Cabinet Reshuffle

It has long been expected that Nicola Sturgeon would take the chance to reshape the Cabinet soon after she had been confirmed as First Minister. That reshuffle has taken place this morning.

Understandably I was keenly interested to see what was happening with regard to the justice portfolio. Confirmed was the long held suspicion that Kenny MacAskill MSP will no longer serve in the Scottish Government as Cabinet Secretary for Justice, or in any other role. He has been replaced Michael Matheson MSP, who has previously been Minister for Public Health.

The other positions will be filled as follows

  • Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Economy – John Swinney MSP.
  • Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities – Keith Brown MSP
  • Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training – Roseanna Cunningham MSP
  • Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning – Angela Constance MSP
  • Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport – Shona Robison MSP
  • Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights – Alex Neil MSP
  • Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment – Richard Lochhead MSP
  • Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs – Fiona Hyslop MSP

I have to say that I am not surprised that Kenny MacAskill has left the Cabinet. His inability to listen to criticism and deal with his mistakes has finally cost him his job. His so called reforms of the Police, the lies regarding job losses, problems with stop and search, armed police, court closures and the careless approach to corroboration have clearly lost him any support he had within his party.

I hope that Michael Matheson will bring some common sense to the justice portfolio and I am more than happy to work with him.

Whilst I appreciate that the new First Minister wants to freshen up her Government, it is essential that important issues don’t get lost in the reshuffle. Last week I accepted Mike Russell’s promise to come to Parliament before Christmas to tell the survivors of historic child sexual abuse about his plans for a public enquiry in good faith.  He may be gone but I sincerely hope Angela Constance will deliver on that promise.

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Scotland’s Newest First Minister

Today in the Chamber, we witnessed an historic occasion. Nicola Sturgeon was elected to be Scotland’s first female First Minister.

Whatever political background you are from, you have to stop and acknowledge that this election breaks new ground in the Scottish Parliament. And whatever differences exist between the parties or MSPs, it must be recognised that Nicola is a diligent, intelligent and dedicated public servant and I sincerely wish her well in the challenges ahead.

Before today, a number of significant positions in Scottish politics had been held by women – including party leaders and the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer. I am pleased to say that list now also includes the leader of Scotland’s Government.

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Lowering the drink driving limit – from 5 December

Yesterday afternoon I spoke in a debate about the changes to the drink driving limit that are coming into force on 5 December.

I support the change, which will reduce the drink driving limit from 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml. The reduction will bring Scotland in line with the majority of Europe, and in practice will mean that a glass of wine or a pint of beer could now put a driver over the legal limit.

Hopefully, the thought of being over the limit will deter people from getting behind the wheel, even if they have only had one drink.

Such a change will save lives although it should be noted that:

  • At the current levels (80mg/100ml), individuals who have drank alcohol before they drive are six times more likely to die in a crash than if they hadn’t drank alcohol at all.
  • At the new lower limit (50mg/100ml), they are three times more likely to die in a crash.

So it is worth saying, repeatedly, that even if someone is under the new limit, they are still putting themselves and others at risk. The message therefore has to be: Drink or Drive, never both.

The Scottish Government will be rolling out an education programme on TV and radio; in print and online, to ensure that people are aware about the change and what it means when they are out and have a drink. It will also publicise the need for people to consider what impact any drinking will have the day after, should you need to drive as people need to be aware of the risks of still being over the limit the next day.

In my contribution, I highlighted issues that rural communities could face as a result of this change. As I have said, I do support the change in the law, and public safety is paramount, but I recognise the extent to which people in rural communities rely on their cars. And it is possible that this change will have adverse consequences for businesses in rural areas – particularly pubs and restaurants – where local transport can be sporadic if existent at all.

The aim of the change is ultimately to deter people from drinking and driving. I am hoping, for the sake of rural businesses, that it doesn’t deter people from going out full stop.

 

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Shine in Ayr

Shine Mentoring Service in AyrThis morning I was in Ayr, visiting a fantastic service called Shine.

Shine is a Women’s Mentoring Service run by Barnardo’s Scotland, which provides support to women who have been involved in the justice system. While I was there I was able to meet with women who work and use the service and they told me what that support has meant for them and their families.

The service is designed to provide support to help women move towards a life free of offending, offering both practical and emotional support. It was very interesting to see the work that is being done and the difference that the Shine mentors are making.

The visit was organised for today, which meant that it coincided exactly with Universal Children’s Day. Universal Children’s Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1954 to be a day of understanding between children and to promote children’s welfare and children’s rights.

Barnardo’s Scotland is holding a series of events in their shops and services across the country around the 21st of November to highlight the rights of children and young people and the work Barnardo’s does to support them and their families.

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Improvements ahead for the Gaiety

Ayr GaietyI was delighted to hear Creative Scotland’s announcement that Ayr Gaiety will receive funding to proceed with refurbishments.

The Gaiety, along with the Perth Theatre Project and Dunoon Burgh Hall, will receive substantial funds totally more that £3.5m.

The refurbishment of the Gaiety Theatre, which first opened in 1902 and was rescued from closure almost two years ago, is expected to get underway within months.

The theatre has been awarded a grant of £1.1 million for the project. This grant will be in addition to the long-term funding deal secured by the charitable trust that runs the Gaiety. That deal, also with Creative Scotland, was announced last week and is worth £225,000 over the next three years.

The refurbishment will see heating and ventilation problems addressed and the restoration of the main auditorium. The grant will also allow the trust that runs the theatre to invest in modern stage equipment. All of which will improve the experience for audience and performers alike.

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Improved access for Deaf People in Scotland on the way?

My colleague, Mark Griffin, lodged his British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament last week, formally introducing the bill.

Details of the bill are now available on the Scottish Parliament website, both in English and in BSL.

BSL is the first language of many Deaf people in Scotland. It is the only language some have ever known, or ever will know, yet getting access to basic information in BSL can be incredibly difficult.

Simple things that so many of us take for granted such as arranging a medical appointment or reporting a crime are incredibly difficult for those who communicate in BSL. Mark’s bill seeks to change that.

The ultimate goal is that Deaf people in Scotland will have the same linguistic access as those whose first language is English or Gaelic. It will make a huge difference to Deaf people in this country and I welcome the Bill.

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Responding to the Academy challenge

I have just left Knox Academy in Haddington where I have been speaking with the Advanced Higher Modern Studies pupils.

As part of their course Advanced Higher Modern Studies students are required to write a dissertation and, in the case of the pupils at Knox Academy, they are writing theirs on various aspects of crime in Scotland.

As a consequence they invited me to the school to be questioned and interviewed on crime in Scotland in general, and on a number of specific types of crime in particular. I was happy to do it, just as I will be in the next few weeks when I am put to the sword at Lockerbie Academy and Stranraer Academy.

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Prison Officers Association Conference

Tomorrow, I will be out of Parliament for most of the day as I will be at the Prison Officer Association (POA) Conference, being held near Peebles, before going on to a seminar in Glasgow about Police Scotland.

At the POA Conference I will be participating in a cross party debate/Q&A session about ‘Next steps’ for Scotland, post-referendum, and on other issues that individual prison officers want to raise.

I will then be making my way to Glasgow to participate on a panel entitled Police Scotland: Good or bad for Scottish Criminal Justice? I will be on the panel alongside Brian McConnachie QC; an as yet unconfirmed speaker from Scottish Human Rights Commission; and Aamer Anwar. We will be speaking on different aspects of Policing in Scotland including human rights, race and operational.

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Your thoughts on justice system safeguards are needed

Under the current legal system, evidence is required from at least two different and independent sources of evidence in support of each crucial fact before a defendant can be convicted of a crime. The Scottish Government wants to abolish this requirement.

I have written here before regarding the serious concerns that were raised by many in the legal establishment and politicians when the Scottish Government brought forward their bill to abolish corroboration without also proposing safeguards to insure that our justice system is a fair one.

As a result of these widespread concerns Kenny MacAskill, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, was forced to establish a review to analyse what additional safeguards would be required were corroboration to be abolished.

That Review, established in February 2014 and led by Lord Bonomy, has now made suggestions as to what safeguards could be put in place. These could involve changes to guidelines for police evidence gathering, confession evidence, jury size and verdicts. And now the Review is asking the public for their views, to help inform its thinking ahead of its final report to the Scottish Government, which is due next April.

It is incredibly important that we have the right checks and balances in place before consideration of a removal of corroboration is decided.

We rely on our justice system in many different ways, and interact with it for a variety of different reasons. And we need to have faith in the integrity of that system.

That is why this review is so important – and why the expert group needs to hear from people across South Scotland.  The thoughts, experiences and opinions that you share can only help the process, and help ensure that the recommendations made in April are the right ones.

The consultation period will run from 14 October to 28 November 2014. During the consultation period, the Review will also be holding public meetings in Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Hamilton.

For more information on the review, the public meetings, and details on how to respond to the consultation click here.

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No more light…

Yesterday’s debate went – to some extent – as expected.

I had set the motion to use some of the limited time Scottish Labour has to debate issues in the Chamber to raise again issues surrounding accountability of the police. The motion focussed on the lack of leadership shown repeatedly by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on issues surrounding policing. As a consequence of the numerous crises handled or caused by the Justice Secretary – particularly his recent demonstration that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about the issues of concern regarding the accountability and governance being exercised at Police Scotland – the motion did include a call for the Cabinet Secretary to leave the justice portfolio.

As a result, my colleagues and I were accused of trashing police officers, trying to undermine the police and trouble making. I reiterated the issues that I have raised consistently over the last two years in the Chamber, in Committees, in correspondence and in the press -that accountability and effective governance for the police service is crucial and at present is insufficient.

We flagged up these issues as the legislation which created the single police service and single fire service was working through Parliament. Colleagues and I proposed amendments to the legislation to improve local and national accountability, scrutiny and ensure effective governance. These were largely rebuffed or watered down by the Cabinet Secretary.

I can only imagine, therefore, that those accusing me of trouble making have extremely short memories.

Strong governance and effective accountability are essential for policing by consent – our model of policing – to work at its best. That is what has been missing during these last two years. To ignore it is a dereliction of duty and why I believe the Cabinet Secretary should have gone.

 

Posted in Armed Police on Routine Duties, Debates, Justice, Parliament, Scottish Labour, Shadow Justice Secretary, Single Police Force | Leave a comment