Labour’s policy debacle

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by Hazel Lewry

Labour’s policy debacle, displayed in full at the party’s manifesto launch, continued on Newsnight that same evening with Gordon Brewer asking some pointed but fair questions of Andy Kerr.  If you haven’t seen the interview it can be viewed on Newsnet Scotland’s own video display to the right of this page or on the homepage.

Perhaps the kindest thing to say about Mr Kerr, one of the stalwarts of the Red Rose in Scotland, would be that he was a wee bit out of his depth.  He was buffeted by the waves like a toddler who’d strayed out of the splash pool without his inflatable armbands.   And with the same likely consequences.  Not waving but drowning.

Yet the great danger faced by Mr Kerr and the Labour campaign was not the circling shark of a hostile interviewer as the ever changing oscillations of their own policies amidst treacherous undercurrents of Labour’s own creation.

Starting with knife crime, which I’ll focus on here as an example, we were informed of a hard line Labour policy stance: “If you cross the threshold of your home with a knife … you will go to jail”.  Great, about 700 prison places available and 3000 plus potential applicants.  The arithmetic just doesn’t work.

Mr. Kerr went on to explain that there would still be judicial discretion in sentencing for knife crime.  “So it won’t be mandatory after all?” asked the circling shark, raising a quizzical fin.

Apparently yes it will be mandatory, six months in jail for carrying a knife, no exceptions, that’s what Labour expects.  But if the judges decide differently that’s OK.

So it’s not mandatory then.  Yes it is.  OK.  I’m confused. I need an example Mr. Kerr.

Here’s the Labour stance, as per Mr Kerr: “If anyone leaves their house for an evening, crosses the threshold, young or old, if they’re carrying a knife across the threshold then we want a mandatory minimum threshold applied.”

Mr. Kerr informs me (I’m personalizing) that if I as a woman leave home with a knife in my handbag, and get searched (he indicates he wants more searches) and they find that knife I go to jail.  Try explaining that one when the dinner’s not on the table!

“I’m sorry your honour, but Mary at number 42 needed to borrow a sharp knife for the potatoes, wee Iain blunted hers building a model after he got back from playing hide and seek up in Union Street – I was just helping her out.”

Six months. Gets me out of cooking I suppose.

Then it was explained that although I was just heading up the street to help out Mary, if I get attacked on the way to number 42 and use the knife I’m not supposed to have to fight off the person attacking me.  Well that’s OK then – no jail.  So let me understand this – because I’m really getting confused now.  I carry a knife to a neighbour’s and get at criminal record.  I stab somebody and I don’t?

Mr. Kerr then informs me it’s not folks like me “they’re after”.  I’m not “the typical” case they’re after.  Apparently they’re not after diminutive middle aged females, or [specifically] gardeners.  Mr. Kerr doesn’t believe the in the need to jail gardeners.  In fact he was quite derisive at the possibility.  Gardening is a hobby for respectable folk after all and the essence of all that is good and true.  He must have missed the latest episode of Midsomer Murders, in which middle aged middle class gardeners had at one another with pruning shears.  

Nope – very definitely he’s after “kids”.  I’ll make sure my daughter isn’t carrying one in her handbag either then.  Mary up at number 42 better put an end to wee Iain taking his penknife along with his fishing pole.

Now I’m originally from Clydebank and Mr Kerr is telling me I may end up being a murderer, not by intent, but by being born in the West of Scotland and leaving the house carrying a knife.  I’ll get arrested in Airdrie but it’s fine in Aberdeen or Arbroath.  

Mr. Kerr went on to tell us this policy is fully costed, while admitting Labour doesn’t have clue if they’ll need to build new prisons to house a potential doubling of Scotland’s criminal population.  This sounds about as well costed as hyperinflation in a Zimbabwean supermarket.  Labour’s policy shelves are equally bare.  Apparently the policy will just be implemented and monitored.  Oh …

With the increased searches prompted by Labour’s political dictates leading to higher incarceration rates it’s very possibly un-costable, never mind costed.  Deterrents should kick in eventually, but it will take time if they do.

So basically knife crime could be considered a microcosm of Labour pledges in general. We’re not planning, we’re promising.  And if there’s a problem, “It’s not our fault – we didn’t plan for this”.  That would be true.  It appears that in Labour’s knife crime policy very little is planned for while much is hoped for.

Make no mistake, knife crime is a serious business, and it needs well-targeted well-thought out and adaptable policies.  Every knife crime has at least two victims whose lives are forever altered.   Much knife crime is associated with alcohol abuse, yet Labour voted down minimum pricing.  Without their vote against, minimum pricing would be a fact.  With better control of our own resources the taxes could be funding Scottish hospitals and help programs.  Mr Kerr and the almost invisible Mr Gray (is he still hiding in the sandwich shop?) and Labour are against this also because it needed to be “a UK policy”.  Scotland apparently, according to Labour, should never have the ability to decide what’s best for her.  Odd that minimum pricing is now a UK policy.

So a strategy debacle that started with more U-turns than a Mighty Mouse roller coaster, continued with policy thefts that would have made Johnny Ramensky embarrassed, then led to debate performances which so far can only be described as mediocre, and on to a manifesto promising to abolish the party itself, now has the leadership hiding in tea rooms while the Titanic heads for the iceberg with a broken rudder.  Labour in Scotland are proving to be the entertainment of the election to date.

And there’s still almost a month to go.