Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What is the scariest thing that can happen in the Holyrood elections?

What really scared you when you were a kid? For me, it was cybermen, and daleks, those chilling killing machines. Particularly when they had Sarah Jane Smith cornered. I still remember having an official hiding behind cushion to deal with the stomach churning, spine chilling, trembly moments.

I was also, believe it or not, petrified of David Steel. From being a small child, I knew that one day I wanted to be a mum. That and being a Lib Dem have pretty much been part of my DNA. My devout Catholic grandad told me that our David didn't want babies to be born. You can probably guess where I'm going with this. It wasn't for some years that I actually realised that we have a lot to be grateful to him for.

It's many years since I felt that kind of terror, but the feeling I have when I think of Labour's Richard Baker as Justice Secretary comes pretty close.

In some ways the thought is even worse than having Jack Straw as Home Secretary.  Baker is in his mould as an authoritarian, centralising, stereotyping politician whose ideas are rooted in the prejudices of the tabloid press rather than any deeply held philosophy.

Nowhere was this clearer than on yesterday's Scotland Votes debate. I have to confess that due to mummy taxi duties, I only heard half of it, but it was enough to make a judgement. Frankly, our own Robert Brown, and even Kenny MacAskill, wiped the floor with him. Baker couldn't answer close scrutiny from Robert about either Labour's plan to send  anyone convicted of knife crime to jail for 6 months, or on the costs of setting up a national police force.

Robert asked him how Labour would pay for the 1300 extra people a year they would have to send to prison if their policy was enacted, which is effectively another Barlinnie and was pretty much ignored. Bill Aitken was just as bad, mind you. Nobody thinks carrying a knife is a good and people who do it should be punished, but a mandatory six month prison sentence will not solve the problem. 

Again on the costs of the national police force, neither Richard Baker nor Kenny MacAskill could counter the points Robert made about the costs and I got the impression that they just didn't get the points he was making about it being bad for democracy and local policing to have all of Scotland's law enforcement in the hands of just two people.  Robert made the point that money can and should be saved on administrative function but control of policing must be done locally.

Labour, under Baker's direction, have come out with another tired and ineffective plan to deal with anti social behaviour which might keep the tabloids happen, but does nothing to tackle the root causes. Robert Brown had this to say on it:
“Has the Labour party not learned anything? These policies appear to have been constructed on the back of the proverbial cigarette packet.  
“What the Labour party should be doing is tackling the root causes of crime, which are drug and alcohol addiction, illiteracy and the consequences of fractured families
“Labour have traditionally created more and more new crimes as a substitute for proper and effective action.
“They try to sound tough on crime but it is local people and local communities who pay the price for their short sighted approaches.
“Police officers and youth workers know that the way to tackle antisocial behaviour is through effective working with disaffected youngsters, breaking down gang loyalties and through more positive diversionary activities.
“Until Labour start talking about these things they cannot be taken seriously on criminal justice policy – 5 point plans or otherwise.”

I want someone in charge of our justice system who has a deep seated sense of justice and fairness, not somebody who wants it skewed in favour of victims. If anyone hurt my loved ones, there is no limit to what I'd want done to them - but that's why we need a rational and independent system of dealing with those accused of crime in a fair and judicious manner.

That person is not Richard Baker.

What would be a million times worse is if Baker got the Justice job, and Robert Brown wasn't there to hold him to account. This is why it's so important that anyone in Glasgow who agrees with me votes Liberal Democrat on the list to keep that man in there. My admiration for his liberal principles and knowledge about the justice system knows no bounds. His presence in the Parliament makes me feel safe, a bit like I did with Evan Harris at Westminster. Much as I miss Evan, at least Julian Huppert is there to champion the science and evidence based policy agenda. I'm not sure that there's anyone in any party who could hold a candle to Robert on justice issues.

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