We managed to hassle yet another candidate in the upcoming election into guesting for us here at Better Nation.  Today we’ve got Callum Leslie, the Lib Dem candidate for Mid-Fife & Glenrothes, writing about his experience of a hustings and the issues of crime and justice.


Callum LeslieI was at a hustings a week or so ago in my constituency, and the difficult question of crime came up.

The Tory candidate Allan Smith said that short-term sentences should be re-introduced, so that the public can see that criminals are being punished.

Clare Baker, Labour, said that minimum sentences for carrying a knife were the answer, as people were scared.

Tricia Marwick, the incumbant SNP MSP…well, I’m not entirely sure what she said. She talked about the SNP having delivered (disputably) 1000 extra police officers, and crime being at a 32 year low.

All of these answers are all very well. Very good politicians’ answers. However, not one of them actually said what they would do to reduce crime further, and how what they suggested would do so.

Allan and I clashed first on short-term sentencing. Typical Tory posturing, accusing community sentencing and other alternatives as ‘soft-touch’, when in actual fact they are far from it. Many offenders choose to dodge community sentences and go to prison instead, as they see it as an easier option. Community payback, where they have to be up at the crack of dawn, work hard all day, and be in their homes all evening. What’s the difference between that and prison? In prison they have better access to drugs. In prison they have more recreational time. In prison they can learn the skills which make them more hardened, violent criminals.

I have studied prison and the alternatives heavily throughout my education, and my argument is backed up by cold hard statistics – two thirds of offenders in Polmont Young Offenders Institute have been there before. 79% of people sent to jail for non-violent crime re-offend within two years.

Compare this with the alternatives, and depending on the scheme re-offending rates can be as much as 30% lower. Restorative justice in particular is effective with young offenders, as it forces them to understand the severity and impact of their crime through meeting the victim. A pilot of this in Northern Ireland saw re-offending rates a third lower than those put in prison.

The Labour and Tory policy of mandatory sentences for anyone carrying a knife, which the Tories seemed to have mysteriously backed down on, is simply ludicrous. Prison doesn’t work. All the evidence points to it. The Labour party can talk about peoples’ fears, and using emotive language all they like, as Clare tried to do at the hustings, but at the end of the day they cannot say that their policy will reduce crime. Prison isn’t a deterrent – if it was, re-offending wouldn’t be so high.

Where do they propose we put these 4000, and it is 4000, extra people? A Labour councillor waffled on to me afterwards about converting prison municipal buildings, but I doubt there is room for another 4000 people in our already overcrowded prison system. Our newest prison is already at around 120% capacity.

All this while the three other major parties are proposing a single Scottish police force (though the Greens are an honourable exception here). Margo MacDonald wrote here so eloquently why this is inherently wrong, but fundamentally it puts us all at risk. Estimates from the police themselves suggest that the single police move would cost 3000 to 4000 front line police officers their jobs, as they are laid off or moved into the backroom. So the Labour party want to put 4000 more people in prison, with 4000 less police officers! The people we should trust on this are the police officers themselves, who are overwhelmingly against this move, not the politicians who insist it is a good idea, and refuse to tell us how much it will cost.

Tricia Marwick did say she was “not convinced” by the case for a single police force, but refused to answer whether or not she had completed the consultation to tell Kenny MacAskill of her fears.

Only the Liberal Democrats oppose the single fire and police forces, which would destroy local strategies, cost jobs, and wouldn’t save money anywhere near what the other parties claim. It is irresponsible. It is playing politics with our safety, and our liberty.

NB: I feel it would be irresponsible of me not to mention the 5th candidate, Jim Parker from the Pensioners’ Party, who suggested flogging was the answer to anti-social behaviour. I shall leave that one to you to form your own opinions.

Callum Leslie is the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Mid-Fife and Glenrothes, and is the youngest Scottish Parliamentary candidate in the country.