A tale of two nations

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by Hazel Lewry

The riots in England have come and gone, for now.  The effect within Scotland has been to profoundly underline once again a tale of two nations, one in which, again, innocent Scots look to have been or are be about to be punished for transgressions and infractions south of Hadrian’s Wall.

Fortunately for Scots, they really do live in a different country with a largely divergent social structure, laws and level of enfranchisement.

Unfortunately for Scots they still live in a de-facto Union with England, a Union that saw its most recent itineration in 1927.  Yes, this present Union has only existed since 1927, we weren’t asked about it, and there was no referendum over its inception or construction.  Still, we must live with its consequences.

One consequence to Scots of recent events was the impact on tourism.  It will not end there.  Tim Godwin, the acting commissioner of the Met, said that at one point during the riots he “considered seeking authority to turn off Twitter”.

Now that may not seem like much, but that could involve shutting down social networking access to the UK.  As the UK has one base grouping of access codes, or IP addresses, it would be the quickest and easiest solution.  Broadcasting is reserved after all.

In the shutting down of electronic communication a democratic deficit through lack of free speech and social contact would have been created within a nation that had contributed nothing whatsoever to that social disorder.

In the electronic world it’s time for Scotland to disassociate completely from Westminster.  This legislative ability is well within Holyrood’s sphere of competence.  It should act.  Westminster will object – let them.  In some rare cases it is better by far to act first and apologize later.

The case is simple and clear – the Scottish government should and legislate to protect Scots rights to freedom of speech and freedom of communication.  It will effectively be protecting social communication structures as they exist in today’s world.

In time there is a possibility that the outage demanded by the Met could have become more refined and defined, personally I would not bet on that.  What it clearly demonstrated is that in the UK, the government rules over free speech.  The government literally controls the levers of free speech.  Yet free speech is a fundamental tenet of any democracy.

Incitement to riot is not a fundamental tenet of democracy.  When the social media were used in Scotland to attempt to incite riot, the proponents [both of them] quickly discovered the error of their ways.  Ordinary citizens reported the malcontents and opportunists.  The situation was quickly diffused.  The MSM did try to have a subliminal heyday with inferences of “we’re all in it together”.

The riots themselves are a tale of two nations.  That Scots could suffer deprivation by English actions is a tale of one Union.

During the Home Affairs Committee meeting on August 16th, Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Offiers, said: “There was no intelligence ahead of the riots.”

Sir Hugh was probably correct, certainly there was little intelligence used before the riots.  If recent history is to be examined intelligence was sadly lacking in the run up to the present disturbances.  They were not an anomaly.  They were not a surprise.

England is a tinder box.  Riots and social disturbance in England far outstrip those of the Union’s mainland Celtic nations.  According to the Wikipedia page List of Riots, there have been 27 riots in England since the 1981 Brixton riots.

Wales last rioted in 1910, unless one counts the “petrol riots” in Cardiff in 1990.  Scotland last saw riot in 1919 and it was dealt with by tanks and machine guns, while Scots regiments were otherwise “confined or employed”.  Arguably the Scots and Welsh riots at the start of the last century were directly related to Westminster policy and were politically motivated in a way the recent English riots were not.  

We also now have Home Secretary Teresa May, who plans to give new curfew powers to police.  Thankfully this abrogation of civil liberty and upping of dictatorial power should be limited to south of the border.  If it isn’t Scotland may well have legitimate cause to protest.

David Cameron’s respect agenda continues.  After his attempt to slide in an American as chief of the Met appears to have been derailed, he’s reportedly going to use the man in question as a “special advisor”.  Sounds a bit like the American involvement in Vietnam.  I’m no more against an American being head of the Met than I would be a Scot, but unless either served their time in English policing of English law neither should be considered.  English law is very different from both Scots and American.  It should only be enforced by those intimate with English law.

These issues are on top of a cauldron that was described by Shadow Police Minister, Vernon Coaker who said: “Over 16,000 police officers are being lost across the country [ie England and Wales], with some of the biggest cuts affecting forces like Manchester, Nottingham and the Met.”

Again we have a tale of two nations.  Scotland’s law enforcement has increased by around 1,000 frontline officers.  England’s is decreasing and the Westminster Parliament plans to go ahead with additional reductions  that are obviously not either in England’s best interest or in line with the wishes of her subjects.  In Scotland many crimes have reduced to levels not seen in decades.

Westminster is taking these steps because it is bankrupt.  The steps taken in England will be forced upon Scotland in years to come.

The UK government’s official position on the English riots came out at the Home Affairs committee meeting.  There were no overt surprises, but there was a potentially almighty sting buried within Nick Clegg’s comments.  Otherwise it was just the usual suspects fronting as talking heads.

An inquiry will be carried out into the riots. Clegg said. “It won’t be a public inquiry, it won’t be established under the Inquiries Act, but it will serve as a way in which victims and communities can have their voice heard.”

The enquiry will be therefore limited in scope and focus, and can be expected not to shine lights into English society’s darkest corners, many of which reside in the upper echelons of power, as they do here in Scotland – in that at least we are little different.

The Cabinet Office will commission research into the causes of the riots. “Academics will carry out focus group research to try to establish why some people living in the areas affected got involved in rioting and why others did not.”

Westminster should rather look at the scope and picture of riots over the last three decades – the answers received may be unpalatable.  A mirror may be of more use to Westminster than any academic group under the present cycle of unrest, for it is a cycle, not an incident.

The Home Office will consider extending police curfew powers. “Under existing laws, there is no power to impose a general curfew in a particular area” May said. “These are the sort of changes we need to consider.”

These are the types of powers required in a police or authoritarian state, not an open and free democracy.  Wars were fought to protect these freedoms and liberties.

May has defended her decision to stop foreigners like Bill Bratton applying for the post of commissioner of the Metropolitan police. “It is also clear to me that as long as the Met retains national policing duties including counter terrorism, the Commissioner will have a unique policing role in relation to national security and that is why the post has always been held by a British citizen.”

While I agree with Teresa May’s assessment, she should define ‘national’, as the Met’s authority stops at the Scottish border excepting protection of HM and associated dignitaries.  It should quite simply stop at the border unless agreed otherwise on a case by case basis

Community payback schemes – dubbed “riot payback schemes” – will be introduced in the areas affected by the riots. “In every single one of the communities affected there will be community payback schemes, riot payback schemes … You will see people in visible orange clothing making up the damage done, repairing and improving the neighborhoods affected,” this from Clegg.

This seems eminently sensible and little different to the existing community service – perhaps the jumpsuit will have different wording?  It’s certainly better than evicting them, that simply smacks of vengeance.

Clegg has backed Iain Duncan Smith’s decision to consider extending the benefit sanctions that could be imposed on people involved in rioting.  Clegg said: “We are going to take our time to look at this … the principles are clear; there is [to be additional] conditionality in our benefits system.”

Clegg has support in this, the social contract must work both ways.  The social contract is broken when MPs like Hazel Blears can “mistakenly” claim thousands from the public purse and basically be permitted to walk away without any punitive action, while a young mother of two is jailed for accepting a pair of shorts given to her by a rioter.  This is social exploitation, social injustice, not an equitable social contract.

Offenders will go straight onto the work programme when they leave jail from March next year.  Clegg said they would be met “at the prison gates” by work programme providers and put through a “tough process so that they find work and they stay on the straight and narrow”.

This is a solid step, and one with my personal wholehearted support.  I just have one small question Mr. Clegg.  In today’s England with spiraling unemployment, where do these jobs come from? The unemployment statistics of recent times also tell a tale of two nations”.

Clegg has said the European court of human rights “isn’t working properly”.  In his speech yesterday David Cameron said the HRA was partly to blame for falling moral standards because it was being interpreted in such a way as to undermine personal responsibility.  Clegg “the coalition’s commission was looking at the case for a British Bill of Rights and at the case for reform of the European court of human rights … which is coming out with some rulings that I think a lot of people find too intrusive”.

The Scottish Government should take and adapt a Scottish Bill of Rights to pre-empt any attempt by Westminster to insert the Parliamentary Sovereignty issue into the fabric of Scottish society.  It would also bring an end to Scottish criminal cases being challenged UK level.   The sovereignty of the individual should be protected at all costs within Scots society, personal sovereignty carries untold freedoms inherent to that simple fact.

The Westminster view on riot action has been delivered.

Westminster is reading a new riot act”. Thankfully most of it won’t extend to Scotland as the two nations continue on their divergent paths.  Some of it appears designed to be subtly directed at Holyrood however.  Just like removing powers of Scots law are inherent to the present Scotland Bill.

We must be very careful however about any proposed extension of powers for the Metropolitan Police and the potential ‘British’ Bill of Rights has the possibility of becoming a constitutional document that could have the devil in the details if its remit is permitted to extend to Scotland.

History shows us nothing is more certain that if Westminster gets its way there will be no true consultative process with Holyrood on a “British” bill of rights, and like the American Patriot Act, it will likely be used to strip liberties from the individual in Scotland on an unheard of scale as they become incorporated into a system based in English Law.