Scots Criminal Law (Integrity) : Scottish Parliament speech 27 October 2011

Johann Lamont : I can see how cheery everybody is at that prospect, yet again. I am beginning to take it personally.
I thank Lord McCluskey and his team for their report.
I recognise that it is an important contribution to a broader debate about the justice system.
I was struck by the history lesson on Scots law that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice gave us in his opening speech, and by his comments on the critical duty that we have to defend the integrity of Scots law.
It is a concern that we can shift from having pride in the development of the legal system over time to reflecting an instinctive chauvinism for anything that happens to be Scottish—the idea that, because something is Scottish, it must be good.
The reality is that the legal system, like many other things, is a living thing that is shaped by people.s experiences over a long time.
It is not our job simply to preserve everything as it is and ever was, but that is a way of sustaining that system of justice.
The reality is that, historically, we cannot be complacent about ordinary Scottish people.s experience of the judicial system, which will have changed over time directly because of that experience.
Historically, people have experienced a system that was not fair.
It did not offer access and it was not perfect.
If the cabinet secretary starts from a position that it is as it is and will ever be thus—that is, perfect—we will not be able to respond to the concerns of individuals in our communities.

Kevin Stewart: Will the member give way?

Johann Lamont: I will just make this point.
I reflect on Maureen Watt’s concerns about individual judgments.
I share her concerns, and I have shared the anguish of individual constituents who are simply bewildered by the decisions that the courts make.
However, that applies at every level of the court system; it is not unique to the Supreme Court.
It is a challenge for all of us to sustain the independence of the judicial system while we understand that people feel frustrated by individual findings in individual courts.
We have to work through that and give people confidence, but the issue is not particular to the Supreme Court, so it should not be considered in those terms.
To use Stewart Maxwell's favourite word, I was "astonished" by the way in which the cabinet secretary responded to my intervention about the extent to which the issue, no matter how important it is, reflects the priorities of the people whom we represent.
It is not in any way to diminish the work of the legal experts who produced the report to say that we should urgently address the concerns about the chaos in the prosecution service.
It would be good to find the Cabinet Secretary for Justice as exercised by those concerns as he has been by his particular interpretation of what is happening in the Supreme Court.
In order to resolve his concern about my intervention, perhaps he will agree to make an urgent statement to the Parliament next week on the serious implications of what is happening in what is a very stretched service, and the implications for access to justice and people's confidence in the justice system.
I will welcome his contribution if he commits himself to making that statement.
I respect the senior judges and others who have contributed to the debate, but I would take the cabinet secretary's scolding—he returned to it three times—a little easier if it was not delivered by a Cabinet Secretary for Justice who has abused Scots justice, berated "ambulance-chasing" lawyers and threatened to withhold money from the courts.
In welcoming Lord McCluskey to listen to this afternoon.s debate, I wonder whether he might be rather surprised by the way in which his report is being spun by the cabinet secretary and, indeed, by the First Minister.
The reality is that the report rebuts the Scottish Government,s central contention when the issue was first raised—that the Supreme Court should not have a role in human rights cases and that it should not be higher than the apex of the current court system.

Jim Eadie (Edinburgh Southern) (SNP): Does the member agree that the limited jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as recommended in Lord McCluskey’s report should be made explicit in the Scotland Bill, and will she use her influence with her Westminster colleagues to ensure that that proposition is taken forward?

Johann Lamont: We have said that all of Lord McCluskey’s recommendations should be interrogated closely and debated.
I do not see why we need to jump to proposing that the issue be dealt with immediately in the Scotland Bill, particularly given that learned people in the legal profession do not speak with a unified voice on this issue.
Obviously, everyone agrees with the independence of the Scottish justice system. However, Lord McCluskey does not say that that independence has been undermined. Indeed, Lord Hope ignored the court's apex structure in the Fraser case and recognised that he did not have general jurisdiction.
It is important that any assertion that the justice system.s independence has been undermined does not become fact.
If there is any evidence that that is the case, the cabinet secretary should tell us which of the accepted canons of Scots law have been overturned to justify the statement that the system.s independence has been undermined.
Even his own report did not find that.
It is also clear that Lord McCluskey’s report does not endorse the argument—which I acknowledge has not been marshalled today, although it has been in the past—that it would be better to have a Scottish supreme court or to have people lingering in the courts of Strasbourg waiting for decisions that it would be for them to go to London.
It was all about geography rather than the rights of the person who is seeking vindication.
Surely the important test is to have efficient access to justice and an effective justice system for Scottish citizens and communities.
We acknowledge that there is an interesting and important debate to be had about certification, but we should also point out that the view that is set out in the McCluskey report does not reflect the views of the whole legal establishment.
It is nonsense to say that there is a unified view on the matter, so we will want to be persuaded, on the balance of the arguments, of what the best approach might be.
I have to say that cabinet secretary's approach to this particular aspect reflects his approach to the whole matter.
When he says to me, in his most reverential tone, that we must respect the views of a serious and senior legal figure when he argues for certification, what he actually means is that we should listen to senior legal voices if they agree with him.
That is simply unacceptable.

Derek Mackay: Given that the member has returned to the issue of the cabinet secretary’s style, can she suggest which Labour leadership candidate Kenny MacAskill should style himself on? Should he style himself on, for example, Ian Davidson, who threatens to give people who disagree with him a doing—allegedly?

Johann Lamont: I believe that the cabinet secretary berated me for not taking the issue seriously.
He might want to have a word with his own back bencher in that regard.
As far as certification is concerned, we need to understand whether it might have any unintended consequences that have not been thought through and we need to realise that there are complexities to deal with.
I certainly feel that the cabinet secretary has gleefully picked on this particular issue because it gives him threadbare vindication for his and the First Minister.s entirely inappropriate and disproportionate behaviour in the past.
Having caused a huge fuss, they have had to search manfully through the report to find some issue that they can hold up and say must be considered.
I agree that the issue should be debated, but it does not merit the diatribe to which the legal profession and others were subjected.
The cabinet secretary says that we need to reflect on and listen to what those in the legal profession who understand these things have to say, but he must understand how appalled those people were by the tone that he and the First Minister adopted. Their comments were not worthy of back benchers, never mind people in the offices that they hold.
We welcome the report and any debate that gives us an opportunity to think about how we can have a justice system that people have confidence in and which gives them access to justice.
As I have said, we all know that the courts make decisions that people find bewildering, but there is no suggestion that Supreme Court decisions are not rooted in interpretation of the ECHR.
There is a bigger challenge for all of us: it is to ensure that we have a justice system that is properly resourced and in which people know they can get a fair hearing and know that those who disrupt their communities and create victims are held to account.
That is the bigger debate that we should be having, rather than one that is predicated on the false premise of an attack on the independence of the judicial system that is merited neither by what is happening nor by the findings of Lord McCluskey.


Upper Clyde Shipbuilders : Scottish Parliament debate 15th. September 2011

In the elections in May this year we saw many changes and most of them were unpalatable to people on this side of the chamber, but there was at least one little change that gave me cheer on being re-elected: it was the extending of my new constituency into Govan to include for the first time the Govan shipyards—that is a matter of great pride to me.
I shall be brief, as I realise that there are still many people who want to contribute to the debate, but I emphasise that this is not just about celebrating a little bit of history and is not just some romantic nostalgia; we are marking the foresight, determination and solidarity of the workforce in the UCS work-in.
We are recognising the way in which their inspirational and moral case was prosecuted, drawing support within my city of Glasgow, throughout Scotland and across the United Kingdom and beyond; support that was shaped by an understanding of the injustice and economic vandalism that was being pursued against skilled working people.
That campaign is a strong memory from my teenage years and, like the Lee Jeans campaign in the early 1980s, it provided a spark of light in dark times.
Those campaigns threw up leaders, heroes and heroines, men and women who stepped up to the mark and drove to success, and we celebrate them.
However, we also know that it was about not just those who became household names but the strength of workmates, their fellow trade unionists and their families and communities, who created the power to shift apparently unmoveable obstacles and stopped the Tories in their tracks.
There is an essential truth here: although individuals can make the case, can represent, can agitate and can give eloquent voice to the demands of the many, it is movements—the labour and trade union movement, the women's movement and the co-operative movement, among others—that deliver change over time.
We salute all of those who came together in a common endeavour, demanding the same things that the STUC, the unions and our communities are still demanding today: a strong economy, yes, but also a shared prosperity created by Government action and support.
In marking this anniversary, we reflect on the history and are proud of it.
However, critically, we celebrate the legacy—the skilled jobs still in Govan now, and high-quality jobs in engineering and shipbuilding in the Govan of the future, supporting and sustaining that community and beyond. We remember the soaring speeches, but it is the legacy for which we owe the UCS workers our heartfelt thanks.
Again now we hear the Tories with their certainty—that if it isn't hurting, it isn't working.
In these tough times, we should reflect on the fact that those with power will be judged not on the speeches that they make on the economy, but on the choices that they make, on the actions that they take, and on whether what they do makes a difference to the lives of our young people and future generations.
We salute the workers of the UCS for what they did, for the pride with which they did it, and—centrally—for the legacy that they left behind.


Speech in Debate on Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill 23 June 2011

We all acknowledge the significance of the debate and the importance of the issue.
I will speak first about the timing and why that matters.
The Lord Advocate said that we had a choice: we could talk to ourselves for a while, or we could just get on with it.
Even with the very limited scrutiny that the Justice Committee could give to the bill, it was able to raise important questions—not in a hostile way, and not in a way that would be difficult for the Government—that I, for one, had not thought of before.
Our process strengthens any legislation, even when we start from the point of view of supporting a bill.
I hope that, in her summing up, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs will make it clear that she disagrees fundamentally with the approach that the Lord Advocate took when he made his comments.
After the election, the Scottish Labour Party in particular wished to acknowledge what the SNP had done in winning the election.
We said that we wanted to co-operate with the Scottish Government wherever we could, but that we reserved the right not to do so where we disagreed.
When I said that—I have said it publicly—I did not imagine that the argument that I would get into would be on sectarianism, an issue that all members of the Parliament—particularly Jack McConnell during his time as First Minister—have highlighted and on which they have demanded that action be taken.
It is a matter of huge frustration that, instead of taking the current approach, we could have built unity by working through the parliamentary process on good proposed legislation, and thereby sent out a very strong message.
The Government has made it difficult for people to build that unity.
I object in the strongest of terms to any implication that says that we do not care about sectarianism if we oppose the bill.
That is fundamentally unfair and unjust.
We want to ensure that, if the bill is enacted, the voice coming from the Parliament says that we are united in opposing the behaviour that has promoted it and that we take the matter seriously.
We do not want the law to be implemented in such a way that people can deride and disregard it.
We have lost an opportunity, at this early stage, to build such unity.
We were explicitly told by ministers, by means of an argument that I found I could accept, that the clubs wanted the legislation to be in place before the new season started.
That was a powerful argument for supporting the passage of the bill, but the clubs have in fact told us that that is simply not the case.
We must ask what the truth of the matter is.
Sadly, I am left with the feeling that the First Minister thought that it was a good idea to get the legislation in before the next season, and his ministers have been left to develop a post hoc rationalisation for doing that.

Margo MacDonald: If the First Minister and the Government were, at this late stage, to be persuaded by the arguments that the bill must be given greater scrutiny, would the Opposition find it in their hearts to applaud that step back rather than condemn it?

Johann Lamont: Absolutely. I am happy to condemn the SNP on a range of things, including its objections to the constitutional settlement but, on this issue, we can be united on getting the right legislation through.
During stages 2 and 3 we want to do what we can to make the bill as strong as possible and we will reserve our judgment on the bill until the end of that period.
John Lamont talked about Catholic schools.
In my constituency, I have Catholic and non-denominational schools of which I am immensely proud.
It is inconsistent for people to argue that children going to separate schools causes discrimination, when we know that, historically, that is not the case. Further, it certainly does not make sense for someone who advocates private education to say that those difficulties are the consequence of separating children.
Alison McInnes asked a number of questions and I would welcome the minister making a commitment to answer them in writing, because that would help us in our further consideration of the bill.
There is a place for legislation that sends signals, clarifies issues and ensures that people understand that the subject with which it deals is a problem, so we do not simply say that there is no place for this kind of legislation.
We will make a judgment on the bill after interrogating it further at stages 2 and 3.
I will ask the minister a number of questions.
We accept that there are issues around breach of the peace legislation that can weaken the possibility of securing a conviction.
I accept the role of legislation in naming the crime, which is why I support legislation on stalking and legislation that identifies trafficking and domestic abuse.
I understand why that is being done and I do not think that that, in itself, should be an objection.
We have significant concerns, however, about how the legislation will be policed in public houses.
I am not talking about a ridiculous scenario.
I am concerned about the possibility that someone who is abusive and offends people in a pub in which the television is not on will not commit a crime, while someone who does so when the television is on will commit a crime.
How will that be policed?
Who should someone complain to?
How will we train people who work in pubs to deal with that situation?
That is not a trivial point; it is important.
Related to that is the question whether someone who commits an offence was or was not going to the football, or had been going to go the football but changed their mind.
Those who do not wish this legislation to work will make hay in those areas and we must acknowledge that there are those who do not want it to work.
I am not being mischievous, but there are people who, by the very nature of their bigoted behaviour, will want to find ways of undermining people’s confidence in the legislation.
Equally, we need to know what advice the police are getting.
We are asking the police to implement legislation as it is getting royal assent.
How do we imagine that they are being trained?
What are they to be told that they have to do?
I would like reassurance on that matter.
Another area that we would like the minister to consider further concerns the question of domestic premises.
Bob Doris made the point that sectarianism does not happen only at Celtic and Rangers games, but it is also true that it does not happen only at football games. Do we imaging that the bigot leaves his bigotry at the turnstile as he heads home?
I know that, in our communities, sectarianism is the abuse of choice and that, when a football match is on, someone who has hostility to his neighbour will use their faith against them as a means of abusing them.
We would like to know whether it is possible for the bill to encompass those situations.
It is important that we do not allow the bill to be about just football.
If we had had longer to think about the matter, we might have wanted to amend the hate crime legislation in a different way in order to identify specific behaviours in our community and in the football ground.
In saying all that, I do not want to gainsay the important response to the events of last year.
I want the minister to respond in particular to the points from Tim Hopkins about why condition B in section 5(5) identifies only religious hatred and to say whether she would consider expanding that condition.
I also ask the minister to respond to the critical issue of the sunset clause.
For us, it is not a get-out clause.
We must identify now how the review would take place and who would be involved in it.
I would like the monitoring of the bill to be reported to the Parliament within six months and at regular intervals thereafter.
If we get confidence on those matters, it might be that that would give us confidence in supporting legislation that we know must be seen as a response to unacceptable behaviour that has shamed us and shamed Scotland in the way that the minister identified.


Speech in debate on Sectarianism and Anti-Irish Racism 15 June 2011

I am happy to contribute to the debate, but I am depressed that we have to have it. I commend Bob Doris both on his motion and on his speech—especially the point that he made about the real challenge that we face in this regard, which is that something as horrific as what happened to our Deputy Presiding Officer in the previous session was seen somehow as being something to be explained away.
In other circumstances, blaming the victim for bringing something on themselves by how they dressed or spoke would have been seen as being entirely unacceptable, but in this instance it was seen as providing some kind of justification for what had happened.
That is a particularly important point that we must confront.
This is a serious issue because, apart from anything else, sectarianism undermines our sense of a diverse Scotland, in which we can be proud of celebrating difference. We have often heard the phrase ―One Scotland, many cultures‖.
We are happy to see people embrace that, so it is depressing to recognise that it is not the experience of some of our communities and people.
Bob Doris has recognised that both sectarianism and anti-Irish racism are significant.
We know that the impact of sectarianism and racism in our communities is corrosive. They create difficulties and challenges and they undermine our wish to see harmony across our communities.
I acknowledge the need for legislation and appreciate that we will not discuss that at length today.
However, it is hard to see how the mindset and action of someone who was willing to post three letters with bullets to Trish Godman, among others, can be sorted out simply by legislation on sectarianism.
As the minister has recognised, we must be mindful of the significance of legislation itself.
In the circumstances, the broader issues that we have to address go far beyond anything in that regard for tackling terrorism.
We need to have a serious debate, with proper consideration of the various options. I understand that the Government has said that the new legislation needs to be in place in time for the new football season, but I express the concern that if the legislation is introduced at the beginning of the season and is not effective—and is seen to be ineffective—we might end up making things worse and giving succour to those who wish to continue to express sectarian views.
However, as we have said, we will work as constructively as possible around the proposed legislation.
As with controversial legislation in the past, the parliamentary process offers a means to build support for what is being attempted.
It is possible to get people to see the need for it and to sign up for it.
That is particularly important in this context.
The issue will be about not just the new legislation at a punitive level; it will also be about getting people to challenge attitudes and behaviours where they see them and where they realise that the measures are ineffective.
As Bob Doris pointed out, this is not just about football.
Sectarian abuse is the abuse of choice in too many communities where there is conflict between neighbours.
It happens not just in the football stadium; it happens in the pub.
I do not know whether the minister still intends to legislate in that regard.
In football, we also have our greatest resource in tackling sectarian behaviour. There has been evidence in the past that it was football supporters themselves who took on the sexists and the racists on their terraces and stopped behaviour that was regarded as the norm 20 or 30 years ago.
We must harness their commitment to, and pride in, their clubs and we must speak to the football trusts and work with them in taking on the job of challenging such attitudes.
The mindset will have to shift.
On the critical importance of education, our young people probably embrace more than anyone else the initiatives that Jack McConnell put in place for getting young people to work together to challenge sectarianism.
We must harness that energy of bringing people together once more.
Furthermore, we should harness the energy of voluntary organisations, which can go into communities and make the changes and the arguments for the change to which we all aspire.
We can unite on a range of issues in recognising the importance of effective legislation, but let us also harness all those people in footballing communities and elsewhere who are as hostile to and disturbed by sectarianism and racism as everyone in the chamber.

Speech in the debate Taking Scotland Forward : Justice 15 June 2011

I welcome the opportunity to open on behalf of the Labour Party in my new role as our spokesperson for justice, which is such an important area of responsibility for the Scottish Government and the Parliament.
This is quite a difficult speech to craft properly; there are so many areas on which I could spend a great deal of time.
I welcome the fact that the justice secretary has outlined a range of areas in which his Government intends to move forward.
The reality is that the driving force for the next period will be the Scottish Government.
It will shape the justice agenda, to which we hope to be able to contribute, so we welcome the justice secretary’s commitment to working with the Opposition.
I will make a couple of general points about the justice portfolio and then I will make some specific comments about particular areas, although inevitably there will be areas that I will not have time to cover.
Where we can, we are keen to work with the Scottish Government to take action to ensure that
Scotland’s justice system is underpinned by fairness, transparency and consistency. We also want to make sure that it has as its central and powerful focus ensuring that our communities are safe, that protection is afforded to individuals and families, that criminality is deterred, and that victims are confident not only that they will be listened to but that they are at the centre of the process and—critically—believe that to be the case.
From the inception of the Parliament, Labour has always sought to stand on the side of the victim, listening properly and closely to what they describe as their experience, and seeking to respond to that.
We sometimes talk about justice issues in a cartoon-like way, but when people talked about the impact of youth disorder on their young people, children or grandchildren, we listened.
When people spoke about the impact of unregulated private landlords driving down the confidence of communities and allowing them to disintegrate, we listened.
People have described to us the community bullying and talked about the silence that they feel they need to keep because they fear what will happen when they speak up, and we have heard about the sense of injustice of the rape victim or the victim of violence and their feeling that the system does not understand their experience and compounds that injustice in the court system.
Those were the driving voices of justice policy in our time in government and, in part, since then.
We have understood how dangerous it is when those who commit violent crime, organise crime and prey on individuals and families feel empowered and unchallengeable, and when their victims feel that they are being silenced and ignored, or when the only alternatives that are apparent to victims are to stop complaining or to take the law into their own hands.
We do not need to reflect for more than a moment to recognise that we cannot overstate the impact of that lack of confidence of individuals and communities in the authority of the justice system.
The driving force for us is to shape legislation and action that understand that impact and respond to those experiences.
We must realise that it is not enough to assert our compassion and that we must do the tough stuff of government—getting the detail right and putting in place the resources to ensure that people’s voices are heard and that we can make a difference.
In the first full debate on justice in the new session, we need to be honest and rigorous.
We must recognise that our role, as the Opposition, is to co-operate when we can, but to challenge when it is necessary for us to do so. Across the Parliament, we recognise the challenge that the sectarianism that reflects on us as a society presents for all of us, but our view is that there is no quick fix to a problem that has existed for a significant period—it is a long-term problem that will not be fixed simply by legislation.
We have a concern—at this stage, I highlight it only as a concern—about the pace at which the minister and his Government are going.
In The Times this week, the Lord Advocate was quoted as saying:
Passing laws is what the Parliament is there for. Yes we could spend a few months talking about it and then passing it. Or we could just get on and do it and have it in place in time for the football season starting.‖
I understand the impulse to move quickly, but the fact is that the parliamentary process does not involve only us talking to one another; it is about breaching the walls of the Parliament to allow those who understand the issues to help shape legislation.
Neither as a minister nor as a back bencher have I ever come across a piece of legislation than has not been strengthened immensely by the end of the process as a result of the way in which, through the committee structure, people have shaped it. We have genuine concerns about what the Lord Advocate said—and not only in relation to the proposed sectarianism bill, which we all want to work, because there is nothing worse than legislation that is derided as soon as it enters the system.
If the Government’s attitude is that the time that is spent in the committee process is just time that is spent talking, it is missing one of the key strengths of our parliamentary and legislative process.
It is with a genuine sense of co-operation that I urge the minister to reflect on the seriousness of getting the proposed legislation right.
Equally, there needs to be honesty on police numbers.
In its evidence on the budget process, Unison said that the budget for 2011-12 could mean the loss of 1,100 civilian police jobs. That would surely have an impact on front-line policing, and we need to interrogate that matter further.
Would that mean police being taken from front-line jobs to do the administrative work?
In my view, that would be a big step back from where we were before.
On short sentences, I urge the minister not to stick to the position that he has held in the past.
We recognise the importance of rehabilitation.
Our view is that if we have effective community service orders, short sentences will wither on the vine, but the approach that the Government is taking means that the risk is being borne by those communities in which there are people who believe that they are untouchable and for whom CSOs have not worked.
We know that one in three CSOs is breached, and there are disturbing figures that show that the length of time that it takes to complete a CSO is stretching.
I urge the minister to reflect on that. Our communities need the certainty of knowing that CSOs are effective before we signal a shift away from the position that prison can have a role to play.
On antisocial behaviour, we need to understand the persistent nature of the harassment, intolerance and intimidation that can make people’s lives a misery. Antisocial behaviour orders emerged out of that experience, and if they are ineffective, we need to think how we can make them more effective rather than simply dismissing them.
There is a gap between criminal acts and the low-level, persistent, horrible and nasty way in which some people conduct themselves, which must be addressed.
The slightly sneering tone that sometimes comes from some quarters on ASBOs does not serve our communities well, and I would welcome discussion of how we can deal with that.
I hear what the minister says on knife crime.
We also understand that the courts must play a role in deterring young men from destroying their own lives, not just those of their victims.
We know that the culture of routinely carrying a knife brings with it a heavy price that is paid by people throughout our communities.
We know what it means for the victims and their families. When we spoke before about mandatory sentencing in this area, there was a sense of outrage and offence among the people in our communities who were told that the court system could not make a distinction between a carpet fitter and a man with a machete down in his sock going into a dance hall.
That beggars belief.
It is important that we recognise the fear of knife crime in some of our communities and that we address the problem seriously.
On following a positive agenda, as I have said, it is important that we co-operate where we can.
I hear what the minister says about public sector reform.
We will support a reorganisation of police and fire services where we can, as long as there is confidence that there remains local accountability and direction in setting policing priorities.
On women offenders and Cornton Vale, it is important that we work together.
We acknowledge the establishment of the commission, but over the past 18 months we have been concerned about the absence of leadership in addressing the problem of women offenders in Cornton Vale.
We will also work on sexual offences issues, including the rolling out of domestic abuse courts.
We will draw on the experience of the advice, support, safety and information services together project to understand how domestic abuse is experienced and the way in which the court system does not seem able to offer support when there are breaches of bail.
When people are not automatically remanded, there are consequences for the families involved.
We understand the importance of the powers in the proceeds of crime legislation, but we ask that that money be invested in those communities from where the money was harvested in the first place.
Across the Parliament, members are committed to trying to address the issues that bring out crime and mean that people become the victims of crime—and not just within the narrow focus of the justice portfolio.
We will support the Government in creating a strong economy and jobs where that approach can make a difference.
We are happy to work with the Government where the focus is on addressing the lived experience of crime and injustice in our communities. Where our job is to challenge, we will do that.
However, we want a justice system in which victims of crime can have real confidence.
I look forward to our doing our part to create that system in the coming period.

Speech in debate on Taking Scotland Forward 26 May 2011

I do not want to start my first speech back in the Parliament by attacking the Tories, but I was going to pad out my generous 13 minutes by reading out the list of fabulous maiden speakers, and that has now been denied me.
I offer my congratulations to all those who made their maiden speeches today.
Murdo Fraser is right to point out that their substantial contribution to today’s debate augurs very well for this session of Parliament.
I will talk about some of them in particular, but that should not reflect on the contributions of those whom I do not mention.
I am exceptionally grateful to be back in Parliament after going through an exceptionally tough election night.
At a personal level, I am grateful to the voters of Glasgow Pollok for returning me here.
In these tough times—they were tough for the Labour Party on that night—I have been given an added challenge.
I know that, in these days of co-operation and the new politics, and in recognition of the SNP’s victory, I will have to be very good.
However, to speak for a generous 13 minutes while continuing that approach might stretch even my capacity, so I hope that members will forgive me if I say anything that is not absolutely in the spirit of the new politics.
Of all the speeches that we heard today, I remark in particular on that of our own leader, Iain Gray.
We are exceptionally proud of our leader, and no more so than today.
He captured not only the challenge for Labour of co-operating with a majority Government in these new times but the challenge for the Scottish Government of listening to others, doing the hard work of moving from aspiration to delivery and recognising that we have ideas—as have members on all sides of the chamber—that we wish to contribute to that very important job.
The new word is positivity, and members will know that I ooze positivity from every pore.
However, I say gently to some of the SNP members in the chamber—particularly to those who spoke this morning rather than this afternoon—that we have got it: we know that the SNP won the election.
We are determined to co-operate where we can, but SNP members should understand that co-operation is not capitulation.
It seemed this morning that they were happy to be congratulated but became slightly more disgruntled when they were being criticised.
SNP members have a very strong platform, but they must recognise that, throughout Scotland as well as in the chamber, there will be times when we disagree with them and we are entitled to be heard.
I present a further challenge, this time to Scottish Government back benchers, because it is important that, if they challenge their own Government, their voices can be heard.
As for maiden speeches, I was very struck by Joan McAlpine’s comments about this young Parliament’s proud legacy, particularly with regard to the land question.
I find it interesting that her view on land took her to the SNP while my view of the Scottish landowners and what they did to my forebears made me a socialist, not a nationalist.
I hope that, in recognising the importance of the Commonwealth games, John Mason also recognises Glasgow City Council’s critical role over a long time in putting in place the buildings and capacity that resulted in our winning the bid.
Too often Glasgow is vilified; in fact, it showed vision in understanding sport’s power to change lives and how something like the Commonwealth games can not only present the city and Scotland in a positive light but support community regeneration and local employment.
There is a powerful message in all of that for the Scottish Government not only about the importance of its partnership with Scotland’s biggest city but about how public funding and procurement can tackle low-pay issues in the public, voluntary and private sectors.
I was surprised to hear that Kezia Dugdale’s speech has been regarded as controversial, because I felt that it said something very powerful about our role in the Parliament.
It is not sufficient for any of us simply to talk about what we care about or believe in; we have to do the heavy lifting of Government to deliver on targets.
For example, I regret the fact that, over the past four years, child poverty increased instead of going down. Government needs to focus on such questions.
Acknowledging Graeme Pearson’s wealth of experience, I nevertheless want to highlight in particular his comments about the proceeds of crime, which are harvested from some of our poorest communities.
That money ought to be directed back into the communities that suffer most from organised crime.
I welcomed Kevin Stewart’s speech, in which he made the case for support for his own city.
We will all have to face that challenge; indeed, the Scottish Government itself faces the challenge of balancing these demands for justice and fairness.
James Dornan said that we now have a can-do Government.
However, the problem is that, over the past fortnight, we have heard excessive comment about what we cannot do because of the powers that we do not have.
It is important that the can-do message is made stronger.
I thought that Annabelle Ewing was deliberately trying to wind me up when she described 6 May as a very enjoyable day.
If I remember correctly, it was not quite so enjoyable for some of us.
She also mentioned boldness of thinking, but the fact is that she will have to tell us what the plan for corporation tax will be if it comes to the Parliament.
If it means simply giving tax cuts to big business, I have to say that I do not believe that that will be in tune with the views of the people of Scotland.
On the purpose of devolution itself, the First Minister said:
“Devolution was born for a purpose: to let Scotland find peace with herself and for our nation to become comfortable in her own skin.”
Well, maybe—but for some of us it was also about bringing power closer to where people lived, understanding their experiences, listening to the solutions that they had devised and using Government’s power to implement them.
It is about protecting people in these very tough times, given what is coming from Westminster.
There is, for example, a challenge in health. I agree with Christine Grahame about health inequalities.
None of us can allow ourselves to get to the point where we simply say that the statistics prove that the health service is okay, despite the fact that those who use it and work in it are saying something entirely different.
Moreover, we know that we are committed to free education, but what are we actually saying about the further education sector and what are we doing to resist the trade-off between having no tuition fees and closing down places in higher education, which will discriminate against the poorest in our communities?
We opened up higher education to those in my generation who had not been allowed to go to university and such places should not be closed and denied to the same people.
Neil Bibby and other members have mentioned youth unemployment.
I reiterate the request or demand that we look at low pay and the living wage.
There is a pay freeze that is mitigated for the lowest paid in the health service and the Scottish Government, but that mitigation is not happening in local government.
Some 70 per cent of those in low-paid jobs in local government are women.
I ask the Government again to consider that issue and whether there is any sense of justice, to ensure that the poorest do not bear the burden of these challenging times.
We must also consider what is happening in the voluntary sector.
We say that there are no compulsory redundancies in the public sector, but we know that, with contracts that are delivered inside the voluntary sector on behalf of the public sector, women are losing not 2 or 3 per cent of their wages but a third of them.
That is happening in a restructuring that has been brought about because of pressures on contracts that are going into the voluntary sector.
It is important that procurement protects those jobs and workers.
We all have aspirations for Scotland, of course.
The advance copies of the First Minister’s statement included the words “Check against delivery”.
We will also check his and his Government’s commitments against delivery.
He said that the Government will make housing a priority, but it is a fact that investment in housing has been continually deprioritised in the past four years.
The capacity of housing associations to deliver has been reduced by a reduction in the subsidy.

The Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment (Alex Neil): I point out that we will build more than 6,000 houses next year, which compares with fewer than 5,000 houses built when Johann Lamont was the minister.

Johann Lamont: Alex Neil will find that the housing numbers have fallen in the past year and that a funding structure has been put in place that will mean that housing associations and co-operatives will not be able to deliver the developments that they said they would.
I urge the Government to look at the issue of co-operatives and mutuals, which we said a lot about in our manifesto, and to consider our financial inclusion strategy. There is no doubt that legal and illegal loan sharks are circling in some of our communities that are pressured by wage cuts and so on.
It is the job of Government to protect and sustain credit unions and do the broader work of financial inclusion in those terms.
On justice, I echo our commitment to support the Scottish Government in tackling inequality and discrimination in whatever way they are expressed in our communities, but it is important to listen to the lived experience of people in our communities. If tough sentencing is a lever against sectarian abuse, it must also be a way of addressing the scourge of knife crime in our communities.
The First Minister said that we can have ambitions, and he talked about powers. He said that acting “within the restricted powers of this Parliament ... does not confine our ambitions for Scotland, but it confines our ability to achieve those ambitions.”
We want the Government also to focus on what it can achieve with the powers that it has.
The First Minister’s statement must not be an alibi.
We want him to be ambitious with the capacity that he already has to address the needs of carers, to support women and children who face domestic abuse, and to tackle inequality in our communities.
In conclusion, the Labour Party has had a tough time, from which we will rebuild and restrengthen ourselves, but it is as nothing compared with the tough times that families and individuals in our communities are facing.
We know that there will be a constitutional debate; we understand that and recognise the SNP’s majority.
However, I reiterate the demand that the referendum be brought forward and sorted. As the debate on constitutional powers continues, the importance of giving equal attention to the needs that we saw in the election campaign and before must be recognised.
It must be understood that equal time must be given to the tough job of delivering on the priorities of the people in this country in respect of jobs, education and health, which members across the chamber recognise.
Where the Government focuses on those priorities, it will be guaranteed the Opposition’s support.


This blog was established while Johann Lamont was a Member of the Scottish Parliament .

As the Scottish Parliament has now been dissolved there are no Members of the Scottish Parliament until after the election of 5th. May 2011