trend - but the 2011 Scottish Parliament result can hardly warm the cockles of frostbitten Liberal councillors in the city, defending 2007's gains. A parallel local election slump seems eminently probable.

Glasgow's underperforming SNP?

A strand running through all my pieces thus far is that the SNP probably undershot in the number of candidates it fielded in 2007, but I realise, I've done nothing to justify this in terms of evidence. So ponder this. Compare the 2007 regional vote for Holyrood with how the self-same set of voters cast their ballots in the simultaneous local election.  In 2011, the SNP won 39.8% of the Glaswegian regional vote to Labour's 35%.  While the SNP won its first parliamentary plurality in 2007, Glasgow continued stubbornly to prefer Labour, who won 38.2% of the regional vote, to the SNP's 27%. In brute numerical terms, Labour outpolled the Nats by just over 23,000 votes.  But notice that the widening gap recorded between the two parties in the simultaneous local poll held using STV. I've knocked together these two graphs, representing the differences.

While the number of Labour first preferences in wards dipped somewhat from their regional showing for Holyrood in 2007 (down 2,555), the SNP first preference vote in the local elections was 9,647 lower than their regional vote, and a massive 35,208 votes behind Labour's collection of first preferences across Glasgow.

Geographies of preference, or preferences of geography?

In 2012 in Glasgow as in 2007: a big two-beast dustup for the city.  But there are interesting nuances of geography in the city worth dwelling over.  I've pulled out the party preferences recorded in each of the 21 council wards depicted above, showing troughs, pinnacles and plunges as levels of party support veers from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, like the vaulting cardiogram reading of a heart patient after ten espressos.

This compares to the following SNP first preference vote in 2007, which saw a councillor apiece elected in every ward (and two in Baillieston)...

And what of the third, fourth and fifth parties: the Greens, Liberals and Tories? As the first graph appearing above records, of the three the Conservatives attracted the most first preferences in wards, but only (and only just) saw a single councillor elected to the five each won by the Liberals and Greens. One interesting and significant point of detail: the wards where a party sees a councillor returned do not neatly align with their best first preference performances.  For example, the Greens currently have a councillor for Canal ward (on 703 first preference votes) and Southside Central (812), but not a sausage in Langside or Pollokshields, in which they polled initially much more strongly.

And combining all five major parties into a single, gargantuan bar chart...

So what? More on what all this behoves for the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Green parties in Glasgow anon...