Archive for category Crime

Let’s do something to stop the Glasgow subway photo ban

Thanks to Caron Lindsay for today’s guest post. Caron’s a Lib Dem activist, she blogs at Caron’s Musings and at Lib Dem Voice, and she’s here on Twitter.

So, you’re on the Glasgow subway with some friends and one of them does something cute or funny or otherwise worth recording for posterity. You take out your phone to capture the moment…..

What should happen next is….nothing. Life should go on as normal. However, if Strathclyde Partnership for Transport gets its way, new bye-laws could mean that you’re on a slippery slope to a £1000 fine. The operator has put their new proposals out for consultation and they include the controversial clause 12.1:

Passengers must not take photographs, or make video audio or visual recordings on any part of the subway.

There is a get out clause – but it involves you obtaining the written permission of SPT in advance. So much for spontaneity.

This brings to mind the situation under the last Labour Westminster Government when amateur photographers were apprehended by police under the controversial Section 44 of the Terrorism Act. This report from the Independent summarises how people innocently taking photographs of public buildings, tourist attractions and even a fish and chip shop found themselves being stopped and searched. By and large, although the law applied in Scotland, it was largely ignored. I wrote in 2010 that while over 200,000 people had been stopped south of the border, only 79 searches had been recorded here.

I always tend to take the view that if an authority is given a power, it will use it. That’s why we need to make sure that any powers they have are both necessary and proportionate. Why, then, do SPT want this photo ban? According to Amateur Photographer, SPT said:

Our company policy has always been that consent must be sought prior to any photography taking place, and this is in line with security restrictions at any major transport hub, including railway stations, airports etc.

It also allows us to ensure that any such activity does not disrupt the operations of the network in any way.

How on earth the group of friends in my example could potentially disrupt the operation of the network in any way is beyond me.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie was quick to condemn the proposals:

Whichever bright spark came up with this needs to be told to drop it. This kind of nonsense distracts from the real fight against crime and terrorism.

We have seen what happened in the past under the old Labour government. People were  arrested under terrorism laws for wearing t-shirts lampooning Tony Blair or for shouting ‘nonsense’ at a conference. Strathclyde needs some strong liberal voices to shout ‘nonsense’ at this plan.

On Twitter, Education Secretary Mike Russell described the plan as “Utterly daft.”

I’m sure that many people who aren’t involved in politics will agree that this restriction is ridiculous.

It doesn’t have to be this way

Happily, there is something we can do about this. If you agree with me and the many others on Twitter yesterday who thought the proposal is a piece of nonsense, you can respond to the consultation on it and the rest of the bye-laws by 15th June.

The photography ban is only the tip of the iceberg. Some of the other proposed  bye-laws, also carrying a potential £1000 fine for their breach, are equally questionable. Failing to report lost property to a member of staff, singing, using musical equipment in a way which might annoy a reasonable person, being drunk (which isn’t defined, but may well apply to a fair few people taking the subway home on a weekend night) or going the wrong way up or down an escalator all carry the same penalty. So does trying to get on a train before the last person has left and trying to jump the queue. These things can be rude, but deserving of a four figure fine?

Truly dangerous acts, like going onto the track, have the same penalty as the petty, which is a ridiculous state of affairs.

Have a read of the proposed rules here and make sure you send your response to the consultation by 15th June. It needs to go to:

FAO: Joanne Gray
Glasgow Subway Byelaws Consultation
Transport Policy Directorate
Area 2 D North
Victoria Quay
EDINBURGH
EH6 6QQ

or e-mail joanneDOTgrayATtransportscotlandDOTgsiDOTgovDOTuk

Subway Snap-In

Such authoritarian proposals are crying out to have fun poked at them. A few of us were discussing on Twitter yesterday that we should encourage everyone to take as many photos as they can on the subway over the next few weeks and post them on Twitter, using #subwaysnapin. I’ve created a Facebook page as well. Be as creative as you can. Add in a campaign slogan or placard if you like, but let’s show off a Glasgow institution at its best.

(photo credit)

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: bit.ly/LibDrugs) 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?