Sunday 7 July 2024

About Reform UK

 And so it is over. 

I hesitated to say anything much about the election, not least because I was out of the Country for much of it, visiting my mother-in-law in Hungary, involving a cleared diary, flights and car hire booked and Andi. my wife booking time off work, long before Sunak's surprise announcement. To have suggested we wouldn't go would have led, shall we say, to marital disharmony, but to be honest it never occurred to me, for I have kind of lost interest and enthusiasm for front line politics. For the first election since 1970, I delivered not a single leaflet, let alone knocked on a single door. 

We were however back on 2nd July, in time to vote and, in the early hours of July 5th, celebrate my friend and comrade, Katrina Murray, becoming our new MP as part of Labour's Scottish landslide. 

In the internet age, being abroad hadn't prevented following the election and, while you will have to take my word for it, my gut feeling on the eve of poll was that the Tories would not do quite as badly, and the SNP a bit worse than the polls predicted. As indeed came to pass. 

But there will be many more people steeped in the campaign able to digest it more readily than me. 

Rather I am going to point out something largely ignored by the Scottish media but which seems to me to be of significance. Starting with the result in my own seat. Katrina obviously won and my departing MP, Stuart McDonald, came a relatively close second. But the Party in third place was not the Tories, or the Libs or even the Greens. It was Reform UK, in the presence of a man called Billy Ross, of whom I know nothing except his name. But he wasn't just third, he was a comfortable third, his 3000+ votes placing him well ahead of the just less than 2000 secured by the Tories and securing just less than twice the Green vote and well over twice that of the Lib-Dems. 

And it wasn't just here this happened. Reform UK were third in every seat in North Lanarkshire. And across Scotland they were comfortably ahead of the Greens in fifth place and just two and a half percentage points behind the Libs in fourth. Indeed if you discount the the tactical vote the Libs clearly enjoyed from my Party and the Tories in the six seats they secured, and to be honest only truly contested, it is possible Reform UK would have ended up the fourth Party in terms of the popular vote in Scotland. And while they came nowhere close to winning anything, on their route, they clearly cost the Tories two or three.

And they did this breaking all the conventional assumptions of Scottish Politics. Firstly they made no pretention to being a "Scottish" Party. They weren't "Scottish Reform UK" or even "Reform UK (Scotland)". They were just Reform UK. Then, they didn't even have a Scottish leader. At all, not even nominally. And they took part not at all in the exclusively Scottish election debates. Nor made any fuss about that as did Alba, despite the latter ending up with a very small fraction indeed of the Reform UK vote. To be fair, without a Scottish leader, it is difficult to see who would have participated on their behalf. Although perhaps Billy Ross could have stepped up to the mark. Whoever he is. 

And, to the best of my recollection, they did not deliver a single leaflet to my door. Even the freepost. 

My point however is this. Reform UK are now a feature of Scottish politics and yet everybody wants to ignore that because it does not fit with the accepted narrative that in some way  Scotland is more progressive than the rest of the UK, immune to the populist right.  Yet the electoral results simply don't fit that. 

But never mind that. Let's look ahead to the May 2026 election, assuming the Scottish Parliament term runs that long. Reform UK are likely to be represented thereafter, probably with more seats than the Greens. Given the result on Thursday, it is difficult to see how they could be excluded from the leaders' debates and while that might expose their callow populism, it might instead provide them with an opportunity to show themselves as a real player in Scotland, despite the best efforts of the press to put their fingers in their ears.

And while they are clearly not going to win in 2026, their presence in the Parliament with more representatives than The Scottish Green Party would certainly change the narrative about Scottish public opinion. I'd even suggest possibly for the better.

They do however need a leader. Perhaps this could be the opportunity for Billy Ross to seize his moment.

Friday 5 April 2024

One woman and her thumb.

 In the Summer of the year 2000, Maureen, my wife, and I went on holiday to central Italy. We stayed just outside the hilltop village of Paciano, where we had spent our honeymoon inside the wall twelve years before. This time howeverwe wqre  in an Agriturismo which we had also stayed in before more recently and indeed where we would, twelve years later, spend our last holiday together. 

But we did not holiday alone for we invited friends to join us. They were my very best pal and his partner, now wife, together with their wee girl, then aged two or three. 

They are both well known figures on the Scottish political scene, then and now, so I'll not draw them into this involuntarily. I'll accordingly refer to my best pal only as BP, although that will probably be sufficient identification for some. We were a few days before them in arriving. 

Anyway, when they did arrive, BP arrived clutching a book. No great surprise as he was and is a voracious reader, but usually of works of non fiction, particularly political biographies. 

But this wasn't a work of non fiction, it was a novel. A hardback with a boldly coloured cover. 

On their arrival, we had a kind of anticipation of the evening ahead. We'd eat, the bambina would go off to bed and the four adults would then spend the hours late in to the night sitting on the covered terrace talking and good naturedly arguing about politics or indeed any other topic that came up.

Only that's not what happened. For, after a brief polite interval, BP announced that he was going to bed as he wanted to read his book. Which he did, right through the night and indeed back on the terrace once dawn had broken. Until it was done. Whereupon he insisted that I must read it as well, "But it is children's book!" I responded, the name of the author being already vaguely known to me. "It is much more than that" he replied. So I started reading and then performed pretty much the same exercise as him over the next day or so. Stopping only to eat and engage in the occasional dip in the pool. It was, after all, the high summer in Italy. And, when I'd finished, I insisted Maureen must read it as well. For, it was indeed. much more than a children's book. 

Now, by now, you have probably worked out that the book's title was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. 

And as the holiday went on, because of its distinctive cover, you realised that the book was in pretty much every teenage hand. In the hand of the girl on a bar terrace being assailed by her slightly younger brother that she was reading too slowly, preventing him from getting started. Perhaps most astonishingly in the hand of Dutch and German kids reading it with difficulty in English because they couldn't wait for the native translation. And, just like BP and I, in a fair number of adult hands as well.

On my return home I obtained and devoured the previous three volumes and then awaited the next instalment as impatiently as any thirteen year old. 

However, at least for a while, I remained largely ignorant of the author beyond that she lived in Edinburgh and was becoming steadily more famous. But as you read the books you realised "where she stood" and that was firmly on the left. Not the mad left but the left. Her targets: innovative teachers over prescriptive ones; against the excesses of the tabloid press; for those who prided achievement over celebrity; against prejudice of any sort; not just for good over evil but for right over wrong. And in her central characters, for girls being as brave as boys, not as "tomboys", as earlier children's literature might have had it, but as proper girls. Albeit just that wee bit more clever and sensible than the boys. In Hermione's case, much cleverer than her two main co-adventurers. Without Hermione ever, other than good naturedly, claiming superiority to them. Albeit with a fair amount of exasperation. I loved the books, alongside literally hundreds of millions of others. Even as I write here, I am thinking I might read them again after my imminent retirement.

And then, of course, came the films. And so much else, and the riches that rightly followed. 

But then slowly, as her fame demanded, the author herself became steadily better known. Not just her personal history before her literary rise to fame but that, following her rise, she proved not just to talk the talk on being on the left but to walk the walk as well. Not only in paying her taxes in full, and being proud to say that, but in her literally giving her money away to her chosen charities. To Multiple Sclerosis support and research,  in acknowledgement of the disease that claimed her mother's life but also to Lumos, the charity she personally set up to assist abandoned or orphaned children in central Europe. And to so many other worthy causes.  

And also, directly to political causes: to the Labour Party and probably most famously. in 2014, to Better Together. She never once sought personal reward or popularity in return. Indeed in some cases earned the exact opposite in response. But she did what she thought was right. Dare I say it, like Harry and Hermione and Ron. 

As she did the same in June 2020 when she entered the Trans debate, Nobody required her to do it. In the essay that accompanied her most major intervention, she had clearly read widely on the issue and must have anticipated the response from the hysterics on the other side. But she did it anyway. Because she thought it was right. 

And, at the time, it must have been for those most besieged, like the relief of Mafeking had felt to Baden-Powell. I mean no disrespect to those then in the front line, but while they did have a small coterie of sisters, they, and their persecution, had, until then, largely gone unnoticed in the world beyond University Campuses and public sector HR Departments. They must have thought they would be besieged forever. And then, suddenly, Forstater and Stock, Bindel and Joyce, I write them out in a verse, had the support of the most famous feminist in the world. And the world paid attention. And has kept paying attention. I am sure JKR has no desire whatsoever to own a white horse but, should she show the vaguest intention of wanting one, I'm certain the money would be instantly raised by the sisters through public subscription. Money which she would insist on refunding to a worthy cause. Even while wondering what exactly to do with the horse.

And so to this week. It is no accident that the Hate Crime etc,.Act was mooted just before and proposed to go forward just after Ms Rowling's initial major intervention. Unsurprisingly, the attention seeking Minister in charge was either too stupid to notice or too stupid to think through its potential consequence for him. The Act doesn't. as I've pointed out in earlier blogs this very week, actually change the law. But its trans supporters were led to believe that it did by a hopelessly out of his depth Minister, now our First Minister. He had been persuaded in doing so he would prove to have been on the right side of history by a small number of men dressed as women who had persuaded him in turn that changing the law would be popular. And although he hadn't changed the law, he led them in turn to believe that he had. 

But JKR wasn't having that. In an intervention perhaps blunter than even some of her strongest supporters might have anticipateded, she pointed that claiming you are a woman does not make actually make you a woman. Unless, of course. you are a woman. And the response of the Scottish establishment was almost instant. It was to run away. Not only was it announced that she hadn't broken the law but indeed she hadn't even "committed" a "non crime hate incident," Whatever that ever was, it is unlikely to have much of a future duration, even as a concept. Useless, in the midst of his rout, has been left demanding people stop making "hate crime " complaints, having at the start of the week, encouraged them to do so. The rest of the Scottish Cabinet appears to have disappeared in to thin air. The next supposed advance of  the Trans rights boys, a ban on "Conversion Therapy", an equally incoherent proposition, is I suspect about to disappear into the longest of long grass and we will finally get to the point where people will be free to state publicly that Trans "Demands" are not the same as Trans "Rights". Unless actual women will sign off on them.

One woman, albeit a very accomplished one, has taken on the entire SNP establishment, all their Spads and other advisers, all their publicly funded satraps in the third sector, all their sycophants in the press, all those opposition politicians who have laid down to this nonsense to date. And she has triumphed. Armed with nothing more than her reputation, a warm wind at her back, and, on twitter, her thumb. 

Monday 1 April 2024

Useless has criminalised himself (accidentally).

 I have just finished two well read blogs about the Hate Crime Act concluding that it doesn't, in truth, materially change the law at all. But in the process I have come across something that has been produced accidentally by that legislation that I think has changed the law, Useless appears to have accidentally criminalised the entire SNP.

Let's start with the wording of the contentious section 4, particularly section 4(1).

It reads:-

4. Offences of stirring up hatred

(1)A person commits an offence if—

(a)the person—

(i)behaves in a manner that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening, abusive or insulting, or

(ii)communicates to another person material that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening, abusive or insulting, and


(i)in doing so, the person intends to stir up hatred against a group of persons based on the group being defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origins, or

(ii)a reasonable person would consider the behaviour or the communication of the material to be likely to result in hatred being stirred up against such a group.

But, here is a wee bit of free legal advice. When you interpret any Statute, you can discard any superfluous "ors".

So let's do that here. 

4. Offences of stirring up hatred

(1)A person commits an offence if—

(a)the person—

(i)behaves in a manner that a reasonable person would consider to insulting and


(i)in doing so, the person intends to stir up hatred against a group of persons based on the group being defined by reference to nationality or

(ii)a reasonable person would consider the behaviour or the communication of the material to be likely to result in hatred being stirred up against such a group.

See what is left? That if you refer to English people in a manner that "a reasonable person" might consider to be "insulting" (for the avoidance of doubt, nothing more than insulting)for the rest are "ors"  then you have committed a crime. Even if you didn't intend to break the law. 

But the whole rationale of the SNP is insulting to English people, for it proceeds on the assumption that we are somehow "hurt" by being in the same Nation State. There would be no difficulty in finding any number of, not just English, people who regard that as insulting.

Now, how we get to this point from earlier legislation cut and pasted in to this Act by lazy civil servants overseen by a really thick Minister, would be entertaining for very few but boring for the vast majority so you'll have to accept my word for it that I have worked that out.

Even I do not think being a Scottish Nationalist should be a crime. But Useless appears to have made it so, as soon as you write it down or even open your mouth to support it in the presence of others.

So the next time you see or hear reference to the English stealing our oil/water/wind, feel free to report it to the Police. Difficult to see that this is not (accidentally) a crime. 

And as a final twist, there is a general defence under s.9 of the Hate Crime Act that you were exercising freedom of expression. Except it only applies to behaviour that might otherwise be "Threatening or Abusive" as required by the other provisions of the Act. But it does not apply to behaviour that is (merely) "insulting". Useless was too stupid or lazy to notice that. Sorry Nats to cause you any anxiety but you were those who promoted him. 

Saturday 30 March 2024

Further to La Debacle.

 Yesterday morning, I finished my blog under the shortened title in the last two words above.

And to my astonishment, a civilised discussion on twitter followed!

My critics (in the proper use of that word) did not dispute my assertion that I was right that the Act does not in truth change the existing law of Scotland in any significant way. I was particularly reassured that one of our most distinguished practicing lawyers, Roddy Dunlop KC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, agreed with my analysis of the law. You are always a bit scared why you make a bold assertion of the legal position if it then leads to some other lawyer disputing. in law, what you have said or, worse still, proving, by something you have overlooked, that you have just got it wrong. I have not got this wrong. The law will not be materially different come 1st April from that which it is today.

But Roddy, and others, made the perfectly reasonable point that I had overlooked a different point. That the Scottish Government and the Police, by creating the impression that the law is changing will encourage a lot of, at best, deluded and, at worst,  vexatious, complaints and that, for those complained about unjustifiably, "The process will be the punishment." That's not initially Roddy's phrase but it is one with which he'd sympathise. If Trans activists (for let's be honest that's the potential problem here) make repeated complaints against "gender critical" feminists then, supposedly, law abiding women will be put through the trauma of arrest and police interview before, finally after a period of worried uncertainty being told they hadn't actually broken the law. Who would blame them for concluding they didn't want to go through that again and in future keeping their perfectly legal opinions to themselves? 

I absolutely concede that to be a potential issue but I suspect more in the imagination than in reality. 

Now, this is not helped by the announcement that the Police that they will investigate "every" complaint, no matter how deranged. But, to be honest, I do not think they are telling the whole truth here. What does "every" complaint mean? No matter how nonsenical? Really? So they won't. All they'll at best do is that they'll write back thanking the complainant that no actual crime is involved here. And then what does investigate mean? To choose a very contemporary example. When it was suggested about Murdo Fraser that claiming that identifying as non binary was as sensible as identifying as a cat, constituted  a crime.  Will, on Monday, that bizarre accusation of him having broken the criminal law in the process, be in some way "investigated"?  Would be Murdo be hauled in and questioned under caution as to whether he said it. As he patently did.

Well, I strongly expect not. 

Because let's look at the actual law, rather than the hopes of one side of this debate or the fears of the other.

The law is in s.1(1) of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016. 

1Power of a constable

(1)A constable may arrest a person without a warrant if the constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person has committed or is committing an offence.

That's the law. All that is relevant here. 

If, and only if:

"A constable.......has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person has committed an offence." 

All emphases above are mine. That involves a an objective analysis of the situation by the "constable". That some zoomer thinks it is a crime is not "reasonable grounds" for a trained police officer to agree. And has is also a word of significance. Not might have, has.

So, I'll make a confident prediction, nobody is going to be arrested for contravening s.4 of the Hate Crime Act. Ever. Because wrongful arrest is civilly actionable. 

And not inexpensive. The best case I can find as a precedent. Beck v The Chief Constable is from 2002. It turns on a habitual offender arrested and detained, she maintained illegally, for 7 hours. The Court held that she was not so illegally arrested or detained, so her appeal case failed but it was agreed by the Chief Constable that. had that been the case, appropriate compensation would have been £1000. In 2002 money, for a detention of a habitual offender, for 7 hours, in the middle of the night. So perhaps the same amount today for a law abiding citizen arrested for a shorter period , but in the middle of the day. And that's without evidence of actual psychological harm. Bearable expense, even with legal costs they'd be paying by Police Scotland but not if there are repeated claims.

Now, if I, a mere jobbing High Street lawyer, can work that out, you can bet the lawyers for Police Scotland will have worked that out. But I am certain that senior police officers, who are no idiots, knew that already.

So, if anybody is ever arrested for an alleged offence under s.4 of the Hate Crimes Act, unless they have clearly broken the wider criminal law, which I emphasise has not changed, then I will be astonished.

Now that does not remove entirely the fear of law abiding citizens they might be arrested. "What about Marion Miller?" they, not unreasonably, worry. There are any number of issues about that case that I strongly suspect will not be repeated. It involved the actions of an "activist" cop., I suspect with inadequate supervision and in the end involved the Crown concluding she had broken no law. "But, even then, I wouldn't want to go through that!" Well, either institutions learn lessons from their own errors or they don't. I'd be astonished if that does not include the Police. They genuinely do not want to face a slew of damages claims. 

But finally, a bit of practical advice. The Police cannot interview you as a suspect without arresting you. They generally don't tell you that in advance but once you are arrested they are obliged to tell you that you cannot be interviewed without a lawyer. This is generally accompanied by informal advice that the lawyer might take hours to attend, while you will remain in custody. And even then it might be just any lawyer. DO NOT GET IN TO THIS SITUATION! If the Police ask you in for a voluntary interview, get a lawyer there and then. You are entitled to absolutely free representation in these circumstances, irrespective of your own financial circumstance. That's the actual law. Leave it to the lawyer to agree a time for your interview. When the lawyer can be there from the start. That's standard current practice about actual crimes. I have suggested to For Women Scotland they get a list of suitable briefs. That's not me touting as I'm about to retire in a month but anybody knowing the territory will ask the Cops if, before you are interviewed, they are aware of them being potentially sued for wrongful arrest. And, helpfully, if they might want to run this past the Officer in charge before they proceed further.

On this point alone, I wish I wasn't retiring. I might make quite a few bob.

Friday 29 March 2024

La Debacle.

When I was younger I was a massive admirer of the French Novelist Emile Zola. A great socialist and social reformer, he wrote a series of books about the plight of the working classes in 19th Century France, most of them based on a particular area of occupation. The most famous today are probably Germinal, about the coal industry, and La Bete Humaine, about the railways. The books are set in time during the latter stages of the French Second Empire and they cumulate in the one which is my favourite, La Debacle, which is about the Franco Prussian War which brought that Empire to a disastrous end, 

The book's narrative is mainly about the experience of ordinary soldiers, caught up in military events they can't understand. But it's underlying theme is that these events, through a combination of hubris and incompetence are in fact little better understood by their superiors. A grand metaphor for the second empire itself. Hence the book's title, a word which means exactly the same in French as in English.

I make these observations  as that word seems a perfect description for events surrounding The Hate Crime and Public Order Act 2021. It is, in fact neither the terrible threat to free speech which some maintain, nor a game changing intervention, as maintained by its supporters. For it in truth changes the law little if at all as to what might constitute criminal behavior. Yet it has somehow managed to create the impression that it does, for good or ill. That then has led to, let's put this kindly, confusion on the part of Police Scotland as to exactly how they should be responding, featuring the short lived and much missed appearance of the Hate Monster and a completely irrelevant diversion about them keeping records of people who have not broken any (current) law to avoid hurt feelings on the part of those who who assert they have.  

I'll start however with the history.

As with so many things in Scotland,  it starts with a football match. 

In March 2011, there was a game involving Rangers and Celtic. It was during and afterwards accompanied by widespread disorder prompted in no small part by the respective managers. Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon, nearly coming to blows on the touchline after three Rangers players were sent off. For the record, Celtic won 1-0. 

But First Minister Alex Salmond was then in his pomp and decided these events demanded a "summit" and, prompted I am sure in no small way at all by the forthcoming Scottish Parliamentary elections he then announced that "something must be done!.

That something turned out to be just about the most lamentable piece of legislation (and that's a high bar) ever passed by the Scottish Parliament, which was the The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. Which had as its high point (?), the criminalisation of singing songs on football terraces

After various legal travails, including a Sheriff describing the legislation as "mince", following the 2016 Scottish Election, there was no longer a majority for the terms of the Act. So by virtue of the bluntly named  The  Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Repeal) (Scotland) Act 2018. it was indeed repealed. 

But it was repealed in its entirety although the objection was truly only to the "Offensive Behaviour at Football" part, not the "Threatening Communications" part. 

So the Government was left wondering if the second part, in modern circumstance, left a legal lacuna, that might need to be filled.

So they commissioned a judge (Lord Bracadale) to report on that matter. He concluded that it didn't. 

But they also asked him to consider whether wider reform of "Hate Crime" might be required to create any new criminal offences and that's where this all started to go wrong.

I will start with the words of his Lordship himself, having considered the existing law, and its terms,  he goes on to consider whether any additional offence of "stirring up" hate crime might be necessary and to observe (at section 5.15 of his report) .

I recognise that almost every case which could be prosecuted as a stirring up offence could also be prosecuted using a baseline offence and an aggravation: most, for example, could be prosecuted as threatening or abusive behaviour under section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 ( CJLSA), along with an aggravation.

I will come on to the word "aggravation" below. The "almost" is my emphasis for the moment, because his Lordship then goes on to demonstrate not a single example of something not caught by that almost. 

With that we go to the terms of the self same s.38. 

38Threatening or abusive behaviour

(1)A person (“A”) commits an offence if—

(a)A behaves in a threatening or abusive manner,

(b)the behaviour would be likely to cause a reasonable person to suffer fear or alarm, and

(c)A intends by the behaviour to cause fear or alarm or is reckless as to whether the behaviour would cause fear or alarm.

(2)It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) to show that the behaviour was, in the particular circumstances, reasonable.

(3)Subsection (1) applies to—

(a)behaviour of any kind including, in particular, things said or otherwise communicated as well as things done, and

(b)behaviour consisting of—

(i)a single act, or

(ii)a course of conduct.

(4)A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable—

(a)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, or to a fine, or to both, or

(b)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both.

As my readers will overwhelmingly know. I am a great man for the Twitter. But I remain aware that what I do there is no different from what I might do on the street. If I post, in sincerity. there, that all people from Greenock should be tracked down and killed, then I have broken the law. Quite rightly. For my behaviour would be:

a) threatening 

b) likely to cause a reasonable person fear and alarm and 

c) intended or reckless as to whether it caused actual fear and alarm.

I don't want to write forever, so, take it from me, it would make no difference that I'd  expressed that sentiment (only)  on twitter rather than from a soap box on Paisley High Street.

But at this point I have to deal with the issue of "aggravated" offences.

An aggravation is something tacked on to a crime by Act of Parliament to suggest it is "aggravated" in some way. Currently the most common aggravation, by some way, is that the crime was aggravated by it having been committed against your partner or former partner in terms of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018. Curiously however that does not feature at all in the Hate Crime Act. 

The other aggravations however relate to various "protected" characteristics. At the time of the Bracadale report these were, in summary, Race (including nationality), Religion, Disability, Sexual Orientation or transgender identity.

Now, lawyers don't like aggravations. To explain why briefly, by reference to my own earlier example: if on my hypothetical soapbox I call not for all people from Greenock to be rounded up and killed but rather for all Jehovah's witnesses to be so treated, then, in the latter case alone, I have committed  an aggravated offence (contravention of s.38 infra). But I'd defy anybody to say these matters are not of equal seriousness. or to suggest they'd should involve differential sentencing.

Courts can sort these things out. In relation perhaps to a more likely crime, assault in a pub argument, courts do not need politicians to tell them that this is a more serious crime if committed against a man in a wheelchair rather than committed against a young fit man with the potential to fight back.  

But we are where we are on aggravations. And they do, to be fair, allow, through criminal record keeping, the collection of statistics on the commission of crime against people with protected characteristics and they would be a factor in sentencing on subsequent offending involving the same aggravation.

But I am getting slightly off the point here. For despite his own statement that stirring up hatred is already a crime (I would suggest not just in respect of protected characteristics) Lord Bracadale goes on to suggest there should nonetheless be a new crime of stirring up hatred. Why did he do this? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, having told the Scottish Government that even the less controversial parts of the Offensive Behaviour legislation did not require to be reinstated, he wanted to throw them a bone.

Now, the bone having been thrown, it was then unfortunately then caught by an exceptionally stupid dog.

For, Bracadale having reported on 31st May 2018, on 26th June 2018 none other than Humza Yousaf, became Justice Secretary. And if there is anything to be learned about Useless, it is that he likes to give the impression of action.

So he announced that he was going to legislate. He didn't, as you or I, dear reader, might have, think to go back to Bracadale and ask for some elucidation on his use of the word "almost" that I refer to above. In the process avoiding the use  of a lot of Parliamentary time and avoiding all of the current controversy. But then again, in addition to his stupidity, one other feature of Useless is that he loves publicity. He (he alone!) was going to make threatening and hateful behavior towards minorities against the law! Although (cough) it was already against the law.

I will skip the legislative process that followed except that it demonstrated a Minister hopelessly out of his depth and ultimately forced to accept a whole series of Opposition amendments, marshalled by the estimable Convener of the Justice Committee, Professor Adam Tompkins, to avoid pitfalls in the original Bill that had entirely passed the Minister by until drawn to his attention

But let us look at what emerged. In terms of almost all of the legislation it simply brings much of the existing law together in one place. It adds variation in sex characteristics (whatever that is) and somewhat bizarrely age into the aggravated categories. To be fair, these come from Bracadale but if you asked just about anybody whether they'd regard assaulting somebody with the words "take that you old bastard" as being more serious than with the use of the words "take that you fat bastard", then I suspect you'd get a sceptical response. 

Anyway, here it is, the source of all the controversy, s.4.

4Offences of stirring up hatred

(1)A person commits an offence if—

(a)the person—

(i)behaves in a manner that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening, abusive or insulting, or

(ii)communicates to another person material that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening, abusive or insulting, and


(i)in doing so, the person intends to stir up hatred against a group of persons based on the group being defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origins, or

(ii)a reasonable person would consider the behaviour or the communication of the material to be likely to result in hatred being stirred up against such a group.

(2)A person commits an offence if—

(a)the person—

(i)behaves in a manner that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening or abusive, or

(ii)communicates to another person material that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening or abusive, and

(b)in doing so, the person intends to stir up hatred against a group of persons based on the group being defined by reference to a characteristic mentioned in subsection (3).

(3)The characteristics are—



(c)religion or, in the case of a social or cultural group, perceived religious affiliation,

(d)sexual orientation,

(e)transgender identity,

(f)variations in sex characteristics.

(4)It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to show that the behaviour or the communication of the material was, in the particular circumstances, reasonable.

(5)For the purposes of subsection (4), in determining whether behaviour or communication was reasonable, particular regard must be had to the importance of the right to freedom of expression by virtue of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the general principle that the right applies to the expression of information or ideas that offend, shock or disturb.

(6)For the purposes of subsection (4), it is shown that the behaviour or the communication of the material was, in the particular circumstances, reasonable if—

(a)evidence adduced is enough to raise an issue as to whether that is the case, and

(b)the prosecution does not prove beyond reasonable doubt that it is not the case.

(7)For the purposes of subsections (1)(a)(i) and (2)(a)(i), a person's behaviour—

(a)includes behaviour of any kind and, in particular, things that the person says, or otherwise communicates, as well as things that the person does,

(b)may consist of—

(i)a single act, or

(ii)a course of conduct.

(8)For the purposes of subsections (1)(a)(ii) and (2)(a)(ii), the ways in which a person may communicate material to another person are by—

(a)displaying, publishing or distributing the material,

(b)giving, sending, showing or playing the material to another person,

(c)making the material available to another person in any other way.

(9)A person who commits an offence under this section is liable—

(a)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both), or

(b)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years or a fine (or both).

Now, if you've been paying attention you will note the similarity to the wording of s,38 of The Criminal Justice and Licensing Act that I refer to above. Indeed some of it is word for word the same. Crucially, any criminalised behaviour must be threatening or abusive except for racist or ethnic origin crimes  which can cross the line of criminality by merely being insulting (and/or threatening or abusive). 

So what is all the fuss about. Well, firstly, its because Useless is insisting he has materially changed the law, although he hasn't. People are nonetheless taking him at his word. 

But, secondly, so are the Police. If the Scottish Parliament and the First Minister are telling them they have changed the law then they are assuming they must have. But the Police can't work out how. That's because they haven't. To use their own notorious training example of "Jo" suggesting all trans people should be sent to the gas chamber, if "Jo" did that on 31st March it would be as much a crime as if she did it on 1st April, And rightly so. It ticks every box of the existing s.38. And would be an aggravated offence.

The other mistake they have made is to suggest that they will investigate every complaint as opposed to every well founded complaint. If I try to report my neighbour for having commented on the fact I am going bald and thus demonstrated prejudice based on age, I shouldn't be told the Police will look into it. I should be told there and then that there is no crime here and, if I persist, warned of the potential crime of Wasting the Time of the Police. That's eventually where we'll end up. Even Engender is warning people that being "misgendered" is not to become a crime, not that that will deter some people for reporting it as such. 

So that's what's going to happen. Nothing. After a short period of sound and fury, nothing is going to change. Much as some fear and others hope. 

That's why it is a debacle.

Monday 26 February 2024

Where stands Scotland on Gaza?

Where does Scotland stand on Gaza? Actually nowhere, "Scotland" is not a political party, let alone a political position, it is one of  a longstanding union of two historic nations reaffirmed less than ten years ago. But, even had that not been reaffirmed and Scotland was now, once again, alone, it still would not, collectively, "stand" for either side. Insofar as it might have a view, even ignoring the bizarre idea that an entire Country might have the same view, it would be pretty much the same view as the rest of the remaining UK. That it presents a choice, on the one side, of mad bastards with cause to be mad and, on the other, with ruthless bastards with equal cause to be ruthless. 

But, let us be clear about two things. That even among those with a view within our devolved polity, that view ranges wildly. At one extreme,  we have those who genuinely support the (somehow possible) actual eradication of the State of Israel. But they are a very small number indeed. On the other we have those who think October 7th was only a culmination of events that justifies the expulsion (somehow possible again) of the entire population of Gaza to......somewhere. They are an equally small number. Amongst those more reasonably engaged, actual opinion ranges along a much broader spectrum: from the not unreasonable view that the civilian death toll is such that the Israelis must settle for the revenge they have already had, to the equally not unreasonable view that, terrible though the side effects are, the Israelis cannot be expected to stop until they have secured the return of their kidnapped citizens, or at least a process for that to happen. The Labour Party contains within it opinions that range right across that spectrum and has ended up in the slightly ludicrous position of supporting an unconditional ceasefire but subject to conditions. That the hostages are released being the most obvious, but not the only, one.

I've said this on twitter, but the obvious fault line is what happens if the Israelis stop attacking but the hostages are not released? Any time our Party's representatives are asked this in the media we.......obfuscate. There are in truth only two answers. The first is that this would justify a resumption of Israeli hostilities and the second is that the Israelis would just have to suck this up. For the avoidance of doubt "Hamas would release the hostages" is not an answer. For at least two months, had Hamas released the hostages, World, particularly US Government, pressure would have ensured Israel at least significantly scaled back its military operation. If Hamas won't release the  hostages with the IDF at the mouths of their tunnels, why would they conceivably do it if the Israelis just went home?

But as someone who has an opinion I am in danger of undermining my principal point. Because it is this. THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE A STRONG OPINION ABOUT GAZA. That is Scottish and English people alike. They think it was terrible what happened on 7th October and the subsequent death toll among Palestinian civilians is equally terrible. But they also think, insofar as they think about it at all, that the whole situation is complicated, with both fault and merit on both sides and that there is no easy solution. And, anyway, what has any of this got much to do with us?

Now I appreciate this blog has a readership almost entirely of people interested in politics but I ask you this. Yes, political people are engaged with this but from your dealings with the far larger group of people who's politics consist of mainly voting at elections, do you think they are interested in it at all, let alone that it might be a factor in deciding how they vote? Very opinionated people, mainly but not exclusively on the Palestinian "side" seem to have persuaded my Party at a UK level that not "having a position" (on their side needless to say) will lead to electoral disaster. But there is no opinion poll support for this at all, Since Labour has dithered, our opinion poll leads have largely increased! Because this is not an issue that concerns the vast majority of voters, at least to the extent that it would influence their vote.

And in Scotland the position is even more bizarre. The SNP think that their are votes to be won from, or at least not lost to, Scottish Labour by "standing up for Gaza" in much the same way that they once won and still try to win votes by "Standing up for Scotland". This is utterly deluded. I could go on to explain but to be honest, you, reader, already know that. For, beyond thinking it a terrible tragedy all round, I repeat, THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE A STRONG OPINION ABOUT GAZA. And, among the small minority who do, there are a fair number of people with whom you would not want much association. 

But, as Napoleon once observed, never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. So if Humza wants to continue his virtually daily commentary on the position then who am I to object.  

Sunday 28 January 2024

A con-man is a con-man. Even if they are a woman


I start this blog with an extended anecdote. But I suspect some who read it might think it can't be true. For couldn't this all have been sorted out with a few emails? Except it comes from an age before emails. Where the only means of instant communication, and even then only when your correspondent could reciprocate, was the new fangled fax machine. 

I am currently in possession of my 44th and last practicing certificate from the Law Society of Scotland. The profession I entered is almost unrecognisable today. Where the day to day conduct of business was dependent on the mail. Where when you went to court you were uncontactable until you returned and when you went home in the evening you were uncontactable by anybody except the Polis, who had your only line (your landline) but chose to employ that even then if it was convenient for them to do so.

Anyway, it was a different age and everything I say in what follows has to be seen against that background. Although its conclusions today  remain equally valid.


In the late 1980s I had just arrived at what was then the Cumbernauld office of Ross Harper & Murphy. Which was then, in turn, by some way, only rivalled by Beltrami Dunn & Co as the main criminal defence firm in Scotland. And that reputation brought in a good deal of interesting "off the street" business. 

So, one day, I am asked to see urgently, a man who has walked in off the street needing advice. And that is how I first met George Beattie (needless to say not his real name).  

Anyway, Mr Beattie, then found his way in to my office. A man in his late twenties, very good looking impeccably turned out. He explained their was a warrant out for his arrest. About which he was visibly upset. He then told me his story. 

Mr Beattie was originally from Cumbernauld, By his own admission he had not enjoyed school so had left at the earliest opportunity to become a joiner. He had served his time but at 19 or so had decided to see a bit of the world. So he had decided to move to Hong Kong, then still a British Dependency. Where he continued his trade and developed a reputation for an expertise for fitting out bars and restaurants. That in turn had decided him to set up his own business and to ultimately end up in partnership with a local man of Chinese extraction. George would do the designing and occasional specialist work and his partner would recruit the local tradesmen and bridging finance to enable it to be carried out. To the significant mutual benefit of them both. 

But they both knew their was uncertainty about the future in Hong Kong given the imminent handover to China so they had decided to hedge their bets by setting up a Scottish arm of their business. In furtherance of which George had returned to Scotland with a partnership cheque to finance this enterprise. He had opened a bank account with a major bank here and, in anticipation of a future business arrangement, had asked to speak to the bank manager to introduce himself. A week or so later he had returned to inquire of the manager if the cheque had cleared to be told it yet hadn't. A week after, the same story. Whereupon he explained to the manager that this was all a bit awkward but he had secured a major contract from which he would need to walk away if he could not show some evidence of immediately available capital. Whereupon. according to George at least, the bank had volunteered to provide some interim funding. Not to nearly the amount of the as yet not honoured cheque. which was for a very large sum indeed,  but nonetheless for a very large sum. 

Now, you know what is coming here, but I can only say that as an admittedly young lawyer but still possessed of the cynicism that most of your clients are guilty. I believed this. But, never mind that, so. as I'll come on to narrate, did others. 

The cheque had, needless to say, bounced. But, far from George being the perpetrator of fraud, he had been the victim of it! He had tried to phone his office in Hong Kong to work out what was going on, only to find the number disconnected. He had tried to phone his bank but understandably they wouldn't speak to someone who could be anyone on the phone. His best assumption was that his partner had cleared out the firm's account and disappeared. 

But, I asked, not being a complete idiot, why had he not explained this to the Police before it had reached the stage of their being a warrant for his arrest? Well, George explained, when he had returned to Cumbernauld, he had stayed with his mother, but she had been unable to accept that he was now a grown man and things had proved difficult there. In the meantime he had met a young lady and had asked if he could move in with her. To which she had readily agreed. He forgetting that his mother's address was the only one by which he could be contacted. And since this was before mobile phones, it was only when he had phoned his mother weeks later that she advised him that first of all the bank and then the Police had been looking for him? But why had he himself not been in touch with the bank after learning the cheque had bounced? He was trying to work things out and had I, myself, never been distracted by love?

I'm telling this tale , even as I do so, exposing myself as an idiot, but as I again go on to narrate, so proved others. He was so charming and so apparently distressed as to his circumstance that I at least thought he might be telling the truth. 

But let's move on to when he voluntarily answers the warrant and appears in court. Even non lawyers will be familiar press report that someone has appeared in court and made "no plea or declaration". Nobody ever makes a declaration. But this time we did, For establishing that George had himself been a victim required investigation on in Hong Kong that was beyond my resources but if we raised it as possibility we could require the Crown to look in to it. So I told George that was his best option. It was prosected by someone who subsequently became a very, very senior figure at the Crown Office but was nobody's mug, even in her then more junior role and proceeded before a Sheriff who normally objected to his time being wasted by "obvious criminals". 

But he utterly charmed them both. At the end of his declaration as above, the Crown indicated that they wished his passport forfeited as a condition of bail, As I stood up to object, George intervened to say he had no objection as he would not be leaving Scotland until his name was cleared. Whereupon the Sheriff observed that while the passport would be taken, if George needed to go abroad, the Court would be likely to be favourable if Mr Smart made an application for its reasoned return. 

And then the fiscal, the hard but fair Fiscal, tells me, after the hearing that she will arrange for this to be looked into in Hong Kong as a matter of urgency! We were all utterly bewitched. 

So anyway, about six weeks later, the Fiscal gets back to me. She has gone through the Foreign Office to get co-operation from Hong Kong. George had indeed lived there but had left after fleeing various people he had defrauded there. He had indeed had a business but it had failed long before his departure and certainly had never remotely had funds to cover the cheque he had presented to a Cumbernauld Bank. 

And when I present this to George? His response is that it was worth a try, gives me a smile and goes to jail. 

Now, before I make my, shorter (I promise) political conclusion, I just wanr to add an epilogue. 

About five years later, out of the blue, I am phoned at work by a woman who has both a posh name and is very well spoken. "Thank you for taking my call, Mr Smart, I am phoning about a mutual friend, George Beattie. Have you heard from him lately?"

Ethically. I'm in a bit of an ethical dilemma here. So I ask if I can call her back. But in the end I conclude my obligation of professional confidence to George ended after I saw him in Barlinnie to agree there would be no appeal against sentence, So I phone the woman back only to discover the number she has left is not a direct line but is that of a well known firm of Chartered Accountants. And on asking to speak to her I don't initially get transferred to her directly but to her personal assistant. From whom I extract the information that my initial caller is a partner there before I am put through. 

What follows is awkward. 

"Why did you think to phone me?"

" George always said you were a friend of his. I haven't heard from him for ten days or so and wondered if you had?"

The rest of the conversation involved a tale of a brief romance during which George "a former airline pilot" had persuaded her to fund his project to set up a flying school(!) and then disappeared. In the end I had to tell her why I knew him and we parted company on civil terms.

Now why do I tell you this? Because there are those on my side maintaining that what went wrong over Covid and its aftermath was due to Civil Servants and other public servants being partisans of Scottish Independence. They were not. They were simply conned. Being unwilling to even contemplate that the  priority of the First Minister,, the charming First Minister, of any Party,  during a pandemic would be something other than saving lives. And yet it is increasingly obvious it was.