Issue 6


By Professor Richard Kerley

In the past few weeks there have been some fascinating developments affecting public policy – in England.

The fascinating aspect is to reflect on whether these have implications for Scotland – not because we are, in respect of all these matters, a separate legal jurisdiction but because they reflect social and legal currents and trends that are live and present in Scotland.

Start with the most recent and the one that covered every front page in the daily press. Charles Saatchi photographed, in a restaurant, with his hand around the neck of his wife – who appears very distressed, unsurprisingly. The photos appear to show a man assaulting a woman – and therefore provide prima facie evidence of a crime against a person – a violent crime.

After a short period of reflection by Saatchi, he presented himself at a police station and in accepting a police caution presumably accepted he was guilty. Whether a police caution was the right penalty – it hardly amounts to a sentence after all – is a subject for continuing debate in lots of places.

Since then we have been assured by the senior police officer responsible for initiatives on domestic violence that events would have been much better handled in Scotland than they were by the Met Police. No evidence or data mind you, but a clear assurance that we do things better. There have been legislative changes, which we clearly would not have seen without initiatives in the Scottish Parliament that would not have been passed at Westminster.

I suspect that most of us now accept that we need to take action to try and reduce (possibly even reverse) the impact of human influenced climate change. I am less confident that we know, leave alone agree, on what we should be doing. The current Westminster Energy Bill privileges the position of bio-fuel as a means of power generation. Here, we have recently seen approval of a major bio-fuel plant at Grangemouth – not a locality you’d think needed or wanted another high chimney signaling a major industrial process going on underneath.

I recently asked a small, randomly selected group of people (we call it research) what they understood by ‘bio-fuel’. Few knew, maybe 20% of them. When I told them it meant ‘wood burning‘ most were surprised.

Now clearly there are options for such ‘bio-fuel‘ that use renewable sources – you can see coppicing willow in fields bordering the M90. However, most of the ‘bio-fuel‘ planned for use at Grangemouth and shortly powering half the boilers at Drax will be wood pellets, road freighted if within Scotland, or shipped in from the US for Drax, located on the Trent.

The third matter from South of the Border where there are parallels for Scotland are in the various tragedies of baby mortality in Morecambe Hospitals’ Trust and in the obvious now failed attempts to cover up the dismal record of the hospital involved.

Here we still have the Vale of Leven enquiry running on, the recent flurry of activity over manipulated health waiting figures and claims that a report critical of care at Ninewells Dundee was improperly amended before  publication.

The most striking and haunting feature of the baby deaths in Cumbria was that the father who persevered in getting a full enquiry despite organisational blocks, management and staff resistance over many years works in the nuclear industry.  His experience of high intensity and systemic safety regimes was something he found wanting in the hospital system his son died in. As various people and organisations asked after events in Mid Staffordshire Hospital, could this happen in Scotland?

Perhaps the key lesson from these three episodes is that if you’re part of a ‘social union‘ you often follow many of the norms of behaviour and decision making culture that your fellows do – even if there is a border drawn on the maps.

By Professor Richard Kerley

Issue 6


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