28 June 2013

Lamont's reshuffle and 2016

Just a second, short thought for today. This afternoon, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has reshuffled her depleted deck of Scottish parliamentarians. The party's diffident finance spokesman Ken Macintosh has suffered a complete fracture of the neck, and will be replaced by a revivified Iain Gray, his napper recovered from the wicker basket which the public consigned it to in 2011. 

Among the other critical parliamentary roles, the North East's Lewis MacDonald, always an uneasy fit with the Justice brief Johann bestowed on him in 2011, is to be replaced by Graeme Pearson, formerly a senior police officer. Kezia Dugdale elbows aside the lugubrious whippet-form of Hugh Henry, Labour's new education spokesman.  Jackie Baillie is relieved of her health brief, to be replaced by Neil Findlay.  Among other noviates, blooded after a year or two in the parliament, the constitutional gig goes to young Drew Smith of the Glasgow regional list.  Which got me to wondering: is this reshuffle a recipe for the Labour party eating itself alive going into 2016?

Health, education, justice - all three major portoflios, all going to new (and in some cases, quite accidental) elections from Labour's regional list.  In terms of parliamentary strategy, there are clear benefits to Gray over the nigh invisible Mr Macintosh. Several of the other folk Johann has tapped seem admirable enough characters too, as far as it goes.  

What seems much, much more problematic, however, is how the party is going to manage and maintain this team, going into 2016.  Bracket the independence referendum for a moment, ignore its outcome. Either way, in and into 2016, Lamont will be hoping to cultivate an image of an alternative government to set against Salmond's: credible, competent, waiting in the wings to take up the reigns of government. A band of folk with a political plan, and for electoral purposes, ideally both recognisable and savvy-seeming.  Given Lamont's disposition, and her current public profile, this'll have to be a team effort. 

And here's where today's reshuffle, despite its superficial lustre, begins to looks decidedly problematic. First, take Graeme Pearson, their new justice spokesman.  Elected to the South of Scotland list in 2011, Pearson came into the parliament from second place ranking on the Labour list in the region, after Claudia Beamish. While two of his party colleagues held constituencies in Dumfriesshire (Elaine Murray) and East Lothian (Iain Gray), Labour lost the two constituencies of Clydesdale and Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley to the SNP.  

If Labour's fortunes improve electorally, they might hope to reclaim these two constituencies - but what then for Graeme Pearson? In the South of Scotland in 2007, Labour held no regional seats whatsoever. Nor in 2003. Nor in 1999. The upshot? If the party's new Justice spokesman is going to keep his seat if Labour support increases, he'll have to muscle in on a winnable constituency. That or hope Labour experience another 2011-style trouncing. The first would-be minister in Lamont's government-in-waiting may well find himself waiting outside of Holyrood, even if his party won the 2016 election. Such things cannot encourage confidence.

The same goes for the Labour's new health spokesman and the lady now in charge of Labour's education policy. Neil Findlay was elected as an MSP for the Lothian region in 2011 by dint of his party's calamitous showing in the constituencies in that region.  Findlay was the third of the three regional Labour members elected after Sarah Boyak and the party's new education spokesman, Kezia Dugdale.

In 2007, Labour saw a single Lothian list MSP elected (the irrepressible Lord George Foulkes) and none in 1999 and 2003. If the party's fortunes revive in Edinburgh and its environs, Findlay is likely to find himself in electoral bother, looking for a constituency seat to scrap for, or warring his comrades for a decent ranking on the Lothians list. We all know how unseemly such internal internecine conflicts can become. Either way, the likelihood of both or either of Lamont's new education and health front benchers being re-elected in 2016 currently looks shoogly, and will need careful managing if it is to come off. 

The same uncertainty goes for Gray's new deputy and youth employment spokesperson, Jenny Marra, though her position looks more comfortable. Elected second on the North East regional list, since 2003, Labour have seen at least two regional MSPs elected out of the North East, and three in 2011. If Marra can sustain her list ranking, she should be able to hold on into the 2016 election, all things being equal.  By contrast, Drew Smith, elected on the Glasgow list, has cause to approach the next Holyrood election more fatalistically.

Looked at in the round, for her government-in-waiting, Johann Lamont has gathered about her a range of folk who may struggle to get back into Holyrood in 2016, even if Labour do splendidly well, and particularly if the party did splendidly well in constituency races. That is an unenviable position. While ditching the footering and ineffectual Ken Macintosh and the egregious Richard Baker can only be good news for Scottish Labour, the frailty of this new leadership team's grip on political office can only undermine Lamont's efforts to make her, and her crew, cut credible figures, ready for government. It has few of the hallmarks of a winning political slogan. Vote for us. None of us will take office if you do.

Political thumbscrews

Yesterday, Holyrood passed the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act.

Political younglings have cause for celebration. Sixteen and seventeen year olds will be enfranchised. Lags young and old, by contrast, will have been popping no corks last night. Nicola Sturgeon's steady resolution to reject emancipating prisoners held - predictably - to the last.  After a brief flurry of debate, Holyrood rejected four amendments which would have seen at least some prisoners able to vote on polling day in Autumn 2014, ranging from those in prison for four years, to the less ambitious extension of the franchise to those sentenced to six months or less. My own views on this matter have been well-aired here, and need not be revisited.

One detail which did catch my eye in yesterday's debate, however, was the political thumbscrew operations behind the scenes which it disclosed. Of the eight MSPs who supported emancipating some folk in jail, we had Margo MacDonald the two Green MSPs, three Liberal Democrats (their two islander MSPs, Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur being absent), and Jean Urquhart and John Finnie - the two former SNP MSPs who resigned from the party after the NATO debate.  No serving Nationalists joined them. Breathing the free, if chilly, air of independency, perhaps?

Across the chamber, we might have expected at least a couple of Labour MSPs to wobble towards supporting the amendments lodged by Patrick Harvie and the Liberal Democrats.  At stage one of the Bill back in May, both Graeme Pearson and Helen Eadie unexpectedly made sympathetic noises.  Eadie said:

 "This is an opportunity to develop a distinctive alternative to the existing UK blanket ban on convicted prisoners voting in elections. That course could bring us closer to the practice in other European democracies such as Denmark, Finland, Ireland, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. The commission recommend ed that the Scottish Parliament should have a debate on whether all prisoners should be banned from voting in the referendum, as expressed in the bill. The commission proposed that that section of the bill be revised adequately to reflect the values that a re placed in Scotland on human rights, social justice and the effective rehabilitation of offenders. The countries in which all convicted prisoners serving prison sentences are disenfranchised are the UK, Armenia, Bulgaria — much as I love Bulgaria, it is wrong in that regard — Estonia, Georgia, Hungary and Russia.
The commission’s key point is based on reasonable and objective justifications, such as the type of crime that was committed or the length of the sentence. It does not propose that every prisoner be given the right to vote. We know that there are many women in Cornton Vale and other prisons who are there for not paying bills. Is it reasonable to disenfranchise a woman who is in prison for not having paid her TV licence or parking fines? I do not think so. However, I would ban serious, violent criminals from having the right to vote. We must distinguish what we are talking about here, and the matter is worthy of a lengthier debate." 

Even more explicitly, Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, a former senior police officer, endorsed the idea of at least some prisoners voting.

"The cabinet secretary indicated in her speech that she believes that she could survive a legal challenge relating to extending the franchise to people who are serving custodial sentences. I would have hoped and expected that she would want to do the right and just thing, and not solely what she can get away with in respect of the ECHR. During my police service, I dealt with countless prisoners, who were in custody for a huge variety of crimes, and my experiences have led me to the view that those who are in prison should not be subjected to a blanket ban on participation in the electoral system. It was mentioned earlier that Scotland is part of a very small group of European countries — the group includes Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Liechtenstein and Russia — that impose such restrictions.
It seems strange to me that the line that we use to determine the franchise is a custodial sentence, no matter whether the person is spending weeks in prison for shoplifting or something similar, or a life sentence for murder. I therefore believe that prisoners who are serving short sentences for less serious offences — we can debate and determine the exact nature and length of those sentences should be allowed to participate in all elections in Scotland. I also believe that, once they are granted a vote, individual prisoners should be made responsible for registering to vote and for arranging for their vote to be submitted, and that it should not be left to the prison authorities to do that on their behalf."

So where were Eadie and Pearson on the day? You guessed it. With all their Labour colleagues, opposing amendments which would have achieved the policy Pearson was ready to endorse a few weeks ago. Johann's clearly had the political thumbscrews out, and grinding, in the Labour caucus. 

24 June 2013

Equal marriage & the passionate mode of politics...

Regular readers may not readily associate my prose with the passionate mode of politics.  Law school is where warm hearts go to be extinguished.  There's a certain truth to that. If you've a mind and disposition kiltered towards abstractions, chances are, it'll tell in your political writing. 

On the equal marriage debate thus far, I've been a more or less cool partisan for the equal marriage side of the spectrum. I've tried to bracket my own sentiments, and take an interest in the reasoning of the other side. As wise women have reminded us, the personal is political too, and the past couple of weeks, I've encountered a couple of things which have gone a long way to hardening my attitude. 

The first was an otherwise inconspicuous conversation with a friend and colleague in an Oxford pub. But for the smoking ban, beards would be brooding over pipes, and fragrant gusts of tobacco smoke.  Wood panelling, ale, a chestnut-eyed black Labrador, his friendliness injudiciously distributed to all and sundry. The usual odorous knot of greying wankers perched at the bar, stooled, guffawing at thin jokes, creasing yellowing tabloids under their armpits, bickering over crossword clues. An abacus line of rheumy eyes for the lassies, taking deep pulls from electronic cigarettes, their only nicotine-fingered gesture to modernity.  Bitterness and honesty dictates the admission: the Men at the Bar usually defeat us in the pub quiz. And great was the rhubarbing, and gnashing of teeth.

In anticipation of the quiz, the usual team (which I habitually christen "Ann Widdecombe's Steel-Reinforced Colostomy Bag", when permitted) nattered away about this and that, supping cheerily. The usual local colour and gossip, of friends, gags, tales, nonsense, flashes of earnestness. We're a motley band. Graduate students, university staff, freelance cooks, theatricals. English and Irish, Dutch and Norwegian, Australian and Canadian. 

The designated political bore, at my instigation the conversation in one corner happened to turn to the second reading of the same-sex marriage legislation in the House of Lords.  Rather to my surprise, an ordinarily almost entirely non-political comrade piped up that he had been following their Lordships' deliberations earlier that day.  He was lightly smarting from the experience, from the words and sentiments he'd heard. In a long-term, happy and committed relationship with another fellow at the table, he'd fired up Democracy Live, and subjected himself to the judgement of faded Barons and dust-lunged Baronesses about his ordinarily thoughtless, joyful, careless sense of himself, his sexuality, his relationship.  

As is perhaps inevitably the case, the contrary statements proved more memorable than the speeches which endorsed the idea of equal marriage. My own impulse is towards intellectual imperviousness, a shrug.  You may very well think that, but regrettably, you're a chronic wanker, and your sentiments are of signal indifference to me. In a small, gentle way, with the diffusing good humour and irreverence which characterises him, it was clear that these shoogly old villains had wounded my friend.  It is extraordinary the thought never struck me before that the debate might. Perhaps I lack imagination. But seeing the small but perceptible injury these doddering old coots had done dug a thumb right into my chest, sounding the heart strings.  A muted, but perceptible note. Whose side are you on? We passed on to other chatter. The old gits won the quiz. We rhubarbed, ordered another round, cursed our losses, and blethered cheerfully on.

The second incident was grander, a marriage. The first of my contemporaries were wed in full fig this last weekend. A curious experience. Before Saturday, I'd been a nipper at my aunt's wedding, and an even smaller nipper in a clip-on tie at some other, forgotten relative's union. Otherwise, I had little to go on. I'm not married. No marriage is in the offing. My parents are happily knotted together, but bred up neither my sister nor I particularly to reverence the wedded state, even on a secular basis. More important than the formalities, than the witnessed names in the book, the rings and ceremonies, was the abiding sense of affection.

As a consequence, I wasn't sure how I would respond to my friends' getting hitched. It was bound to be a lovely day, full of conviviality, generosity, and happiness for the pair. The officiating cleric may have been a republican socialist who favours disestablishment of the Church of England. Despite this beguilingly contrary ideology from a man in a brocade frock, nevertheless, I anticipated the religious bells and whistles to jar somewhat with my godless cynicism. As usual. What I did not expect, however, was how moving the ceremony would be. An absolutely sincere, soft-voiced, avowal of devotion and love. Not for me, and I suppose for many there, in the eyes of some all-seeing, all-judging creator deity, but before the eyes of friends and family, of folk who meant something to each other.

It was lovely to see, truly, and reminded me of a perceptive observation Nicola Sturgeon made about her evolving attitudes towards marriage. I paraphrase, as I cannot find the link to the original article, but from memory, Nicola remarked that her own, recent wedding to Peter Murrell surprised her, and was charged with more emotional power and significance than she had conceived of when they were just bidie ins, mooting the idea.  I do enjoy being emotionally surprised, and Saturday certainly sprung one on me. I think I might, might understand what Nicola means now.  A gentle revision of my notions may be in order.

I'm not suggesting that marriage is for everyone. I've no idea whether it is even for me.  What I do feel, however, more keenly than ever, is that arresting thumb again at my chest, sounding a demanding note. The idea that only some of my friends, only those with the fortune to find themselves emotionally entangled with someone of the opposite gender, should be able to stand in that convocation of their friends, together, in that transporting moment, that day, pleasure etched on faces, unbidden tears gladly stinging the eye.  That thought's now an outrage, even a cruelty.

As today's delightfully serendipitous, lovely wee video from the Scottish Equality Network makes plain, it's time.  Oftentimes, doing the just thing is difficult and costly.  This isn't one of those times.

Let's get this done.

The SNP: "prison works"?

Last Friday, the Scottish Government published its new Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill along with sundry explanatory notes and policy memorandums. The draft legislation will, if passed, bear many of Lord Carloway's recommendations into Scots law. Many of these touch on issues of criminal procedure, of arrest, detention, pre-trial questioning and the like.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Bill is its proposal to abolish the old Scots requirement for corroboration in criminal cases. I've written about this a good deal before, and will come back to the proposals anon. 

Today, I wanted to pick up one of the aspects of the draft legislation, liable to be overlooked in the immediate corroboration hullabaloo. Amongst his other reforms, Kenny MacAskill is proposing to increase the maximum penalty for knife possession from four years, to five.  The government's policy memorandum explains the official thinking.

185. In terms of enforcement, Scottish police are carrying out a considerable number of stop and searches and the courts impose the toughest knife possession sentences in the UK. The table below shows that a person in Scotland is already 50 per cent more likely to be sent to prison than in England and Wales for knife possession and, for those who do receive a custodial sentence, a person’s sentence is likely to be nearly 70 per cent longer ...
192. Within this wider context, the Scottish Government wants to ensure that courts are fully and appropriately empowered to be able to effectively sentence those convicted of knife possession and offensive weapon possession. While sentencing in individual cases is appropriately a matter for the court within the individual circumstances of each case and within the overall legal framework the court operates in, the Scottish Government considers that increasing the maximum penalties for these offences to five years, as proposed in section 70 of the Bill, will reinforce the message to those who might consider carrying knives and offensive weapons that the consequences if caught will be severe. This should help in further deterring the carrying of knives and other offensive weapons as well ensuring that courts do have sufficiently effective sentencing powers to deal with individual cases where the court considers a severe sentence is required.

The figures quoted in the Scottish Government memorandum indicate that only 29% of folk convicted of possession of a sharp instrument or blade in the forth quarter of 2012 received a custodial sentence in England and Wales. This compared to 44% of Scottish offenders, 805 of whom received prison terms for knife-carrying in Scotland in 2011/12.  The prison sentences handed down to these knife-carriers by sheriffs are also stiffer, on average, than their English counterparts.  In England, the average jail term dished out is 199 days. In Scotland, the equivalent figure is 338 days in chokey.

Despite this, the number of folk being sent to jail for possession of pointed, bladed and offensive weapons in Scotland is actually falling.  In addition to pulling offenders up before the beak, the government and police are pursuing other commendable strategies, including the Violence Reduction Unit's almost theatrical "call ins", whose primary tool to dissuade people from carrying knives, interestingly, seems to be emotion. When you have a boy in the dock, and a bleeding body in the street, it is already far, far too late. This is important, creative police work, and Karyn McCluskey cuts an uncharacteristic, and impressive figure. 

All of which set me to wondering. What principles does the SNP bring to its penal policy? What is the government's philosophy of punishment? These latest proposals underline an apparent contradiction in the Nationalists' approach to prison policy during their first and second terms in office.

During the 2011 elections, Scottish Labour wheeled out their knife-crime policy: a mandatory six-month jail term for anybody caught with a shank, scimitar or pruning knife in public, with a residual judicial discretion to spare the convict the clink where exceptional circumstances obtained.  Richard Baker hadn't taken the care to do his sums, hadn't taken into account Scotland's vaulting prison population, our crumbling and overcrowded prison estate, and the parlous state of public finances.  It was thin, focus-group politics, and the party rightly got flayed for their inept distortions and incomplete homework during the election.

For unlicensed firearm possession, we already have a "mandatory" minimum sentence of five years in prison, in the absence of "exceptional circumstances relating to the offence or to the offender".  Back in 2010, we saw the potential injustice of such laws in the case of Gail Cochrane, the Dundee granny who unwisely retained her father's service revolver, and who was sent down for half a decade, before Lord Reed and the Court of Criminal Appeal exercised commendable leniency, to free her.

The SNP position was always more slippery.

Some of you may remember the days when Kenny was championing the idea of a presumption against sentences of less than six months in Holyrood. Compromising, this period was ultimately watered down to a presumption against imposing jail terms of three month or less at the instigation of the Liberal Democrats.  In 2009, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice argued that sentences of less than six months were "ineffective and of no practical benefit to communities".

In reality, of course, those serving short sentences for knife possession (less than four years) will be released early.  In Scotland, after about five and a half months on average: a period of time sitting smack bang in the category of prison sentences Kenny once criticised as expensive and ineffective. For the Scottish Government today, the regular imposition of custodial sentences for an average period of less than six months for knife crime is represented as a Good Thing, their multiplication, to be celebrated. Their message seemingly, in dim echo of Michael Howard, prison works, but only if you lock folk up for a good, long spell.

What to make of this apparent discrepancy? Can knife-possession be distinguished from other categories of crime, and if so how? Why is prison an effective penalty in one instance, but ineffective in all others? To my knowledge, no SNP minister has really attempted to articulate this distinction in any thoroughgoing way.  Conspicuously, the Scottish Government have not used their overall majority in Holyrood to revisit the compromise of their 2010 legislation, bumping up the presumption against three months sentences, to their initially preferred period of six.

At the other end of the spectrum, what to make of the long sentences which Kenny's new knife proposals will make available to criminal courts? Terror is clearly the order of the day, the justification, deterrence.  I find myself wondering, however, possession of what sort of offensive weapon, bladed or pointed, could possibly warrant a five-year prison term? To put that penalty in some sort of context, in the High Court, a man recently received 4 years and 4 months in jail for causing death by dangerous driving.  Another received two years and eight months for assault to severe injury, permanent disfigurement, permanent impairment and to the danger of life.

For the life of me, I struggle to conceive of any weapon which, for possession alone, a four year prison term would not represent a satisfactory (or even, excessively severe) penalty, never mind a half-decade behind bars.  It may be, of course, that these new sentencing powers will never been used, or at least, vanishingly seldom. If so, then why introduce them? I'm afraid a certain whiff of headline-chasing clings to these proposals.

An empirical study conducted by eminent criminologists in 2010 found that many young Scottish knife-carriers "were unclear or incorrect as to the precise legal consequences of knife carrying". I doubt that your average juvenile with a concealed weapon follows Holyrood's legislative procedures, absorbs the pertinent legislation, or knows enough about our criminal courts to alter their behaviour based on the venue chosen by the procurator fiscal. The Lord Advocate's policy directions are unlikely to be bed-time reading.

The Crown Office have announced that those who carry knives in city centres and towns will be prosecuted before a sheriff and jury court, increasing the judge's sentencing powers if the accused is convicted. This, after a six-week pilot over the festive period, during which the number of charges fell by 18% compared to the same period the previous year. The Lord Advocate attributed this reduction to the Crown's new prosecution policy, suggesting that the fall "demonstrated the value in making the tougher action". Colour me skeptical.

"I was going to take that weapon out with me, but now I know that Frank will have me up before a jury, and given my familiarity with the sentencing powers of sheriffs sitting both summarily and solemnly, I think I'll leave my cutlass at home, if it is all the same with you."

Aye right.

21 June 2013

What the Dickens?

And we're back! As promised, the For A' That podcast springs back into life this weekend. I've a friend's wedding to attend tomorrow (the same character described in the opening segment of the broadcast), so we pulled the show forward and recorded it this morning.  Our guest this week was Callum McCormick, who is a doctoral student focussing on environmental politics in South America, and occasional contributor to our independence-supporting fellow travellers at Bella Caledonia.

Up for the blether this week, the Aberdeen Donside by-election. Triumph or disaster for the Nationalists, Scottish and UK independence-supporting.  Also, a question of context: Aberdeenshire, a hotbed of fervid ethnic feeling? Secondly, we took a look back over three weeks of Iain MacWhirter's Road to Referendum documentaries, looking at the recent political history, bringing us from 1945 to the independence referendum in 2014. A lightly hopping chat, shifting hither and thon, amongst other themes, we had a wee chat about Labour's ambivalent history of devolution, the Scottish cringe, and the national stories which MacWhirter's piece told.  

Finally, leaping from 1945 to the present day, we took a look at the Foreign Secretary's speech on Scottish independence. According to Mr Hague, if we vote Yes in 2014, we may be at risk of losing access forever to the work of Charles Dickens. Never again can you chortle, at the death of Little Nell.  A sobering thought.

Listen right here, right now, or record it to your favoured mobile device for later consumption, either via iTunes, or via Spreaker.  

20 June 2013

Hear no evil, see no evil...

Back on the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012, this morning, the High Court of Justiciary handed down its first major judgment under the legislation.  

The case was a Crown appeal against the acquittal of Joseph Cairns in Dingwall, who was prosecuted for "behaviour which the reasonable person would find offensive" under the Act, by singing "Roll of Honour" and "Boys of the Old Brigade" at a Ross County vs Celtic match.  According to the police evidence, "the majority of the Celtic supporters housed in the north stand" of Victoria Park joined in the singing.  In the Sheriff Court, Cairns was acquitted, the judge finding that he had no case to answer:

"Since there was no proper basis for inferring that any person who might be incited to disorder would have been able to tell that the respondent was singing about the hunger strikers or joining the IRA there was equally no proper basis for inferring that the respondent's behaviour was likely to incite public disorder."

On appeal, Lady Paton and Lords Philip and Brodie disagreed, drawing the sheriff's attention to section 1(5) of the Act.  As you may recall, not only do the Crown have to prove that the accused has "expressed hatred", threats, or "behaviour which the reasonable person would find offensive" at a regulated football match. Prosecutors also have to show that the behaviour is or would be likely to incite public disorder. During the law's speedy push through Holyrood, this incitement provision was characterised by Scottish Ministers as a safeguard, raising the bar of conduct criminalised by the Act. As the High Court recognise in this case, the government immediately lowered that hurdle by introducing the qualification that:

For the purposes of subsection (1)(b)(ii), behaviour would be likely to incite public disorder if public disorder would be likely to occur but for the fact that—  (a) measures are in place to prevent public disorder, or (b) persons likely to be incited to public disorder are not present or are not present in sufficient numbers.

The High Court explain the scope and significance of this provision in paragraph twelve, the critical section of the judgment.  In the absence of any disorder, or any real likelihood of disorder, the Act instructs judges to invent fictional incitees and to give them seats around the terraces. Theoretically, at least, this might include anyone under the sun, including furious North Koreans. The sheriff presiding at first instance, say appeal court judges, failed to exercise his imagination sufficiently.

[12] The sheriff correctly identified that to be struck at by section 1(1) behaviour ["offensive behaviour at football"] must not only be such that a reasonable person would be likely to consider it offensive but it must also either be likely to incite public disorder or would be likely to incite public disorder. Because, on the evidence led, the sheriff considered that there was no proper basis for inferring that any person who might be incited to public disorder would have been able to tell that the respondent was singing about the hunger strikers and the IRA, in his opinion there was no proper basis for inferring that the respondent's behaviour was likely to incite public disorder and, accordingly, the submission of no case to answer fell to be upheld. 

We cannot agree with that conclusion. As the advocate depute argued, it is by no means clear why the sheriff came to the view that he did on the evidence. Two police officers had given evidence that they recognised the song and heard certain of the words sung. As the advocate depute argued, if the police officers were able to recognise the song and hear the words, other persons must also have been able to do so. The sheriff appears to have adopted the view that the only candidates as persons likely to be incited to public disorder were the (apparently unperturbed) Ross County supporters. Why other persons might not be candidates, including persons standing close to or even among the "majority of the Celtic supporters housed in the north stand" is not explained by the sheriff. 

However, be that as it may, the sheriff does not appear to have considered the effect of section 1(5). That subsection provides that for the purposes of section 1(1)(b)(ii), behaviour "would be likely to incite public disorder" if public disorder would be likely to occur but for the fact that either measures are in place to prevent public disorder, or persons likely to be incited to public disorder are not present or are not present in sufficient numbers.
Thus, the Act distinguishes between, on the one hand, "a reasonable person" and, on the other, a person "likely to be incited to public disorder". It may be that a person likely to be incited to public disorder is of a more volatile temperament than a reasonable person or, to use the language of the sheriff, an uninitiated member of the public. The person likely to be incited to public disorder may have particular interests and particular knowledge. He may have particular views about the two songs in question or those who sing them

As section 1(5)(b) provides that such persons need not be present for the purposes of determining whether specific behaviour would be likely to incite public disorder, it cannot be relevant to the question as to whether there has been a contravention of section 1(1)(b) that particular persons in a football ground could not actually hear the words being sung.
In other words the actual context within which the behaviour occurs is not determinative. Where behaviour falls within any of the categories specified in section 1(2) it is sufficient for conviction that persons likely to be incited to public disorder would be likely to be incited to public disorder by the particular behaviour, whether or not they were present in sufficient numbers and whether or not they were subject to measures put in place to prevent public disorder
As it does not matter whether persons likely to be incited to public disorder are there in sufficient numbers or are there at all it cannot matter whether or not the persons who are present (whether likely to be incited to public disorder or otherwise) actually became aware of the relevant behaviour.

Paul McConville has more, as does Alex Massie over at the Spectator.

17 June 2013

The Football Act's iffy conviction rates...

Last Friday, the Scottish Government published this statistical research on the operation of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Etc (Scotland) Act. The paper looks primarily at charges communicated to prosecutors by the police, the characteristics of people accused of hateful, threatening and offensive behaviour in relation to football, and the where, when and how of their alleged offences. 

It covers the first financial year in which the new Act has been in force, between 1 April 2012 and 31 March 2013.   Because of the small number of folk charged and prosecuted, more detailed figures are not generally available for the outcome of proceedings in cases taken under section 6 of the 2012 Act, which criminalises sending threatening communications via twitter, facebook and what have you. 

You may recall that back in March, the Lord Advocate and Justice Secretary hailed the effectiveness of the new measure one year on, placing considerable emphasis on the number of cases prosecuted, and the percentage of accused people who're found guilty of having committed the new offences. Just a few months back, Kenny MacAskill argued that:

"... the charge and conviction rates for people arrested under this legislation show that it is working well." 

A claim echoed by Scotland's chief public prosecutor:

"The Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC, has said that the legislation is being used to good effect by police and prosecutors. So far 89 per cent of the cases reported to the Crown Office have been prosecuted, and the conviction rate stands at 83 per cent. Figures from the first full year of the act are still being collated and analysed and will be published after the end of the football season."

Now, one might wonder whether rates of conviction are really the best guide to the efficacy of any piece of criminal legislation.  What is most striking in Friday's research is that the healthy prosecution and conviction figures MacAskill and Frank Mullholland relied on in defence of the Act in March aren't borne out across the Act's first full year. Taking the whole year figures, government researchers found that:

  • Court proceedings were commenced in 219 (82%) of charges communicated to prosecutors under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.
  • During 2012/13 there were 62 convictions from 95 concluded charges under the 2012 Act.

As paragraph 3.27 of Friday's report concludes:

"This is a conviction rate (ie the proportion of concluded charges that resulted in convictions) of 65%.  In 2011-12 there were 25 convictions from 33 concluded charges, a conviction rate of 76%. For the full period of the first 13 months of the act, there were therefore 87 convictions from 128 concluded charges which is an overall conviction rate of 68%."

Even the most mathematically challenged of us shouldn't struggle to ascertain that the real conviction rate under this legislation in 2012/13 is a substantial 18% lower than the more congenial figure of 83% rolled out by MacAskill and Mullholland in March. Even including the months it was in force during the 2011/12 financial year only nudges that conviction rate up a trifle.

To put this conviction rate in some sort of context, we can look at the Scottish Government's official figures for the outcome of criminal proceedings in Scottish courts. Over all categories of crimes and offences, the Procurator Fiscal proves their case against 87% of accused people who end up in the dock. This data is also broken down by different offences.  For example, 83% of homicide trials, murder and culpable homicide, end in conviction of the accused.  At the other end of the spectrum, of rape and attempted rape trials, just 53% result in conviction.   

The conviction rate for all non-sexual crimes of violence in Scotland is higher than the offences created by the 2012 Act. The conviction rate for all crimes of dishonesty in Scotland is higher than these new football offences. Indeed, according to the latest figures, of all categories of crimes and offences, only rape and attempted rape cases record a lower percentage conviction rate than the 65% recorded under the Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation last year.  

If, as Kenny MacAskill and the Lord Advocate suggest, conviction rates are an important factor to be taken into account in evaluating the effectiveness of criminal statutes, the Football Act's relatively very poor performance in 2012/13 ought to be a source for anxiety, and not for reassurance.

Radio Silence

We regret to announce that the podcast cancelled due to fine weather.  Just a wee housekeeping announcement. Devotees will have noticed that our weekly For A' That podcasts have been conspicuous by their absence these past two Sundays.  In the first instance, this was attributable to an uncharacteristic outburst of British summertime. The lonely sunny Saturday in June is no time to be cooped up with headphones, anatomising the constitutional debate. 

In the second instance, I was oot and aboot at a friend's "stag" weekend this weekend, my effort focussed on sustaining a tolerably convincing veneer of masculinity in deference to the occasion.  Incompetence-permitting, Michael and I should be back on air with another guest, and more Scottish political blether, this weekend.

13 June 2013

Beyond The Cringe?

I vividly remember the moment when I first realised that social confidence is created not begotten, not an accident of individual psychology, but in great part, something we manufacture in the assembly lines of culture, family, and school. 

I must have been about sixteen or seventeen years of age. The scene was somewhat out of the usual run, though no great shakes. Part of the Young Enterprise scheme, pupils from a range of Glasgow secondaries congregated in a school hall, somewhere in the city. Formed of students from both state and private schools, representatives of the latter were coded in woollen blazers, dark and light blue, and green. The majority of state school students generally not. Initially, understandably, folk kept to their phalanxes and their friends.  An end was swiftly put to that.

Some diverting "team-building" enterprise, I think it was intended as, the six or seven schools were split up and muddled together for the task.  After half an hour, mission complete, a representative from each group had to take to their hind legs, and report back to everybody on their progress.  For most folk, this might seem a daunting enterprise, extempore speaking in a room festooned with unfamiliar faces. 

When the reports came in, familiar face after familiar face rose to address the assembled.  Blazer after blazer stood.  Most were boys.  Forgetful memory may be playing me false, but only a handful, only one or two groups from perhaps twelve or more, nominated kids from state schools for their spokesmen. A Hutchesons' Grammar School kid, a young lady from St Aloysius, and another, and another. Now, I know public speaking isn't for everyone, and for many, the very idea of having to do so sends a tremor of anxiety snaking up the spine. But even as a callow youth, I realised that attributing this strict pattern of speakers to chance would be woefully naive and incurious. It is probably significant that none of the colleagues who I asked about it, brimming with thoughtless confidence, found this spontaneous order in any way strange. 

This could, of course, be interpreted in a number of ways.  The cynical might see the self-entitlement of private schoolers playing out in it, thinking they are born to rule, brashly taking over.  There's undoubtedly a bit of truth in that, but only a half truth. 

Private schools have their share of ghastly, cocksure thickheads whose limitations, personal and intellectual, do nothing to arrest their assertiveness. But the more significant question, it seemed to me, is how do we foster a whole generation of kids who feel encouraged to speak out, to elbow past the ordinary emotional run of anxieties and inadequacies and speak up? Socially, how do we try to ensure that confidence and a sense of entitlement to speak and argue and make yourself heard is equally distributed across society, just as intelligence, wisdom, human decency and capacity for education is equally distributed? Having attended a wee primary school, of fewer than thirty five souls at its largest, I realise I'd come to take egalitarianism on this score for granted.  Folk obviously had different capacities and talents, but none of the appalling stratification of self-belief which unfolded, totally unremarked upon, that day in Glasgow. 

Worse, I found the same phenomena played out daily in universities, though here, I was more struck by the gendered pattern of contributions to my seminars.  In a recent interview in the Scotland on Sunday, Johann Lamont neatly skewered an experience I know several of my friends went through, only gradually realising that the big-haired public schoolboys in their classes were bladders inflated by hot air and shallow opinions. Their experiences also, inevitably, made me think twice about how I conducted myself in these spaces. If justice is concerned primarily with a just distribution of social goods, then space to speak has to be part of that.  Knowing your effect isn't always as straightforward as you'd like. In retrospect, at times, I dare say I'd have benefited from a slap. Or a gag.

On the first episode of Iain Macwhirter's Road to Referendum series of documentaries for STV, focussing on the period between 1945 and 1979, a number of speakers invoked the idea of the "Scottish cringe".  The concept made an appearance on the second episode this week too.  It has set cogs whirring. For my part, I've never shared in that inadequate sensibility, which makes me wonder if it is partly a generational thing which finds little purchase amongst those, like me, in their twenties and younger.  Contrawise, I wonder if my own experience is a false friend in this respect.

In my upbringing, there was no sense, for example, that speaking Scots was disciplined or to be regarded as improper, as I've spoken what you might call Scottish standard English throughout my life.  There is also, it seems to me, a significant dimension of geography and social class in the particular articulation of Scottish cringe which Elaine C Smith and others identify in Macwhirter's film.  Pared back, Smith expressed a sense that during the late part of the 20th century, west-central Scotland working class voices were missing from the public sphere, from drama, broadcasting and much else.  I've shallow roots in both, being by childhood rural, and until my middle twenties, rejecting the idea of class distinctions altogether as irredeemably reactionary, incapable of shedding useful light on our social and political circumstances.  Since, in the light of experience, my views have evolved, but if I was to feel a Scottish cringe at all, it would be unlikely to take either form. 

So which do you think it is? Are younger folk slowly, gradually, throwing off the shackles which bound their parents, going more confidently, more buoyantly beyond the Cringe, or is its lack of purchase just another coda of my entitlement and privilege?

11 June 2013

The positive case for the Union: British nationalism?

Last week, the pro-Union campaign launched Better Together London, with an event in the Great Hall, 1 George Street, London.  The BBC has popped highlights online, including remarks of short compass from representatives of the three main parties, including the Tory peer, Lord Strathclyde, Danny Alexander and Alistair Darling (including many of the same gags that got the Scottish Tory Conference in Stirling cackling, I notice). 

Almost to the day, last year, I took a look Ed Miliband's first proper speech on Labour's approach to the defence of Union. I argued that Miliband's positive case against perfidious Scottish Nationalists was strikingly nationalistic in content itself.  A departure from the amorphous "welfare Unionism" you usually hear from Labour politicians, in the speech Ed lingered most and most feelingly over his sense of Britishness, suggesting that if voters feel any speck of British sensibility at all, they ought to vote No in 2014.  According to the Labour leader, at its core, the referendum is about whether you feel British.

I was interested, therefore, to hear what the Liberals and Tories had to say at the launch of Better Together London. What positive case, if any, would they make for the Union amongst friends?  I'm not one of those independence supporters who believes that no positive case can be made for the abiding Union of Scotland with the rest of the United Kingdom. There are several one might make, drawing on radically different ideological resources, from the politics of shared identity and national sentiment, to broader political ideas about the pooling of resources, a just distribution of public goods, and collective defence, both against external threats, and the internal enemies of poverty and want. 

To be scrupulously fair, none of the speakers had much time to speak, and doubtless, given the opportunity to elaborate their case, each would have offered up more developed arguments, weaving different strands together.  On the other hand, brevity also focuses minds, and reveals priorities.  So what did the speakers have to say? What ideas did they foreground? First up was Lord Strathclyde, who sourly characterised the campaign for Scottish independence as "this poison at the heart of British politics", which should be "eradicated once for all" by a thumping No vote. His Lordship began, however, on note borrowed from Ed Miliband. It's all about identity, you see.

“In the great lottery of life, I was handed a double gold. Not only was I born a Scot, but I was also born a Glaswegian, and I’m proud to be a Scot, and a Glaswegian, but I’m also proud to be British. It is part of my identity. And one of the things I object, most of all, to this campaign that we’re going to go through, that if it goes the wrong way then I, and people like me, will be forced, by law, to make a choice that I’ve never had to do before. Because no longer will it be possible to be Scottish and British. This is part of the outrage that nationalists have put upon us. When I, as so many of you, are here today, as patriotic about Scotland, and about the United Kingdom, together.” 

Interestingly, Danny Alexander also commenced on a similar note, again foregrounding issues of identity in his contribution:

“Like you, I’m a Highlander, I’m a Scot, I’m a Brit – and I’m a European too. And what – like I think everybody in this room, all of those different identities are important to me. And, if, you've come here tonight because being Scottish is an important part of your identity, whether you’re someone like … er … those of us who are speaking tonight who have a vote in the referendum, or whether you are someone who will not, I urge you all to get involved in the Better Together campaign (…) Like many of you, I have close ties both in Scotland and in England. I’m someone who as Mary has revealed, spent my school days in Lochaber in Fort William, at Lochaber High School. University in England, in Oxford. I'm a Scottish MP, I serve my constituents in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, and I serve the whole of the United Kingdom as a member of the government. And for all of those reasons, I believe very strongly that being part of the United Kingdom offers us, as Scotland, huge advantages in the 21st century, and I believe that Scotland, as a part of the United Kingdom, offers advantages to the rest of the United Kingdom too."

What should be immediately striking is that these are mainly points of identity and biography, not exactly reasons why the United Kingdom should remain united, without the admixture of a little sentimental British nationalism.  Every one of us can easily roll off our own list of entanglements in these islands, and outside of them. I spent my school days in rural Argyll, then Glasgow, went to university in Edinburgh, then the Netherlands, then at Alexander's alma mater in England, and live here now.  So much, so indeterminate constitutionally.

I'm conscious, for reasons I outlined recently, that I'm not at my most empathetic when it comes to my fellow Scots sense of Britishness, however thin.  It is, I suspect, a blind spot for many Scottish Nationalists.  I don't criticise this sentimental case against independence.  I may not feel British, but I'm an independence supporter with regrets and am not without pangs about the project. But can British nationalism really be the effective positive story for Better Together to tell, in between their rhetorical bombing raids and strafing fire on the viability of an independent Scotland? Identity, identity, identity?

Several commentators have remarked on the paradoxes of the current constitutional debate. In much of the London media, aspirations towards Scottish independence are cast in child-like forms, depicted by turns as quaint and sinister, an atavistic ethnic project animated by hatred of the English and a juvenile expression of Caledonian whimsy which sober, serious-minded folk shouldn't entertain for a moment.  Nice legalisms are exchanged, distinguishing Scottish nationalism (Bad) and British patriotism (Good). George Orwell is often quoted to lend a veneer of intelligence and authority to this self-serving pettifogger's distinction, though usually only in summary, and invariably without reference to the idiosyncratic definition of nationalism which Orwell actually employs in his Notes.

Scottish Romanticism is set against gritty British technocracy and political fatalism.  British Romanticism, by contrast, is unexplored, passed over in silence. This scoffing rejection of Scottish independence as a credible political project serves a useful but profoundly conservative ideological function: it avoids any serious confrontation with the idea that the way Britain is ruled may be problematic. It's all just a little irrational bother on the northern frontier. 

Bloody nationalists.

10 June 2013

The Wasp Factory

I was brought up in The Wasp Factory. 

Well, not quite. My childhood in Argyll was, mercifully, rather less demented than Iain Bank's tale of Frank Cauldhame. Set along an unidentified coastline in the 1980s, near the fictional town of Porteneil, the transposition of Iain Banks' first novel to the area in which I grew up was beguilingly easy. Strung along the west coast of Knapdale in Argyll, the paps of Jura jutting out of the water, the community and the landscape populated Banks' narrative with familiar faces, erecting Frank's Sacrifice Poles on beaches I knew, in dead woods I hurried through. For his home, I recruited an unfortunate neighbour's house, bleached white. 

In retrospect, it was my first encounter, ever, with a fictional narrative, recognisably connected to the experience and eccentricity of the sort of rural, west-coast community in which I grew up.  I suspect many Scots have felt similar moments, transported by literature to somewhere they recognise, reconfigured - the thrill of Alasdair Gray's Glasgow in Lanark, finally "living in a place", imaginatively.  For that, we have much to thank our artists, whether on paper, on stage or on screen.  It is an oddly castrating thing, never having seen your own life reflected in art, and even odder that so many folk aren't sensitive to their own absence. 

Perhaps more wonkishly, I also think fondly of the book as a recent period piece, a drama from before the internet age, a drama which the iPhone obliterates. Frank's malevolent innocence, ignorance and isolation can only be penetrated by unreflexive broadcasts on the telly, the settled texts and topics of books tucked about his father's house - and more explosively - the unexpected, unmanageable intrusion of the phone-box calls from Frank's ever-approaching brother, with his undercurrent of instability and inflammatory hostility to man's faithful friend. Although I was growing up in Argyll in the early 1990s, just riding the wave of computerisation and the popular availability of the internet after I left, I doubt now that Frank's experience of stultifying isolation, quirkily and troublingly layered by Banks, is a phenomenon most young rural folk could so fully identify with today.  Although first published two years before I was born, in 1984, the world of The Wasp Factory was recognisable throughout my early adolescence.

I also recognised that my childhood had a certain unsettling, juvenile cruelty and morbidity to it, which Banks' protagonist only refined, amplified, and ritualised.  We were bred up rather worldly on the estate about the bodies and mortality of our fellow creatures.  Save for the ruddy, dented form of an unlucky fox, or a crusted summer toad, in towns such spent husks are pried speedily from the tarmacadam, so they won't trouble the city children.

Boys in the not-quite-wilderness, treading lonely beaches, we were surrounded by the stuff of life and death, and like Frank Cauldhame, found repulsion and curiosity both in the garrotted rabbit, choked under a foxglove, and righteous glee in planting a stone in the aspic flesh of a jellyfish.  We were oddly fascinated by the punctured form of a deflated whale, headless, washed up, or the slumped carcass of a crack-backed sheep, unfortunate enough to lose its footing, a sagging putrefying aftermath of wool, claggy in a stream. And grateful for the warm bodies of pelleted pheasants, knocked out of the sky by tweedy gentlemen on cold winter days, and nervous in the hanging rooms, as decapitated deer bled out.  Death was official, and organised, but also furtive, individual and exploratory. A ginger prod, a wrinkled lip, and the prurient curiosity of a little monster.

The Wasp Factory was a disturbing window into the savage strain of my own childhood.  A wonderful - and wonderfully uneasy - gift from a talented man.

6 June 2013

"... we are against the UK Supreme Court..."

Remember Cadder? Not, perhaps, the First Minister and Justice Secretary's finest hour.  In 2011, in response to the UK Supreme Court's judgment about the right of suspects to legal advice, the two SNP politicians turned their rhetorical dials all the way up to eleven.  Salmond argued that:

"I don't think it's sensible, fair or reasonable in any jurisdiction where we've a situation where one judge is overruling the opinion of many judges in another court.  It boils down to the potential replacement of Scottish law by Lord Hope's law. I don't think that's a satisfactory situation."

Farcically, the Scottish Government went on to oppose the idea of installing a Scottish majority on the Court.  Since, they've been avoiding the topic of the Supreme Court's jurisdiction for grim death, entangling the issue in technical, unpolitical language, having secured amendments to the Scotland Act of 2012, constricting the rights of folk in criminal proceedings, to take their human rights cases to London when they've been disappointed in Edinburgh.  

In the meanwhile, civil justice is being shaken up across the country and the question of civil appeals from Edinburgh to London is now back on the political agendaIn May 2012, I set out the - I think persuasive - legal case that the Scottish Parliament can now unilaterally cut common-or-garden civil appeals from the Court of Session to the UK Supreme Court, if the SNP government had a will to do so. While Holyrood doesn't have the legal power to end appeals to London on the basis of EU law, the European Convention on Human Rights, or devolution more generally, the parliament could bring the treatment of Scottish civil cases into line with Scottish criminal proceedings. 

Save for this sort of "constitutional" litigation turning on fundamental rights or European law, Scottish civil and criminal cases could end in the Court of Session and High Court respectively, if the SNP majority exercised itself.  There are plenty of understandable reasons to justify doing so, not least that a decision of the UK Court on appeal invariably involves the review of a judgment of three judges of the Court of Session by the Supreme Court's two Scottish Justices, who corral the English majority on the bench into mutely endorsing their preferred decision.  

What's more, although both Scottish civil and criminal law are distinct from the English system, the gaps in the UK Court bench's judicial knowledge of civil law are likely to be at least as significant as their ignorance of Scots criminal law.  Property law furnishes the paradigm example, the English system an eccentric mixter-maxter of principles of Common Law and Equity, the Scots a more systematic body of norms, organised along Roman lines. An English judge - or three English law judges - are not likely to be in their element, adjudicating tricky cases taken under great parts of Scots private law.  Better, one might argue, to leave it to specialists.

Curiously, despite the Scottish Ministers' past forays into superheated indictments of the Court's legitimacy, and anxieties about its English-educated majority, last week the SNP government launched a consultation on its proposals not only to retain the UK Court's civil jurisdiction, but to allow the tribunal (and alternatively, the Court of Session) to pick and choose which cases it examines on appeal. 

At the moment, Scottish litigants access the UK Court on more favourable terms than English, Welsh and Nothern Irish litigants, and do not have to demonstrate that their case raises an "arguable point of law of general public importance which ought to be considered by the Supreme Court at that time". Ironically, the SNP are, once again, proposing to bring us into line with English practice in this respect, Ministers' criticism of the jurisdiction of the Court, forgotten. 

In 2010, SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell told the Scottish Parliament that:

"... we are against the UK Supreme Court. We were against it when it was created: we have been against it from the beginning and we are against it now. It is Labour’s folly."

From the same debate, another SNP MSP, Dave Thompson, said:

"The UK Supreme Court was established in October 2009 to deal with civil matters, despite opposition from the SNP. We warned that it was irrational for a court without a majority of Scottish judges to decide on cases involving Scots law. We also pointed out that the practice of hearing Scots civil cases in the House of Lords was a historical anomaly and that that role should be repatriated to Scotland. What other legal jurisdiction allows its appeals to be heard in another jurisdiction?  Unfortunately, the previous Labour-led Administration failed utterly to stand up to Westminster and protect the independence of Scots law."

I wonder if we can expect Maxwell and Thompson to turn the same great guns on their party colleagues, who now seem so keen to retain and entrench the "anomaly" of London's civil jurisdiction, which they once so bitterly opposed.

2 June 2013

Of Hoy, England, and the SNP's zombie economics...

On episode twenty-seven of the For A' That podcast, Michael and I were joined once again by the irrepressible Robin McAlpine of the Jimmy Reid Foundation.  

Up for discussion on the show today, Scotland's press fell over itself this week (dropping their iPhones in the process) to report the scandalous news that random punters on twitter responded less than solicitously to Chris Hoy's intervention in the independence debate, snarking his politics, citing his privileged education and in one, bonehead case, using the language of treason.  We discussed the political strategy behind Better Together's "cybernat" strategy.  Robin argues that this isn't half so canny as they think it is.

Moving on, we looked at the SNP's position on an independent Scotland's approach to charging corporation tax.  Although I had the misfortune to study tax law at university, I don't have strong views on the question, beyond a loose skepticism towards enthusiasm for Laffer curves, and counter-intuitive economics.  Robin sets out to persuade me that the policy is not only madness economically, but worse, perhaps, is zombie policy, adopted in a muddle and enjoying an unhappy, undead life in the SNP's case for independence.

Thereafter, the discussion bended back towards something we looked at a few weeks ago: UKIP, the Janus faces of English nationalism and the hostility of self-consciously British, metropolitan Liberals towards it.  I suggest that this attitude is both superstitious and politically perilous. All nationalisms are constructed, and for the left to forego participation in defining Englishness is to implicitly endorse the idea that Englishness is inevitably ethnically chauvinistic, the exclusive property of racists, George-crossed skin-heads.  A strategic mistake, I'd suggest. Robin ended by calling on supporters of the current Union to forego the idea that Scottish nationalism is primarily animated by hatred of the England. Move on, move on, his refrain.

You might also want to check out Comrade Greenwell's latest Scottish Independence podcast, in which he nattered away with Colin Fox of the Scottish Socialist Party, about his reasons for supporting Scottish independence.

You can download the show here, or via iTunes, sign-up for our RSS feed to ensure you don't miss any of our episodes, or alternatively, just lend your lugs to the show here.