Goodbye and Thank You Johann…

…or why Scottish Labour must be both ‘Scottish’ and ‘Labour’.


This weekend, Johann Lamont announced she will be standing down as leader of the Labour Party in Scotland. Before I say anything else, as a member I want the thank Johann for everything she did while leading the party. She held the party together after what was a (well-deserved) routing in 2011 and then led the party through the 2012 local election, holding Glasgow, and then (since everyone seems to have forgotten) WON a referendum on Scottish Independence. There were moments I cringed, and moments when speeches could have been better phrased. Yet, week after week, she consistently held her own against Alex Salmond at FMQs.

For what you did, I thank you.

But looking to the future, there are two major challenge Scottish Labour faces. The first is that is can not longer be afraid to be Scottish Labour. The second is that it must be allowed to be Scottish Labour.
It seems to me that recently, at both UK and Scottish levels, the Labour Party has been afraid to shout about what we stand for as a party, and instead watered it down to what we think people want to hear. At a UK level, our recent attempts to “tackle immigration” are a great example of this. A Labour government shouldn’t seek to tackle immigration, it should welcome the social, economic and poltical advantages immigration brings. but we don’t because we are concered about those who have “concerns about immigration”. These people fall into 2 categories.
The first are people who are genuinely concerned about the strain additional demand will place on out schools, hospitals and infrastructure. The Labour answer to these concerns is to say we will invest more in public services, and show how immigration is still a net positive to the country. The second are people who’s problem is with immigrants. We can’t help them, but still act as if we can see their point…I have to admit I can’t. We have to be brave and honest enough to say so.
The same issue exists in Scotland too. Whoever is elected leader in December cannot be afraid to challenge the assumptions we have allowed the SNP to establish. We are right to oppose unfunded universal free-prescriptions. Prescriptions for those most in need (the poorest, the oldest, the youngest, the chronicly ill, the disabled, the unemployed) were free before the SNP decided to make them free for the middle class and the rich. But we forget to say that’s because it costs the NHS c.£60million a year that could be spent on medical treatments and staff. Without that last bit we sound like cost-cutters and not a party that wants proper funding of public services.

And to do this, Scottish Labour must be given room to be SCOTTISH Labour. We may have won the IndyRef, but Scottish politics has changed forever. For the next leader to address this dynamic, they need to be able to make decisions (1) for the whole party in Scotland – I’m looking at you MPs; and (2) without the fear of a UK Labour veto.
I don’t think this means we need an “Independent Labour Party”, but we do need to mimic the current state of devolution within it. Policy making is near-enough separate, but leadership are still a matter of the UK party. That’s why the Scottish General Secrety can be sacked without the Scottish Leader being told: the UK level still controls structures. This clearly can’t go on.
In that brief time Wendy Alexander was leader, she famously challenged Alex Salmond to “bring it on” and hold the referendum before 2011.  Slowly but surely, this stance drifted backwards, and I would not be surprised if it was a UK ‘suggestion’ to drift. If rumours about Bedroom-Tax related orders are true, it only confirms that we need to be trusted to make the right call for Scotland, even if it makes the UK-Wide party a bit more uncomfortable. Part of this, of course, is that the leader of Scottish Labour has to be – in practice and not just name – the leader of the WHOLE of Scottish Labour (again, looking at you MPs).

Lamont’s leadership of Scottish Labour was successful one. In a time where we didn’t have a constitutional argument in the way, I am sure that would have been electorally successful too. But alas, circumstances, and it seems ‘comrades’, conspired against a woman who is committed to improving the lives  of the people she represents. I hope our next leader, whoever it is, is just as committed to those people, and much more ready to shout from the rooftops and soapboxes that we are Scottish Labour.


This post also appears on Labour Hame, a grass-roots run and organised Scottish Labour site. With thanks to Andy Todd for letting me use his lovely ‘graph’ in the banner.

Other people who have commented on Johann’s resignation and replacement include:
Duncan Hothersall:- Three things
 – 
Ian Smart:- Desperate Days
 – Jackson Carlaw MSP:- Send for Murphy

When is Assault not Assault…

…or why Neil Lennon and a Mr. Wilson from Edinburgh were major players in my personal legal journey.


I was amused last week when I read an article about New Hampshire’s State Legislature. I like New Hampshire (NH), and I’m fully prepared to admit that this is 100% due to it being President Bartlett’s home state. But over the last few years, NH examined and looked at what it considers the role of the jury in the state’s criminal trials…and being completely honest – I’m not sure I like it.

In 2012, NH’s Statehouse passed 519:23-a which allowed the sitting judge to permit defence counsel to remind the jury of their ability (and right) to “nullify the law”. There are far better explanations of what ‘Jury Nullification’ means than I could ever provide here, but put simply, it is the ability for a jury to say “Yeah, he’s technically guilty, but we don’t care.” Now it wants to change the law and require judges to inform the jury about its right to nullify the law in any given case. In the American context, where “We the People” is the basis of the law, the idea that the citizenry can disapply a law it feels is unjust seems acceptable and consistent – but is it necessarily the best idea to let juries know?
The American Jury process as it is at the moment is something I can’t quite rationalise. I find the US understanding of voir dire rather quaint and amusing, that lawyers can participate in choosing the jury. It’s something I can’t help but feel leaves (and has left) the whole system open to abuse. So, the idea that juries could go “We know he did it, but he seems alright”, seems the kind of thing that could only happen in America…right?

Scotland’s criminal justice system is infamous the world over for having 3 possible verdicts; Guilty, Not Guilty and Not Proven. But, it’s the second of the three, not the last, that can most accurately described as the “bastard verdict”. The role of the jury is to decide whether the crown has established the facts it intends to, i.e has the case against the accused been proven beyond a reasonable doubt? The jury, therefore, had to decide whether the case was ‘Proven’ or ‘Not Proven’ and it was only in the late 1700’s the idea of the jury deciding guilt came into the equation at all.
In 1782, a man was accused of murdering the Earl of Strathmore, and the facts were damning. Both men had been drinking and, to use the euphemism, one thing led to another which led to another which led to the Earl of Strathmore having a sword driven through his stomach…as happens. The man was charged with murder, but the jury has some sympathy with him. He had just buried a family member, the Earl had not been behaving appropriately all day, and just before the incident, had shoved the man into a ditch who was now covered in mud. So while there was no doubt that the man had killed the Earl, the jury didn’t think he had the guilt needed to fit the crime – he was “not guilty”. They knew he was technically guilty of murder…but they decided not to punish him. They nullified the law.
Since then, ‘not guilty’ replaced ‘not proven’ as the go-to innocence verdict , with ‘guilty’ wiping out ‘proven’ completely. So, a little act of ancient jury nullification has completely shaped the modern criminal justice system in Scotland. And yet, I question whether Americans should be told of this same ancient power. Why? Blame football.

In May 2011, Celtic played Hearts away in the SPL. The final score was 0-3, but the match was interesting in other ways. During the course of the game, a fan (Mr. Wilson)  jumped out of the stands and ran towards then-manager Neil Lennon and jumped on him. Essentially he committed assault. Live. During a televised football match. It was even caught on video…or was it? At his trial in Edinburgh Sheriff Court, the jury found the charge of “assault aggravated by religious prejudice” to be ‘not proven’.  The jury were aware of the fact they could delete the “aggravated by religious prejudice” part if that’s what was holding them back (they deleted it from his ‘Breach of the Peace’ charge of which they found him guilty), and considering Wilson had previously stated he would admit a clean ‘assault’ charge, this would have been sensible. But they decided not to – they let him off with it…or they didn’t, because they decided that he didn’t do it. The jury, essentially, nullified the ‘right’ verdict (he typed cautiously).
You can argue why the jury did what it did [At the time there was a blog post by someone who said it was done to “punish the crown”. if I can find it I will link it here.], but the fact remains that they did it. The evidence all pointed one way, but they veered the other, as was and is their right.

So what would the effect be if juries didn’t just have this right, but were made aware of it before every single criminal trial? The piece which initially piqued my interest states that where mock-trials have been held to test what may happen, juries told of their right to nullify tend to do so more readily and easily than those not told – and usually for more ‘socially acceptable’ accused/defendants. Given the tendency of the public to instantly vilify people accused of certain crimes (such as Chris Jeffries), while refusing to believe that certain others could ever commit one, it could be argued that establishing jury nullification as a central part of a criminal justice system might present a challenge to its fairness and equality.
I have an odd relationship with juries, despite having never sat on one (and I do really want to before I am permanently barred when I become a trainee next year (hopefully)). It seems completely sensible: you should be judged by people who are like you, not some judge who is (let’s face it) probably some old, white guy. But, like most things in law, its when you get down to exploring the details of the plans that the seemingly great ideas pose a range of issues you’d never have thought of. If the jury must be independent of “the system” then protecting that independence means that sometimes you have to accept they will make the ‘wrong’ (but never technically incorrect) choice…and I don’t know how I feel about that. I think compulsory notice of jury nullification chimes well with the independence idea, but I can’t help but wonder whether is positive for the criminal justice system as a whole. Just now, I think not.

Debating the Point…

…or why ‘Prime Ministerial Debates’ cause nothing but trouble and unnecessary judicial challenges.


No sooner are we finished with one glorious democratic process, than the countdown to the next one starts. The BBC, ITV and Sky revealed their proposals for the 2015 UK General Election TV Debates today and, like last time, there is a bit of a stooshie over who should appear how many times. As things stand, the debates will be:

SKY – April 2nd: David Cameron (Con); Ed Miliband (Lab) 
BBC – April 16th: David Cameron (Con); Ed Miliband (Lab); Nick Clegg (LD)
ITV – April 30th: David Cameron (Con); Ed Miliband (Lab); Nick Clegg (LD); Nigel Farage (UKIP)

Just about everyone seems to disagree with these proposals in one way or another. The primary issue is that UKIP has been invited to take part despite only having their 1 MP sworn in this morning – while the Greens (whose lone MP Caroline Lucas was elected at the last general election) have not been asked. Nor have the SNP or Plaid Cymru, who you can argue are just as influential in the current UK political landscape.

So, Tory and Labour parties aside (their right to 3 appearances is universally accepted), what have parties should be represented in the debates – and why?

The Lib Dems
As obvious/contentious (delete to suit) a statement as this may be to make, the Lib Dems are a major force in UK politics. They are the minorest major party, but they are still a major party. They are the junior partner in the current coalition government and have the 3rd most MP’s in the Parliament. But, most importantly there is a theoretical chance that they could form an outright government in 2015. [ENOUGH LAUGHING IN THE BACK!]
I mean it. Mathematically, should there be a massive national change of heart, the Lib Dems are standing enough candidates that they could be elected to form a Lib-Dem only government. It’s unlikely, but it is a possibility. Surely then, the Lib Dems should play a part in all 3 debates, since, like the Tories and Labour, they could form a government and already have substantial representation and clout in parliament?
If you accept that this is theoretically possible, but politicly unlikely (read “wouldn’t happen in a million years”), and so the Lib Dems should only be at the 2 debates,  isn’t the point of having the debates to inform the political argument, not the other way around? The Lib Dems received the most tangible benefit from the 2010 debates, arguably due to the fact they weren’t just a punchline, but on an equal footing to the two parties that had dominated government for the last 90 years. Because of that, they are now in government (albeit not leading it) for the first time since Lloyd George. You need a very good reason not to include the Deputy Prime Minister in an election debate – and I can’t see it.

The Greens and UKIP
So…UKIP. It is a party that had no representation in Westminster whatsoever until last week when it won it’s first ever by-election. The Greens, meanwhile, have had its 1 MP (the impressive Caroline Lucas) since 2010. The argument is that if UKIP are being invited on the back of Carswell’s election, the Greens should to. I fear, however, that this isn’t taking an holistic view of things.
While I’d imagine UKIP will have limited (if any) electoral success, their UK-wide support orbits the 17/18% mark, while the Greens can normally manage 5% on a good day. So far UKIP have announced 240 candidates for constituencies in all parts of Great Britain. The Greens, meanwhile have announced candidates in just 81. While UKIP haven’t hit that magic number of 326 yet (i.e. 50% of Westminster Seats + 1) it is not inconceivable that, like the Lib Dems, they will by the time next April rolls around and the registration deadline closes. In 2010 they stood in 558 seats, and in 2005 they tried in 496. The Greens, meanwhile, stood in just 182 seats in 2005 and still only 310 in 2010, leaving it 16 short from being able to achieve a governing majority, even on a perfect night. So UKIP and The Greens are two different beasts in the 2015 election as things stand. The former will field enough candidates that it could form its own government; the latter, if past trends are anything to go by, will not. Unless it does, the claim that it is a party similar in character to UKIP will be difficult to substantiate. If they do, however, inviting one but not the other will be nigh-on-impossible to justify.

The SNP and Plaid Cymru
So having dealt with UK-wide parties…what about the nation-specific parties in Great Britain: The SNP and Plaid Cymru? Dealing with The SNP first – the prima facie case for including them in the debates is plain. They are, and have been for the last 4 (arguably 5) years the biggest party in Scotland. They form the Scottish Government by majority, have have 6 MP’s already in Westminster and have, thanks to the post-#IndyRef surge in membership, are now have the 3rd largest membership figure in the UK. Excluding them from the debate, then would mean that the UK-establishment are neglecting a massive Scottish Voice…right?
Maybe – but let’s apply the test we’ve developed. Could the SNP mathematically form a UK government on a perfect night? The answer is most definitely no, since the SNP (quite fairly) only field candidates in the 59 Scottish seats. There is no way in which an SNP MP could become Prime Minster (save a disastrous night for the 2/3/4 main parties and there is a Rainbow coalition of the ‘Others’ with the SNP at its head). Why then should the SNP field somebody in what is a Prime Ministerial debate? Who that somebody would be is another issue that would need resolved. Nicola Sturgeon would seem the obvious choice, being the party’s leader and all. But unless she was intending to stand as an MP, the case for her getting involved in a Westminster TV debate is a difficult one to make. It may be more appropriate then for the SNP Leader at Westminster (Angus Robertson MP) to be the face of the SNP – but this might not have the electoral impact the SNP would be hoping for.
Plaid Cymru’s argument for inclusion is weaker still. It has all the regionalist-weakness of the SNP, fielding candidates in only the 40 Welsh seat in the past two elections, and none of the strength in numbers nor governmental advantage. It shoudl be said, though, it does have 3 times as many MP’s as either the Greens or UKIP. Even as the ‘nationalist bloc’ that is sometimes formed between the two, only 100 candidates would be fielded across the UK – well short of the number needed to govern. Add to this the fact that the Court of Session knocked back the SNP’s attempt to appear on the BBC’s 2010 debate. That’s not stopping them launching another challenge this year, but I can’t say I fancy their chances.
The broadcasters have said that there will be additional debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland where representatives of “one-nation-only” parties can make the case to the electorate to which they intend to present themselves. This seems a sensible suggestion, though it does mean that Labour, Tories and Lib Dems will have an extra bit of the cherry too, which presents its own problems.

It was suggested to me on twitter that the best way to solve the “who gets to appear and how many times” issue is to have the leaders of all the parties with at least 1 MP in, and everybody else out. There are currently 12 parties (and 1 independent) represented at Westminster so this option is clearly not workable. It also raises the question of whether the Northern Irish parties should be included in the debate given the unique characteristics of its electoral system.
The best way to avoid these pointless arguments and party-political one-upmanship is, of course, to recognise the fact the in the UK we don’t vote for a Prime Minister, we vote for MPs. The Prime Minister is simply the person who is able to “command the confidence” of the majority of those MPs sitting in the House of Commons. Sure, the leaders of the parties undoubtedly have an effect on that party’s image, but they don’t need the debates to make their mark. Most of them manage it pretty well already.

Why Start Now…

…or why a perfectly innocent question from an Glasgow Lawyer made me think.


I’m coming to the end of my 3rd week of my Diploma at Glasgow University, having graduated with my LL.B here in July.  A more natural point to start a blog would have been 3 weeks ago. I could have – possibly should have – started writing this blog during my undergraduate degree…but I didn’t.

Why not?
Time, I think, is an issue. Contrary to popular opinion, being a student is hard work – even more so a law student. Throw in my studying abroad (yet another potential blogging-entry-point missed) and the fear drilled into you about the exacting requirements of your ever looming dissertation, blogging seems an unnecessary burden on your time.

Over and above that, there is the constant worry that  you might say something you really shouldn’t. My first day of Law School included the standard “Be careful on-line” warning, and it struck with me. I don’t have a particularly short temper, nor would I make a claim I didn’t think I could prove. I do sometimes struggle to find the right word and so use a less than appropriate alternative (e.g I recently told my friend she was “loose”, when I was looking for the word “rascally”), which might be taken the wrong way by someone who didn’t know about my unfortunate vocabularial lacuna. The constant warnings from my mum that what’s on-line is on-line forever, didn’t help matters. She has a good point, and the media like to remind us or the perils of teenagers (and not so teenage-ers) being too keen to share what they really shouldn’t.
But, I have a twitter that I use a lot. I don’t hide my political stances and can’t imagine doing so. Even during the Independence Referendum (or #IndyRef) I was pretty forward about the fact that I was voting, supporting and campaigning for No. I get into debates, chats and jokes with others – so how would that be different to blogging? I write short political and legal (but not personal) pieces every now and then…so why not blog?

Why Start Now?
Simply, you can thank lawyer Brian Inkster for getting me to start. Preparing a Lecture, he asked for blogs written by Law students, and after saying I wrote as part of a bigger site, he asked me a simple question “What is stopping you creating your own site?” I gave him the answer above: too much work, too risky, public image. For the first time, I didn’t feel that was good enough. I have the time to do it now; I know the rules of the game; and (as I’m sure I’ll be told in Mr. Inkster’s lecture next week) it can improve your reputation when done right.
So, I’ve decided to try it out and see if it suits me, or if my outbursts are best contained in 140-character chunks. If my previous tweets are anything to go by, this will turn out to be  40% Law; 40% Politics; 10% Law AND Politics; and most of the rest Doctor Who. I do aim, though, to be at least a little bit interesting and thoughtful.

So let’s see if I can manage that…