Tuesday 7 June 2011

Florida holds 12-year-old child in solitary confinement

I heard this story first on Five Live this morning, and read it again here in a Florida on-line newspaper.

The newspaper story doesn't really give the full background to the case, which is pretty horrific. The 12-year-old involved, Cristian Fernandez, killed his 2-year-old brother, and it is for that which he is in jail. However, Cristian's mother was only 12 herself when he was born, and his own father - in his late teens at the time - didn't play any part in Cristian's upbringing in Miami. His mother then got together with the father of her younger son, still living in Miami. The stepfather was abusive to the children, physically, emotionally and sexually, before at some point killing himself. At this point Cristian's mother decided to move away from Miami, and headed north to Jacksonville.

It was at some point after then that Cristian killed his brother.

The prosecutor then decided to try Cristian as an adult for murder - something which, as I recall, still attracts the death penalty in Florida. He's therefore being held in an adult prison, along with adult prisoners - and if you've seen any of Louis Theroux's recent series you'll have an idea what conditions in Florida's adult prisons are like.

The prosecutors seem to think this is OK because he's being held in solitary confinement. A child in solitary confinement? That's bad enough for an adult, but children need to be active and moving about. He's stuck in a 30 square feet cell, only allowed out for 1 hour a day (and there's no certainty that he's been able to have this yet.) The only window is being shaded to stop others looking in (which wouldn't be a problem if he was in a juvenile centre.) His mother is elsewhere in the jail on related manslaughter charges, but prison rules prevent them visiting each other.

The thoughts of the prosecutor? "If I were the parents of a kid charged with petty theft, I would be outraged if someone charged with first-degree murder were there right beside them"

There just doesn't seem to be ant thought for the care of this particular child. Obviously I don't know much about the case itself, but given his background it likely that he carries a degree of emotional damage. I can't believe that a civilised society is prepared to treat its children like this - but then Florida does have a bit of a track record in this. Hopefully by raising this internationally the Florida prosecutors will reconsider - somehow I very much doubt it.

Monday 6 June 2011

Why minimum alcohol pricing was - and still is - a bad idea

Willie Rennie has today said that he is going to seek support of the party for minimum alcohol pricing. Now, I know Willie has supported this for a number of years, and normally he gets these things right, but this time I have to disagree.

There's a number of reasons why I'm opposed. Firstly, will it actually work? Take the middle-class alcoholic (though he'd not admit it) for whom a whisky or glass of wine after work has become a "crutch", as Tony Blair once put it. Will a price rise affect him? Most likely not – he'll either already buy products above the price limit anyway, or will simply absorb it into his monthly spending.

What about the real, hardened addicted drinkers at the other end of the social scale? History suggests that when the price of drugs go up, it doesn't actually force addicts to turn round and question what they're spending the money on. Instead, they take it from their other expenditures, the addiction forcing them to find a way of getting alcohol. So that means maybe that the kids get one meal a day instead of two, or that their new school uniform is forgone in place of a few bottles of White Lightning. Without support, and without being able to admit suffering, these people will simply become worse off again under this proposal.

And that's the crux. An increase in duty, or a tax otherwise implemented by Westminster, could be allocated to direct help for alcohol problems. That I would support. But instead, the increased profits from the sale of alcohol won't go to help those who suffer from its effect – it will go straight into the profits of the drinks companies and their shareholders' dividends.

In his article on Liberal Democrat Voice, he does make a good point that there is already much legislation in place which needs to be better enforced. So why not do this first? What is it about the legislation around test sales which allows big companies' lawyers to wriggle their clients out of a suspension or withdrawal of licence? Why not spend some time sorting this out and trying what we've got?

If this policy is to be implemented, then there needs to be a discussion with the drinks companies on the excess profits which will be produced. If there's a way, even through a voluntary agreement, whereby the extra profit raised can be used by the Scottish Government for a clear plan to combat alcohol abuse, then I might be able to support this. Without this, though, we will end up in the situation where responsible drinkers are penalised unfairly and problem drinkers don't get the support they badly need because it can't be afforded.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

"The Scheme" - why it made me angry on so many levels

I watched "The Scheme" for the first time last night. I'd missed the original showings last year, but caught up with the original two episodes on iPlayer and saw the final one on TV.

There was a bit of a personal reason too - my wife grew up in the estate round the corner (New Farm) so knew some of the area. She was shocked at how much it had changed.

Firstly, on a political point. There was a scene in one of the episodes where a group of residents were speaking to their Councillors to try to get finance to help reopen the community centre which the Council had closed. What I noticed was that, while residents and council officers were quite happy for their faces to be broadcast clearly, the local councillors appeared to have had their faces blurred! Quite frankly, if, as a Councillor, you can't go in to a meeting in your own ward and be prepared to be photographed then you really shouldn't be a councillor. Incidentally, one of the Councillors for the area, Willie Coffey, is now the SNP MSP for the area. I'll put a link here to the page on the Council website so you can see who they are, although I should point out that there only appeared to be two councillors there and (obviously) as their faces were blurred I can't see who was present.

Secondly, it uncovered a raw underbelly of Scotland which we like to hide. The fact is, all middle-sized towns in Scotland have got an area like Onthank. There are people there, like the family trying to reopen the community centre, trying to make the best of their lives. But for too long we've tended to either forget or simply overlook this and concentrate on describing them as "sink estates".

Some of the people in the documentary clearly couldn't be bothered, but others - for example Marvin, Bullet's owner - seemed to be genuine in wanting to try to change. The thing is, they need support to do that, and need to be steered away from situations where they are again tempted to do drugs and other unsocial behaviours.

This needs investment from Councils, and a bit of thought too. Going back to the community centre, one of the problems the residents encountered was that it was going to cost £50,000 just to get it open, and the Council seemed to have given up on the idea. Now, I'm pretty certain that a bit of research and a bit of nouse could have found this money through grants and other fundraising - I can think of a number of local projects in Fife where this kind of money has been found for similar projects. I can't believe that East Ayrshire don't have similar kinds of funding, or access to similar grants.

We should be promoting community involvement in this way. If people feel part of their community, they're more likely to respect both the community area and the people in it. Councils should give people the ability and support that they need to take ownership of their community, through expertise and, yes, finance. We'll probably never be able to eliminate deprivation entirely, but what we can do is make sure that people have the ability and opportunity to move out of deprivation and on to a more successful, fulfilling life. In a country which prides itself in treating each person equally, we should be roundly embarrassed that there are areas like Onthank in every Scottish town, and ensuring we're improving the lives of people living there.

Legislating in haste - a dangerous step?

The Scottish Government have today announced their proposals to combat sectarianism in Scottish football, with a view to getting the legislation in place before the new season starts at the end of July.

I'm always pretty skeptical about legislation which is drafted in haste. Experience shows that it usually results in the laws being badly drafted, and need to be revisited within a couple of years. The good old Dangerous Dogs Act is the classic example of this.

The devil will be in the detail, but what concerns me is the notion of a new offence of "abuse." This will have to be very carefully worded, otherwise the spectre of fans being arrested for shouting at the referee or opposing players could well be rising.

I welcome the moves, though I am doubtful still about how much legislation will help the situation.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Why can't bigoted idiots stay away from our game?

[This was originally posted before Blogger had its hissy fit a couple of days ago. Now it's back!]

Another three events today sadly showed again the brain dead bigoted idiots rife in certain parts of Scottish football.

First, a Hearts fan is arrested and charged in connection with the assault of Celtic manager Neil Lennon at Tynecastle last night. Then, this morning, two men were arrested in connection with sending bombs to Lennon, Celtic's QC Paul McBride, and Trish Godman, a former MSP and Celtic fan. Finally, this afternoon, another suspicious package arrived at Celtic Park.

I'm an Aberdeen fan. I have no love for either half of the Old Firm (or Hearts, for that matter.) But I know that these idiots aren't representative of either Hearts fans or Rangers fans.

Sectarianism is often referred to as "Scotland's secret shame." Actually, it's not as rife across Scotland as it may be in Glasgow and the West - I grew up in Fife not understanding why the Old Firm couldn't stand each other, had no real idea what an Orange Order march was, or why the "Fields of Athenry" could be seen as anything other than an Irish song. Even so, it does pollute much of Scottish life.

I'm not sure that there's much more Rangers & Celtic can do. They've worked hard to try to rid their crowds of these twits, to varying degrees of success - Rangers still have a bit to go and were recently fined by UEFA for fans behaviour. Maybe though, the Scottish football authorities need to look more not at financial penalties, which, frankly, don't affect fans, but instead consider points penalties - 6 or 9 at the minimum. That's a penalty which the fans understand, and which will hurt their pride.

There's been a murdurrrr........

[This was originally posted before Blogger had its hissy fit a couple of days ago. Now it's back!]

"There's been a murder, Sir."

"No' again, Jardine. Where this time?"

"Maryhill, Sir. Up near the canal, behind Firhill. It's a 28 year old male. Media's all over it like a rash."

"Media.... Cause of death?"

"Multiple cuts, Sir. Folks are blaming it on the English."

"Why - I didn't think Alex Salmond was that young."

"Naw, it's no' him. The body's no' that big. Apparently the victim just wasn't popular anymore. Something about not being original enough."

"Did they try to revive him?"

"A bit. They gave him a shot but apparently the damage was too bad. We've got a couple of suspects, though."


"Aye. Some posh bloke called Fellowes. Lives in some place called Downton Abbey."

"Downton Abbey? Wherr's that?"

"Dunno. Apparently it only appears if you're in England and Wales."

"What are you waiting for then, Jardine? Get him in here now..."

[cue dramatic guitar music]

Congratulations Willie!

OK, so it was more of a coronation than an election, but the right guy won. If there was any doubt, I've just heard an interview with Willie on Radio Scotland and it's clear he's really "up for it."

It's a new era then, and time now for the Scottish party to move onwards. We do need to consider carefully where things went wrong and where we go now, learning from mistakes. Willie mentioned in the interview that you can't simply forget about the Coalition - it does affect our lives in Scotland, after all - but I still think we need to be clearer about policies for Scotland where we do things differently and why.

Willie mentioned tonight that "we're all Liberal Democrats" but at the same time, Lord Steel makes the excellent point that the Scottish party is separate from England and is technically independent of the coalition. I know Willie listens, and I hope he'll take this on board.


The Burd has put this post on Better Nation which I think puts quite succinctly the difference between Liberal Democrats in England and Scottish Liberal Democrats. For the record, I think Willie is much more on the Scottish side than the English one!