Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Ed 'gets' devolution. Almost.

The formidable Lallands Peat Worrier has seen fit to favourably mention both my previous posts questioning how the Unionist parties rationalise different policies north and south of the border, thus that's as good a reason as any for a third instalment! This one concerns the issue of sentencing policy and knife crime - which indeed LPW addresses in his own post - and the conflict between Westminster Labour's stance against short sentences with Holyrood Labour's policy of mandatory sentences for possession of a knife. Questioned on STV's Politics Now regarding the fact that Westminster Labour's stance on the issue seemed more in line with the SNP's policy for Scotland, Ed Miliband said:
This is the thing about devolution; this is what we have to understand. Iain [Gray] has rightly identified what an issue knife crime is in Scotland and has come up with his own policy for Scotland around knife crime - a policy I support. The rest of the UK has different needs; a different situation. And I think that is what devolution is all about, it's recognising that difference, and recognising there can be different solutions in different parts of the country.
Iain Gray was also asked about the conflict in a subsequent interview, and said:
We have a particular issue in Scotland around knife crime, we have a policy which we've enunciated... Ed gets that, that's one of the things about Scotland that he gets, and I really think the media should recognise that devolution means we will pursue different policies in some areas.
Thus - and ignoring the rhetoric - the rationale is essentially that knife crime is more of a problem north of the border, therefore justifying the tougher line proposed by Scottish Labour.

But without getting bogged down in statistics - which I don't doubt support Labour's general case - it doesn't seem that long since murders by stabbing were almost constantly headlining in the UK media, and this fairly recent Observer article seems to underline that the matter is still regarded as a major problem south of the border, with David Cameron describing it as a "priority". And indeed Labour's manifesto for the general election earlier this year seems to chime more with Iain Gray's rhetoric than Ed Miliband's: "We have strengthened the law on knife crime with jail more likely, sentences longer, and more police searches and scanners – and knife crime has fallen."

Thus even if knife crime is a particular problem in Scotland, does the more general profile of the issue in the UK-wide context justify fundamentally different approaches to punishment?

That appears unlikely. Indeed, it seems a strange justice system where the stringency of the punishment meted out depends on the prevalence of crime in the area - hardly the punishment fitting the crime. Thus should a murder in Glasgow attract a fundamentally more stringent sentence as compared to a similar crime in Angus, because murder is more prevalent in the former than the latter?

Indeed, since the knife crime problem is considered particularly bad in Glasgow, why should Labour's mandatory sentences extend to parts of Scotland where the the problem is less in evidence?

Moreover, if Labour's dual-approach did have substantive merit then presumably mandatory sentences would be better targeted at London (say) than rural Scotland?

Thus different policies north and south of the border may help justify devolution in a rhetorical, abstract sense. But for a UK-wide party there seems little as regards substance to rationalise different knife crime policies, any more than those regarding the likes of wages, speed limits and alcohol control.


Allan said...

I'm not really sure that Ed gets devolution at all, i suspect it's more a let them get on with it attitude. If he did, he would realise how useless "Scottish Labour" really are at formulating policy.

Knife crime is the key example of this at the moment, I compared their stance to Michael Howard's "prison works" rhetoric of the mid 1990's in the below post. Unfortunately i also think that Baker understands what makes people commit crime as much as Mr Howard did.


Stuart Winton said...

Thanks Allan, I did read your post a few weeks ago and didn't really agree with it, but I appreciate your point about Richard Baker ;0)

However, I don't really have much to say about the prison debate these days, because (in a nuthshell) I think the problem lies in sorting out the low-level sort of stuff first, because that's inevitably what leads to more serious crime IMO, and by then it's perhaps too late to turn people round, hence the revolving door of prison.

But maybe that's another debate!!