Archive for category Crime

Brian Paddick needs to be tough on both crime AND drugs

A guest post from Ewan Hoyle the founder of Liberal Democrats for Drug Policy Reform and author of their new drug policy (debated here: who is also their council candidate for Glasgow’s Anderston/City ward. There’s a Glasgow Skeptics meeting on this topic on the 14th of May

The people of London would undoubtedly be better served by their police force if cannabis users were not being arrested and charged. And for the vast majority of cannabis users a criminal record would be far more damaging to their prospects than using cannabis will ever be.There is nothing factually wrong with Brian Paddick’s “Police are wasted on cannabis” campaign.

So de facto, turning-a-blind-eye, decriminalisation is a step in the right direction. But as a policy end-point it is starkly illogical. If a drug is illegal, but no one is ever prosecuted for using it, then there can be no justification for its continued illegality. A trade that could be regulated and taxed and contribute greatly to the national economy should not be allowed to be dominated by organised crime. We might be able to save money in not prosecuting users, but we would still be spending money and time pursuing and prosecuting the producers and dealers. This endeavour has not had any success in restricting cannabis supply to any meaningful extent in the past, and is highly unlikely to do so in the future. If the act of using is no longer immoral to the extent that society deems it should be illegal, then the act of supplying can not be deemed immoral if the responsibility lies in the hands of a supplier who has only the best interests of the customer in heart. A policy of strictly controlled legal supply can create such a supplier and is the one that government should be investigating with great urgency.

The motion passed by Liberal Democrat conference last September was determinedly “tough on drugs” in its intent. Past policies that implied tolerance of drug use were swept aside in favour of policies targeted at the restriction of the ability of drugs to do harm. Paddick’s proposals sadly take us back to our old ways, and may even increase the potential for harm caused by the drug itself. If we exclude the obvious harms of a criminal record, arrest at least focuses the mind of the user and their family on their drug use and might cause them to re-evaluate their behaviour. By removing the chances of that happening, any problems users experience are more likely to develop further and have serious implications for their health and happiness.

So, on the scale of “tough” to “soft” on the ability of cannabis to do harm, de facto decriminalisation as proposed by Paddick is probably a step towards softness. If we want to get tough on the ability of cannabis to cause harm, then we have to deploy policies which are more likely to prevent problems emerging and which are more likely to facilitate early intervention in order to halt the progression of any problems which do occur.

The model of decriminalisation adopted in Portugal – where possession is still illegal but an administrative and not a criminal offence – takes us back in the direction of toughness. Rather than turning a blind eye to cannabis use, the police refer users to panels tasked with determining whether treatment is appropriate and delivering education on harms and available services. In a situation where contact with the police can only be positive for a drug user’s prospects, concerned family and friends need have no qualms about seeking help for a loved one. In Portugal, prospects for cannabis users are better, but again their de jure decriminalisation policy is starkly illogical for the same reasons as the de facto decriminalisation proposed by Paddick.

It is only with strict government control and regulation of a legal market that we can optimise our restriction of the ability of cannabis to cause harm. Rather than have information on the harms of cannabis delivered only after an unpredictable encounter with the police, this information can instead be provided in the environment of a pharmacy, by someone trained for the purpose, prior to the first time a customer uses the legally supplied drug. The ability to advise customers on the potency of strains and encourage safer modes of administration, means the customer is far less likely to come to harm. The undermining of the illegal market combined with age restrictions should hopefully reduce availability of cannabis for children, while reducing further the necessity to expend police resources against the black market suppliers. If it is decided to educate first-time users on the early warning signs of psychosis, then the increased number of people in society equipped to identify these signs means those developing psychosis are more likely to be helped regardless of their drug use history.

So Brian. It is time to move beyond liberalising our drug laws. De facto decriminalisation is not the best answer for the people of London or anywhere in Britain. The policy that is the toughest on drugs and crime is a plea to government for the strict government control and regulation of a legal cannabis market.

I have strong suspicions that if it is communicated properly, it will garner you far more support that your soft-on-drugs, baby-step, 4/20 announcement.

Walker: was there a cover-up?

The normal rule of thumb is that headlines ending in a question mark should be answered with a “no” – for example, “Does Sudoku Cause Cancer?” However, if Paul Hutcheon‘s story is true, as it surely is, the constituency office of the Deputy First Minister herself was told about Walker’s violent past more than three years before the unfortunate people of Dunfermline got saddled with him as their MSP.

When his past started to come out, I argued that the SNP didn’t do proper vetting on him, and SNP activists argued (reasonably, I concede) that if he’d kept it quiet there’s no obvious way for the party to have found out. That’s true: we don’t want parties to have to hire private investigators to look into candidates. But if a former brother-in-law of Walker had told Nicola Sturgeon’s own office about his unsavoury past, which the SNP’s quote admits, that’s that question answered. They knew because they were told, and they admit that the information went to head office.

If they’d been told in April 2011 I could almost understand not making a scene about it. Who wants to have to deselect a constituency candidate during an election? (Although obviously it would have still been wrong not to act) But February 2008? As with so many scandals, this one has become that which sensible politicians fear most: who knew what and when, and who covered up for the original offence? Incidentally, it’s extremely dangerous and ill-advised for the party to give an account of the meeting which can be disputed by the man who called it, Rob Armstrong.

Note: comments which make allegations against Walker which are not already in the media or which downplay domestic violence will not be approved.

We should be treating the issue of rape with more caution

The curious nature of political journalism is such that, when you’re down, you can be the subject of a feeding frenzy that feels like it’ll never quit. I do wonder if this is the case around the world or just specific to Scotland but, rightly or wrongly, Bill Walker MSP is on the receiving end of that feeding frenzy right now.

I daresay the story that he is building an extension to his house (are politicians not allowed to perform home maintenance these days?) with recently public funds, i.e. his salary, barely flickered on his subconscious given that numerous newspapers printed the story that he is the subject of a police investigation into alleged rape. And there it is, for ever more, he will not just be Bill Walker MSP, but The Alleged Rapist Bill Walker.

It is concerning how quickly and easily a reputation can be transformed by an unforgiving, relentless media these days. I of course haven’t the faintest idea about the truth behind any of the accusations but if our principles aren’t built around innocent until proven guilty then our society is in big trouble. If we are to assume a person is innocent, don’t we have a responsibility to protect and respect that presumed innocence and keep such investigations private until a guilty verdict is delivered, irrespective of how juicy a story it may be? At the very least for cases of this nature, surely.

Another one for post-Leveson days perhaps but it reminds me of Manchester United footballer Tom Cleverley who was splashed across the front page of The Sun for begging a woman for sex, the paper not considering that some chancer might have just been using the footballer’s identity to get lucky (which was indeed the case). The Sun had to make a humiliating, grovelling but brief apology.

Now, walking into a bar and pretending to be Bill Walker is not the best pick-up technique in the world, particularly in light of recent news stories, but trampling over lives to sell newspapers is a grubby, grubby business and should be done with caution. In fact, it just shouldn’t be done at all.

I could leave it there and some may agree while others may disagree, but this in itself is to cloud an already grim picture and I’d say I’m (admittedly knowingly) more culpable of a greater ill here.

I am sure I am not alone in my first thoughts from the Sunday press being ‘poor man, maybe he didn’t do it’. An alternative thought could have been ‘poor woman, maybe he did do it and he’ll get away with it’. As I say, I have no idea of the truth behind the issue and would rather not even be considering any of this, my preference being that the journalists went with a different story altogether.

It appears to still be the case that only 6.5% of rape claims end in a conviction (in England & Wales), and given that there are countless occasions of indecent assault and rape that don’t even get reported, I suppose one’s sympathies should really not be lying primarily with the odd person who guiltlessly gets caught up in some headlines for a day.

I do wonder if by wanting the names of accused men to be airbrushed out of newspapers I am perhaps guilty by association of the terrible and ongoing crime of helping to sweep the whole issue of rape under the carpet.

With a laddish, sex-obsessed, hard-drinking, fame-hungry, scantily-clad lifestyle constantly being peddled from the newsstands and, I believe, a major contributing factor to England and Wales (and Scotland?) having “one of the worst crime rates among developed nations for rapes”, maybe I wasn’t too far in the wrong laying the blame at journalists’ and tabloids’ doors after all, just for a distantly related, deeper problem.

“To abandon human rights would therefore be a greater threat to the coalition than most commentators realise”

Nick Clegg’s support for a massive extension of online monitoring may be a disappointment to disgruntled activists, and to any voters who listened to him on the subject prior to (and immediately after) the May 2010 election. But it should be no surprise. It’s certainly in keeping with a consistent experience of the three UK parties of government.

They regularly appear solid on policy in opposition but then are either ineffectual or do a series of direct u-turns once in office. The list is endless. Labour talked about equality of opportunity before 1997, but left behind the most unequal UK ever. The Tories joined the Lib Dems in howling about tuition fees in opposition, before working together to treble them almost immediately their coats were over the Downing Street chairs. I still remember the Tory backbencher telling me in 1997 that “we’re fine on this now, but don’t trust us when we get back into office“. Too true.

On security and civil liberties – especially on the futile attempt to trade the latter for the former – we have this same problem in spades. Governments, including this one and its predecessor, are almost always wrong, and oppositions, including this one and its predecessors, are almost always right. Whoever you vote for, it seems, the permanent government gets in, and the policies remain the same. The glee in the Labour spokesperson’s voice on Westminster Hour when asked if she’d be supporting this latest dogs’ breakfast was inescapable: “we dropped it! we dropped it!”, she said. Be in no doubt that Labour would pick it up the moment they ever return to office.

This might just be another attempt by the Lib Dems to discard a chunk of the broad base of support they assembled up to 2010. We’re not quite two years through a supposedly five year term, and there’s very little left. Broad but, it turns out, shallow, and only the Orange Book minority has really been shown any love by the leadership. Students were driven away, anyone concerned about privatisation of the NHS or Royal Mail is long gone, let alone those who wanted a principled left alternative to Labour. It seems almost absurd to think that’s how people ever thought of them.

The email monitoring legislation does feel a little different to previous betrayals, though. It has the air of a terminal nosedive about it, a sense that the party is approaching what looks like the point of no return. The smarter sort of Lib Dems on Twitter, the few of those that remain in the party, are saying things like “I have not sent my LD membership renewal until I see what happens with the surveillance stuff“, “I don’t know where [Clegg's] going, but I have no appetite to go on the journey with him“, “As someone who generally is keen on Clegg he’s fucked this up big time“, and “The question is what we can we do about it? How can we make the leadership listen?

As Polly Toynbee put it today, “civil liberties was their last USP“, although she’s excluded Iraq, presumably because their policy there was actually much weaker than the media and the party implied: “if there’s a second resolution we’ll back a disastrous war“. (Polly-haters should try again with that piece, incidentally. Except for a spurious paragraph where she suggests “Labour has been spring-cleaning it roots” (sic), she’s on good form.)

Less than a month ago Julian Huppert, the darling of the Lib Dems on Twitter, wrote a remarkably prescient piece for the Guardian. Here is just one chunk (emphasis mine):

Civil liberties are a core, unifying issue for the Lib Dems. There are MPs in the Labour and Conservative parties who would defend civil liberties to the very end, and others – too many others – who would tear them up at the first opportunity. There is no such division in the Lib Dems. Issues such as civil liberties are utterly uniting for our party, and utterly divisive for the others. To abandon human rights would therefore be a greater threat to the coalition than most commentators realise. [...] if we do not provide a thorough, reasoned defence of civil liberties, no other party will.

Aside from the usual Green-and-Nat-ignoring self-serving Westminster tripe at the end, most observers would have agreed with this assessment of the Lib Dems until the weekend. But now it transpires that their champions around the Cabinet table don’t care about this issue either. Who knew? Perhaps it’s some odd highball tactic so Clegg can accept a “compromise” that the party wouldn’t otherwise have swallowed.

No amount of reasoning with the Clegg/Alexander leadership could get them to change their minds on private control of NHS, and no amount of lobbying could persuade Lib Dem MPs or peers to rebel in any numbers on it either. Will they go the same way over internet surveillance? Are they really ready to go down with Clegg on this issue and take their whole party with them? Or will we, finally, start to see some backbone from their backbenchers?

Worst Motion of the Week – MP fights the blues

There is no doubt what the worst motion in Scottish politics was this week, it was the headbutting motion that Eric Joyce (allegedly) made in Strangers Bar at Westminster (*boom boom*). It’s a rather spectacularly public fall from an already rather graceless position for the MP and, despite the unavoidable, scabby mirth behind headlines such as ‘Labour MP hit 5 Tories in brawl’, this could be the final nail in the Falkirk MP’s political coffin after a recent charge sheet that includes failing to provide a drink-drive breath test and expenses scandals.

We largely enjoy an appropriate approach of innocent until proven guilty in this country, and so we should, but that nonetheless won’t, nor shouldn’t, prevent speculation surrounding this situation. One could argue that it is for constituents to decide if their MP is fit for purpose, and with a 7,843 majority in 2010, despite the expenses controversy, who outside of Falkirk should say that Eric should step aside, whatever happens here? Nonetheless, if, and it is a big if, this legal process results in a criminal conviction, it is difficult to see how a by-election can be avoided. Denis Canavan is already calling for one to be held.

A by-election in Falkirk would, of course, be a two-horse race with the SNP, who won the equivalent Holyrood seat(s) in 2011, going up against Labour. It could prove to be a mini dress rehearsal for the independence referendum at large and could be an opportunity for Salmond to start building some momentum, not dissimilar to the ‘political earthquake’ in Glasgow East all those years ago. For that reason, one would expect that the Nats’ campaign warchest would be deeply delved into, and with Labour’s coffers being fuller than only that of Rangers FC, the contest could well be closer than it otherwise would be in a Westminster contest.

There is a risk of getting too far ahead of one’s self here of course, it is not after all in Labour’s interests for a by-election to be held at this stage of the political cycle with so little to gain from one, so efforts behind the scenes to prevent one would no doubt take place.

For now, it is sufficient to only regret that the old Scottish leftie metaphorical rhetoric of going down to London to knock lumps out of Tories has been regrettably taken literally in this instance and that politics in general is the main loser here, apart from Eric Joyce of course.