Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rennie calls Salmond out for blistering attack on senior Judge

For those of you who don't know, bourach is a lovely Scots word meaning a right old mess or confusion. I do like it as a word, but at the moment it seems particularly appropriate to use it to describe the muddled priorities at the top of the Scottish Government where justice is concerned.

I have already written a furious post today about the failures of the Scottish Government to even provide decent access to toilets, for goodness sake, amongst many other basics, to prisoners at our only women's prison, Cornton Vale. You would think being found wanting so severely for the second time in two years would concentrate their minds on what really is important.

But no. Alex Salmond, leader of the Government which has been responsible for such a shocking failure, seems to think it's more important to get really nasty about a senior judge, Lord Hope, who has been part of the UK Supreme Court which has ruled on recent high profile human rights cases. Now, the thing is, it's not a nasty English court telling we Scots what to do, it's operating under European  Court of Human Rights jurisprudence. It's ruling on whether what's happened in certain cases complies with European human rights laws which the SNP say they support.

Salmond's got really personal, about Lord Hope, calling his judgements extreme. And it looks like when he was in Downing Street recently, that he might have nicked David Cameron's dog whistle. He's really letting his illiberal, socially conservative side show with remarks like:
"All I would say to Lord Hope is that I probably know a wee bit about the legal system and he probably knows a wee bit about politics, but politics and the law intertwine and the political consequences of Lord Hope's judgments are extreme, and when the citizens of Scotland understandably vent their fury about the prospect of some of the vilest people on the planet getting lots of money off the public purse, they don't go chapping at Lord Hope's door, they ask their parliament what they are doing about it."
The words in bold put me in mind of David Cameron's comments last year, that people forfeit their human rights if they burgle your home.

When our justice system, either the UK, or Scottish, receives a judgement which shows it's flouted human rights, I find that shaming and a sign that things need to change. The rule of law can only work if the people have confidence that they will be treated fairly and their human rights respected within the judicial and penal systems.And it's the right thing to treat people fairly.

Peter Cadder, whose case sparked the SNP's casual quadrupling of pre-charge detention time in an afternoon last year, won his human rights case because, then a teenager, he had not had access to a lawyer before a police interrogation that led to his conviction for assault.  Now, to me, it seems eminently reasonable that people should have access to lawyers. A system that does not allow that is flawed. Rather than slag off judges and court judgements, surely the Scottish Justice Department would be better off comparing Scots law with European human rights law and sorting out where there could be problems. You could argue this should have been done years ago.

Alex Salmond is pandering to a Daily Fail type agenda with is comments and he needs to catch himself on.

Willie Rennie told Reporting Scotland today that he reckoned Salmond was just a wee bit too partial to driving the bulldozer. He also said: 

“Alex Salmond is making himself look a fool with these deeply personal and blistering attacks on one of Scotland’s most senior judges.
 “Scotland does not want a First Minister who uses such tawdry and childish language, leaving Scotland looking blinkered and insular.
 “As the crisis between the Scottish Judiciary and the Scottish Government deepens, it leaves serious questions for the future. The First Minister needs to do some serious damage control before the decay in this relationship becomes irreversible.”  

I've been really impressed with Willie's down to earth, practical comments on all sorts of issues since he became leader. Whether it's showing a real understanding of the way misuse of alcohol blights communities, or telling the First Minister to stop making Scotland look foolish, he's made a real impact in just 4 weeks.

Just as an aside, Willie seems very fond of the word tawdry - which is absolutely the right word to describe both Salmond's and MacAskill's comments about judges. It simply is not appropriate for senior politicians to call senior judges ambulance chasers. It's a cheap show which is more about headlines than sense. Anyway, it puts me in mind of one of the few Church sermons I can remember from my childhood. We went to the Scottish Episcopal Church in Wick, which was presided over by John Hadfield, Archdeacon of Caithness, who was quite a character.  I mostly drifted off into a daydream during the sermon, but I remember being fascinated by the story of St Etheldreda and I have never forgotten the origin of the word tawdry.


JPJ2 said...

Willie Rennie is a very articulate politician.

However, by following in the wake of Tavish (presenting his party as the third unionist party and applauding the Westminster coalition) he is leading your party in Scotland to oblivion.

Just wait and see.

David said...

We are not making enough of the fact that the whole issue of a UK Bill of Rights v ECHR is being looked at already (

never mind Jim Wallace's panel looking at devolved issues and the ECHR (

Am Firinn said...

Indeed, David, but Lord Wallace's original "informal consultation" dared ask even quite dramatic questions like "devolution issues which arise in criminal matters could be removed from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court"(, para 18) The trouble is, the Advocate General has rowed back from this kind of thing and his proposals now are the tamest of damp squibs, doing nothing to address the underlying problem he himself identified back in September.

cynicalHighlander said...

Treaty of Union

Article 19 provided for the continuation of Scotland's separate legal system.

Scots law is not perfect but when another legislature interferes with it then could be the start of a slippery slope. Beware what you wish for for political gain.

Anonymous said...

It won't do Caron.

I expect idiots in the MSM to twist what Salmond and McAskill said but I expect better of you.

I had expected better of Willie Rennie too but his macho brand of Unionism will simply seal your party's fate. He has made the wrong call on tone on just about every occasion he has opened his mouth since getting elected.

For the record, McAskill did not call any judge an ambulance chaser, he accused the institution of the Supreme Court as ambulance chasing. That is a big difference.

And Salmond didn't call Lord Hope an extremist he said some of his ruling were having extreme consequences - again very different.

As you will no doubt have seen this morning, my earlier warnings about the imminent quashing of Luke Mitchell's conviction are perhaps even more imminent than I imagined.

Everyone needs to decide which side of the fence they are on quickly; are you with Salmond and McAskill in supporting convictions made in Scotland by due process or are you on the side of Willie Rennie et al supporting the release of criminals on technicalities?

The stance of the unionist parties on this is fast becoming utterly untenable and they have allowed themselves to be completely out-manoeuvred just because they are utterly incapable of giving Salmond credit for his immensely superior intellect. Knee-jerking unionism at its classic worst.

There is one silver lining of course; perhaps Luke Mitchell would be willing to front the NO campaign for the referendum? He would be living proof of the 'benefits' of the union.


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