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.