Faced with a divided, unequal society, Labour emerged and changed the rules of the game. Once more faced with a country divided in a whole variety of ways, Labour must do so again, argues PROFESSOR TREVOR DAVIES. 


We live in a time of pulling apart.  It’s been going on for a while but we hadn’t noticed.  Now, it’s obvious.

On Monday the OECD reminded us the income of rich and poor in Britain has pulled wider apart than in most other developed countries.  The big shift happened in the 80s and 90s leading to 2005 when the top 1% earned 14.3% of GDP, up from 7.1% in 1970. In 2008 the top tenth had an income of £55000 a year on average, while for the bottom tenth it was just £4700. Three years later we should today expect the gap to have grown, in our time of austerity – for some.

Our attitudes towards each other don’t rebel against that huge division. The insecurity it creates make us turn on others.

On Wednesday the National Centre for Social Research told us that only 40% of Scots thought we should pay taxes to improve health and educational benefits.  Ten years ago it was 60%.  Over half of us think that benefits are too high (up from one-third in the 1980s) and nearly two-thirds think that parents who don’t want to work are to blame for child poverty.  Not the average income of £4700.

The research published this week into reasons why young people rioted in the summer put the blame, not on ‘parents’ as many believe nor on ‘gangs’ or ‘criminality’ as the Prime Minister urged us to believe, but on poverty – to get desirable ‘stuff’ other people had but they didn’t – and on the heavy authority of the police.

Last week we saw results of surveys which say that nearly half of us in the UK now want to pull away from our cousins in Europe and leave the EU.  Here at home, the urge to pull away from cousins in the rest of the UK grows stronger too.  That’s the same urge that we see in recent videos on YouTube of women indecently berating passengers on public transport for being one of “too many foreigners.” And of a Prime Minister whose only task in Europe is to protect ‘British interests’.  We’re us – you’re something else.

There were stories last week too about the growing verbal and physical public abuse aimed at disabled people – many are called ‘scroungers’ to their face because, it is assumed, they’re not working but drawing benefit. ‘Gay Boy’ is a common term of abuse in schools. We’re us – you’re something else.  And then, to cap it all, the wretched Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘joke’ that striking nurses should be shot in front of their families.  We are becoming more angry, more intolerant. More disdainful of those beneath us.  We live in a time of pulling apart.

The current policies of the UK coalition government make that worse. Those policies, official figures explain, target the poor, who are certainly beneath our millionaire cabinet. Their misguided economic policies will likely push us into a decade or two of stagnation, of joblessness on a wide scale and of millions of young people with no hope for the future. A time of even more pulling apart.

The urgent task of the Left now is, as ever, to work towards a time of growing together, because all the worldwide evidence shows that the more equal and cohesive a society, the greater its well-being.  That needs a big shift in the rules of the game.

Today’s economic circumstances and our national debt burden should not make us timid. They should add urgency and a sense of opportunity.  In historical terms our national debt is not high, though it has to come down. If we look to the last time when it was significantly higher than now, at the end of World War Two, we achieved huge social reforms and a real sense of common purpose.  And the last time Britain saw such a long sustained decline in living standards as government policies now lead us towards – in the 1870s and 1880s – we saw the expansion of the co-operative movement and the birth of the Labour Party.

Those were all game changers.  And if we are now once again to change the rules of the game by which we organise our economy and live with each other in our society and in our world, we’ll need a similar keen sense of values.

We would do worse than start with an even older set of values than those of the 1880s – liberty, equality, fraternity (or in these non-gender specific times, ‘solidarity’!).

How does the left reclaim the banner of liberty, stolen and sullied by the neo-cons? What would a more tolerant and free society look like, where freedom and security are in proper balance, where security is seen, not as a burden, but as a springboard to  a fuller life, where freedom to forge a better life belongs to the poor and disabled as well as the rich and strong?

What would a moral economy look like, where the fruits of enterprise are measured in terms of the wealth of all of us, not just a few, where companies see the development of social capital to be just as important as economic capital, where the extremes of wealth and poverty are expunged and our current enormous subsidies to the rich ended?

What does solidarity mean in practice? How can we craft the laws and institutions that strengthen respect for each other and restrain powerful private and sectional interests? How can we embed in the way we do things the knowledge that the well-being of all of us benefits each one of us? How do we get to the time when the public realm is at least as important as the private, when we all know we achieve more together than we do apart?

In short – how do we change the rules of the game? We’ve done it before.  Time to mobilise our thinkers.

Trevor Davies is an honorary professor of urban studies at the University of Glasgow and a former Labour councillor in Edinburgh.

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78 thoughts on “Changing the rules of the game

  1. Good analysis Professor but the problem for the ‘traditional Left’ is that, at least as represented by the Labour Party, they don’t believe that ‘Middle England’ will vote for them!!! And in Scotland, because they are a Party trying to appear to that English constituency they have failed the electorate. Listening to Johan Lamont on Newsnight you would think that Labour hadn’t been in power for 13 years in the UK and 50 in Scotland!
    IMHO Labour will have a hard time getting (particularly) England to sign up to your thesis and if they talk to the Scots like Tom Harris did in the same programme and claim that the SNP only build schools to further the Idependence cause they have no chance here either???

  2. The evidence presented by Wilkinson & Picket in their book The Spirit Level (see web site http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/resource/the-spirit-level ) shows unequivocally that the best method for doing what Prof Davies is asking for is to have an equitable society – one in which incomes after tax are not very different between the best and worst off. Everything is better in such societies – health, happiness, educational standards, life expectancy, drug abuse, etc etc etc.

    The societies that come out top of the league tables for equality are the Scandinavian societies – with high progressive taxation paying for large welfare benefits. What is perhaps amazing is that in these societies, even the well-off feel better than the well-off do in less heavily taxed societies, despite the high tax levels.

    1. Yet the Labour Party supports the flat rate income tax across all income bands proposed in the Scotland Bill. Don’t support this just because the SNP don’t, a flat rate tax disproportionately affects the low paid.

    2. Jim. Thankyou first of all for using your real name and not hiding behind the invisibility cloak of made-up names. It has always seemed to me that the habit of most contributors of comments to this site and others of not disclosing their identity undermines the value of their contributions.

      And yes I agree – greater equality is a key route to getting a more cohesive, even happier, life. And again I agree – “The Spirit Level” is a game-changing book, partly because in the attempt Wilson and Pickett make in the final chapters to suggest ways to achieve this equality. Importantly, they don’t rely only on redistribution through taxation, important though that is, but advocate, for instance, the kind of institutional reform that I posed as a question in my contribution.

      But one really important thing about “The Spirit Level” is that it relies on evidence, something that much political comment, on this site and elsewhere, signally fails to do. For instance Alex Grant (thanks for using your real name Alex) says that Labour doesn’t believe ‘middle England’ will vote for it. There’s actually plenty of evidence that ‘middle England’ will and does vote Labour, especially where issues of fairness and equity are concerned. It was the erosion of some of Labour’s traditional ‘working class’ English vote that needs to concern us.

      “Saoirse” (whoever he or she is) says the same. But with no evidence. His or her comments in a later post I mostly agree with.

      “Indy’ (whoever he or she is) says “people in work – even those earning an OK wage – can end up with even less disposable income than folk on benefits once they have paid all their bills.” Look at the facts: even on the lowest legal wage of £6.08 per hour for a 40 hour week a person in work would earn £243.20 per week. The Job Seekers Allowance is £67.50 per week. Now I know there are all kinds of other benefits for people in work and people out of work. But those raw figures hardly bear out “Indy’s” prejudices

      I suppose this is a plea for a higher standard of discussion – especially perhaps from those obvious supporters of another Scottish party who regularly inhabit this site!

      1. I don’t think you have really “got” what I was saying. A person could earn more than £243 a week and get tax credits and still end up with hee haw in their pocket to spend once they have paid their rent/mortgage payments, council tax, utility bills, credit card/loan/car repayments, food bills, petrol/transport to work, plus if they have kids there are huge additional costs with that. They end up with nothing left over.

        The cost of living – particularly housing costs – has increased way more than wages have increased over the past decade or so. That is a big part of the reason that the UK has ended up with such huge levels of personal and household debt and the level of debt that most households are carrying contributes to a general feeling of insecurity and worry which is obviously made worse by the recession. And is totally exploited by unscrupulous lenders – payday loans and that sort of thing. Go and tell someone up to their eyes in debt and struggling to pay the bills that the raw figures show they have nothing to complain about.

        Particularly now that the UK Government has decided to basically walk out of the EU in order to protect the interests of the people who have got us into this mess in the first place.

      2. I know it’s late, almost past the midnight hour but the walls of my incredulity came tumbling down when I read this. Are you sure you didn’t mean Wilkinson and Pickett?

        1. I did mean Wilkinson and Pickett. Thanks for pointing out this error. Though I don’t know why “incredulity” has to come into it.

          1. It was late and I was struggling desperately to fit another Wilson Pickett reference into that reply 🙂 Chill out with some proper soul. Hope everybody had a good Xmas 🙂

            Midnight Hour

      3. Firstly Professor I would never advise anyone to publish their personal details on a public internet forum.

        You say that there is evidence that “middle England’ will and does vote Labour but since you don’t qualify this I will assume you mean the right wing “New Labour” party that shamefully and blatantly abandoned its core principles including the egalitarianism you propose returning to, in order to become more palatable to middle England.

        Sadly for the Labour party in Scotland, the electorate up here do not share the Thatcherite beliefs of middle England and the party up here has paid the price.
        Finally, I’ll never understand the reticence of what is now a minority party in Scotland to hear the voices of people who did not vote for them. Labour doesn’t even seem to realise the vicious spiral of insularity they are trapped in. If as a party you won’t take every opportunity to engage with people who do not vote Labour how can you ever hope to persuade them to vote for you at some point in the future.

        1. No-one is asking anyone to post “personal details” beyond simply putting your name to your comments. Those who comment anonymously do not have to stand by their statements, and so can make any claim they like. This does not make for reasoned debate. All article authors on this site engage with their full names, and it is perfectly reasonable to ask those who comment to do the same.

          1. Duncan,

            Off topic but that is a dangerously naive attitude, may I suggest anyone who is unaware of how easy it is to pull together personal info Google their name and see what info comes up on the 1st page alone.

            I do not want my personal details made available to any loon who decides to start making a nuisance of themselves just because they disagree with me.

          2. By that argument no-one should ever put their name to anything they say. What an accountable political discourse that would produce!

            I’ve been active in gay rights for 20 years with a name that makes me immediately locatable. Frankly if you’re scared of a few idiots you ought never to leave your house never mind go online.

  3. While I fully agree with everything the professor has said, how said is it that basic socialist ideals are now being proposed on a Labour party forum as a change of direction & a new way forward.

    Sadly for the party & the people they wish to represent this will never be allowed, voters in middle England would never vote for it, which is why we have a Labour party in terminal decline in Scotland & why New Labours right wing policies were foisted upon us

  4. The change in attitudes towards things like taxation is not driven by ideology but by circumstances. Ten years ago the economy was growing, wages were rising, people felt quite optimistic about the future. That has all changed. It’s not that people have suddenly become right wing, it’s that they have become scared of losing what little prosperity they have left. And it’s not just about government debt, it’s also about very high levels of personal and household debt. Huge morgages, massive credit card debts etc plus ever increasing utility bills and so on. I understand the point you are making about targeting the poor but what people also need to remember is that people in work – even those earning an OK wage – can end up with even less disposable income than folk on benefits once they have paid all their bills. And that’s how they end up going even further into debt by using credit cards to pay household bills and then using one credit card to pay off the other etc. So of course they can end up feeling resentful because they are working long hours just to keep their head above water and it’s easy then to feel resentful towards people who don’t have to do that but still get their bills paid.

    To get through this people need to look at what has really gone fundamentally wrong with the economy and the way we live.

    1. Indy,

      While in England they have, I don’t believe that the people of Scotland have moved to the right politically & voting patterns would seem to back up my opinion.

      I agree that the majority of people in both countries are becoming more impoverished and more indebted, the fault for this is not the small number of people who scam the system it is the fault of the 1% who syphon off all the wealth and leave an ever decreasing amount for the rest of us.

      Either pay people a decent wage, removing the massive taxpayers subsidy to employers and indignity to hard working people of being paid so little that they still need state handouts to feed their families & keep a roof over their heads or change the taxation system and redistribute wealth that way.

  5. This is “Labour Hame” not “Labour Home”, we could start immediately by advocating Fiscal Control in Scotland thereby stopping the Tory policies, at least in Scotland.
    What if they win the next election? another 4 years of this?

  6. Lets not forget Labour abused and wasted 13 years of power at Westmister and 8 years of power at Holyrood to create a fair and equal society.

    Labour created this mess and now expects others to clean it up.

    Scots have long memories we will not easily forgive of forget.

    1. hardly a waste if it created the Scottish Parliament, was it? I think there were one or two things that we did that were good. The national minimum wage is another.

      1. It created the Scottish Parliament with its arm up its back held by the UN threats of being shown the door.

        1. Utter nonsense. You might be desperate to rewrite history but those who were there know that devolution was a collaboration between parties with Scotland’s interests at heart, delivered as one of the first acts of the new Labour government in 1997. And the process was boycotted by the SNP. Enough anonymous nonsense from you.

        2. The UN forced Labour to create the Scottish Parliament? What utter fantasy world do you live in?

          Do you not remember the 1990’s and consitutional convention? Or does the fact that the SNP refused to take part mean its been airbrushed from your memory?

  7. I have always considered the Scots to be that bit more egalitatian than our southern friends. I may of course be wrong on that, however I cannot for the life of me understand the Labour position on FFA/Devo Max, as without it (or full independence),we will always be at the fiscal mercy of whoever is in at Westminster. As I have tried to point out previously if Westminster alter funding at a major spending department (privatise health ?),the Barnett consequencials would require us to do the same.
    As we all get poorer, up to our eye balls paying for credit card debt or the mortgage ( previously many stayed happily in a council house ) then our resistance to the right wing media’s baying for some unfortunates blood gets lowered. This weeks scapegoat could be anyone, next week it could be YOU!

  8. Where do I start?
    “In historical terms our national debt is not high, though it has to come down” How many marks would Professor Davies give that pearl in an essay?

    “We would do worse than start with an even older set of values than those of the 1880s – liberty, equality, fraternity (or in these non-gender specific times, ‘solidarity’!).”
    Try 1780’s French Revolution. And in what respect are liberty, equality and fraternity gender specific?

    “The urgent task of the Left now is, as ever, to work towards a time of growing together, because all the worldwide evidence shows that the more equal and cohesive a society, the greater its well-being. That needs a big shift in the rules of the game.”
    What a relief. Here’s me thinking that the real issues were the consequences of Blair’s illegal wars and Brown’s ovarian taxes, when all the time all we have to do is ‘grow together’.
    Please send copy of ‘the rules of the game’
    I could go through this lazy piece of work and pick fault with every line but that would be tedious. I would’nt give it a D- if it was handed in by a first year student.
    But can I ask The Professor to ignore the above if he will answer this one question. He concludes,
    “In short – how do we change the rules of the game? We’ve done it before.”
    Why ask if he knows we’ve done it before? Just tell us.

  9. Having worked in England for several years, I could see that there is a very differant system down there, one that I think is traditional and that is class system.
    The thing that struck me was that each class was so proud of what it is, and we dont have the same adherance to it in Scotland, with this mentality so prevailant in England, is it any wonder that things are not going to change?
    Just my observations, maybe I m wrong.

  10. And that, Frustrated Socialist, is Scottish Labour’s massive achilles heel. Supposing the Tories remained in power in Westminster for the next 20 years but were completely obliterated in Scotland, the Scottish Labour party would still rather that than see Scotland become independent. I don’t get it, do you?

    1. No, Scottish labour would rather see the whole of these islands benefit from a left wing Government, rather than the beggar my neighbour attitude of some, which isnt really egalitarian at all, but which is the utter height of selfishness.

  11. It’s high time this lie about Labour “giving” us the Scottish Parliament was nailed once and for all. The Scottish Parliament only came into being because the the UN and Council of Europe told the UK to make it happen one way or another. As well as international displeasure, failure to “deliver” would have had serious electoral consequences also. Labour party people often confuse a strong anti-Tory vote in Scotland as a pro-Labour vote. The SNP had by means gone away at this time. Labour (or at least the New Labour) may well have been in power at this point but they were only the reluctant delivery boy. It was certainly not from any sense of ideology or “duty” to the people of Scotland. It has been spun as some kind of largesse and a much fatuous mince was spoken, notably by George Robertson with the “Devolution will kill nationalism stone dead” quote. We don’t hear too much from Geordie, commander of the Western world these days and it’s no great loss.

    1. Nonsense. The Scottish Parliament was delivered by Labour on the back of a historic electoral landslide in the UK, as one of the first acts of the new government. The idea that it was to avoid serious electoral consequences is ludicrous – Labour was in its strongest ever electoral position. It was not a reluctant act, it was a fulfilment of the wishes of Scots. It’s nothing to do with “gifts” or “largesse” – it came from a constitutional convention which the SNP boycotted. Enough rewriting of history. You’re not getting away with it here.

      1. Oh come one, lets at least be truthful, what is that futile attack against the SNP about.
        They also supported it.

        1. The SNP boycotted the Scottish Constitutional Convention. That is a matter of historical fact. It is not me who is trying to rewrite history here. The SNP backed devolution when Labour brought forward the legislation, but they boycotted the process by which it was defined.

          1. Duncan,

            Do you suppose the reason the SNP boycotted the Scottish Constitutional Convention could have something to do with the other members of the convention refusing to even consider the option they believe is the best way forward for Scotland

          2. Of course, that’s the well-established reason the SNP boycotted the process. That doesn’t affect my point. The UN did not force the 1997 Labour government to bring forward the devolution referendum – it chose to do so as one of its first acts. The SNP need to be especially careful about rewriting history in which they chose not to participate.

    2. Perhaps you can point us in the direction of the evidence for these claims? A UN resolution (which since the UK could veto, I seriously doubt was ever even considered) for a directive from the Council of Europe?

      You cant because none exist.

      The truth was Laboru delivered the SCottish Parliament because it wanted to. No one forced it to. And needless to say, no outside agency had the power to force it to.

  12. Mac
    You refer to Labour’s wasted 13 years when they controlled the levers of power and the treasury – How true. Professor Davies would have us believe that the drift into inequality happened during the 80’s and 90’s and whilst partly true he omitted to mention that between 1999 and 2009 under the stewardship of Blair and Brown, incomes of the tenth poorest in our society fell by 12%, while the bloated earnings of the richest 10th rose by 37%.

        1. I mean a source of data, not a source of the same statement being made (in suspiciously similar words) in another article.

          That second link is hilarious in its desperation to use statistics to paint a particular picture. Pretty outrageously so.

          1. Duncan
            It would be a big relief to all concerned if you can disprove the figures contained in the 2nd link?

          2. The second link adds together all the market debt in the City of London and pretends it is all UK debt. The figures are probably quite accurate, it’s the suggestion that they mean anything that is ludicrous.

            Now if you can please provide a source for the data you copied and pasted from a third-party speech from a single-issue blog I’d appreciate it. I’m not claiming it isn’t true, but debate is useless unless we can work with sourced data.

          3. Duncan,

            May I suggest you look at the 2010 report, An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK.

            This report clearly shows New Labour did nothing to address the widening gap between the richest & poorest 10% of society.

          4. I asked for the source of the specific data quoted. I’m actually genuinely interested because it could change my understanding of the facts. I’m not interested in reading yet another narrative of the widening equality gap, of which I am fully aware. If you can tell me where the specific data quoted comes from that would be very helpful.

          5. The CASE NEP report is a 450 page document which details the huge good the UK Labour government did between 1997 and 2007, including major reductions in inequality across a whole range of measures especially in the key targets of families with children and pensioners. It is quite possible that it contains data to back up the bald statement that “between 1999 and 2009 incomes of the tenth poorest in our society fell by 12%” but if that’s the source of that data I’ll need at the very least a page reference. Fig S4 does not contain any data of that nature.

            My request is very simple – a very clear statement was made about a very specific statistic. All I want is a clear reference to the source data for that statistic. I don’t want narratives around inequalities, and I don’t want other unrelated data, and I don’t want pointers to 450 page reports. A simple reference please. Thanks.

  13. Labour has to change itself.
    We are making a fool of ourselves.
    Take one thing like the anti sectarian laws from the SNP.
    Labour should be involved with this and not seen to be against it.
    Lets face up to it, Sectarianism is no differant from rascism, and should be stamped out.

    1. The problem with the SNP’s sectarianism law is that it is badly drafted, poorly conceived and unlikely to change anything. Labour has done more than the SNP to oppose sectarianism. The SNP did precisely nothing on the issue for the entirety of its first term. But introducing new laws which make things that are already illegal more illegal is not progress.

      What needs to change is not the law but the nature of its policing. Laws exist to tackle the problem already. We are right not to allow ourselves to be sucked into the SNP’s mantra of “something must be done, this is something, therefore it must be done”.

      1. It often been said, that when drafting anti-terrorism legislation, that Labour blindly did what the police asked for. That in actual fact, new laws wernt needed, and that they would be misused.

        Can someone please explain the difference with these proposals? They are surely simply doing what the police have asked for, that current legislation is surely enough to act, and there are fears these new laws will be misued?

  14. Jack McConnell once said his greatest regret was not introducing an anti-sectarianism Bill.

    Surely on something as important as this Labour could have put aside party differences and worked with the SNP to help eradicate this from Scottish life.

    1. Labour have done far more than the SNP to tackle sectarianism. We introduced the statutory aggravation which for the first time enabled the consistent tracking of sectarian offences, and we funded major initiatives aimed at breaking down prejudice, which is the only route to ending this scourge.

      The SNP are proposing a law to make things which are already illegal more illegal. Those parties which oppose this law (including Labour and the Greens) do so because they want to eradicate sectarianism, but recognise that this law will not do so.

      The idea that we should support the SNP’s law because of what it is trying to do, ignoring the problems many have raised, is in my view crazy. Politics ought to be about doing good, not just trying to look as though we want to.

      1. Duncan,

        As I am sure your aware I am not suggesting that Labour should support laws that they honestly don’t believe in & I happen to agree with you that it’s a dog’s dinner, but I cannot understand the reasoning behind refusing to engage with the SNP during the parliamentary process to draw up the bill, this is the point where you could put forward your ideas.

        This is too big an issue to be playing party politics, as with the drink pricing bill Labour really need to learn to put aside the hatred of the SNP and put the best interests of Scotland first.

        1. Labour opposed the bill. The SNP line that we “refused to engage” was just a smear. There would have been no point in proposing amendments to a bill we opposed. Labour participated in debates on the bill and expressed a very clear and, as you acknowledge, justified opposition to it. That’s not playing party politics, that’s sticking to our principles.

          1. I don’t have a problem with Labour opposing the Bill on principle and voting against it if they are really opposed to what the Bill is intended to achieve. But if it does have the desired impact you will be on record as opposing it and you will also no doubt be asked if you would repeal it, if elected. Which logically you should, if you oppose it in principle and voted against it instead of trying to amend it. So it’s quite a high risk strategy for you. Not sure if you guys have really thought that all the way through unless you are really confident that it will not reduce offensive behaviour. And I don’t see how you can be. I am not 100 per cent sure it will work, of course, but equally I don’t see how you can be 100 per cent sure it won’t.

          2. Given that the bill will be lauded as having had “the desired impact” whatever happens, that’s a pretty damning indictment of anybody disagreeing with any government ever. Given the bill’s intent as a deterrent there would be literally no way to honestly measure its success or failure, though any drop in sectarian crime (whether or not following an existing trend) would be pointed at as proof positive of the bill’s benefits independent of any other actions being taken. And any use of the bill’s new offences in the courts will similarly be judged a success, even if the same offences could have been charged as any one of a number of other crimes.

            Personally I opposed and still oppose the anti terror legislation brought in by the last Labour government, though it would be perfectly possible to point to it as having “succeeded” in all manner of ways. Frankly I’d rather stand on principle and be judged for it than play the sort of political games you think we should be playing. The SNP really does think it’s clever these days. Too much game playing, not enough principle.

    2. The problem is that any objective suggestions have been taken to be a sign of not wanting to tackle sectarianism or of talking down Scotland, or of just objecting for the sake of it.

  15. John, thanks for confirming that you would rather see Scotland ruled by a right-wing government we didn’t vote for than by an independent left-wing government. Exactly how long do you think we should wait for our friends in the south to see sense and get rid of the Tories? Isn’t Labour in Scotland supposed to be trying to “put Scotland first”…? And thanks for the insult about my being selfish in wanting the government we voted for in Scotland….

  16. uncan said:Given that the bill will be lauded as having had “the desired impact” whatever happens, that’s a pretty damning indictment of anybody disagreeing with any government ever.

    That is simply not true.

    The aim of the bill is to reduce offensive behaviour, public disorder and violence at and around football matches.

    That will either happen or it won’t.

    It’s not like anti-terror legislation because we are talking about very public behaviour, it’s not like they could say there were lots of secret plots for people to behave offensively at football matches which we foiled using this legislation.

    1. Offensive behaviour, public disorder and violence at and around football matches is already being reduced. Explain to me how you would prove that this legislation had been effective? We don’t even yet have data from the introduction of section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 to know whether last year’s attempt to do the same thing has had any effect! And given the additional educational measures also being introduced, how would you discern between the effects of each action? The idea that any reduction in sectarian offences after its introduction would make the bill a success is an out and out distortion.

    2. “it’s not like they could say there were lots of secret plots for people to behave offensively at football matches which we foiled using this legislation.”

      I’m sure the police will claim they prevented a lot of sectarian behaviour. They regularly do just that. They will then use this to prove the legislation works.

      1. John lol. Ibrox takes over 50,000 people. Parkhead can take almost 60,000. Are you seriously suggesting that these people will not notice whether there is any change in behaviour?

        There either will be or there won’t be and we will all know it.

        1. Indy, the point is devastatingly simple so please stop avoiding it. Crime at football is ALREADY being tackled with a range of legislation including section 38. We don’t even have the data for the effectiveness of section 38 yet. It will be impossible – genuinely impossible – to discern whether changes in behaviour are due to one specific piece of legislation or another, or more to do with educational and social projects ongoing at the same time. You simply cannot point to a reduction in crime post legislation and claim it is a direct result. It’s simply not rational.

  17. Duncan I know this bill is commonly referred to as an anti-sectarian bill. But it’s actually quite specifically about football. It’s not about saying we have a magic wand to end sectarianism, it’s about addressing the way in which football has almost become the last vehicle for offensive behaviour, whether it is sectarianism or racism or homophobia or whatever else, which is outlawed in every other context.

    We’ve had this conversation before where I said that if people as individuals behaved in the way that groups (small groups) of people commonly behave in and around football games they would undoubtably face the prospect of being arrested.

    But because the behaviour is en masse it has been difficult to stop it using existing legislation. Because even if the police did manage to isolate the individuals who were causing trouble they would still not necessarily have a case because people could quite validly say but we’ve been singing these songs and behaving in this way for years and no-one has ever challenged us on it so why is it a crime now? You have seen the evidence of cases against people – such as the person arrested for making monkey noises at a black player – not succeeding for those very reasons. Because other people were doing it, because it wasn’t clear that it was an offence, because public disorder would not have resulted due to the heavy police presence etc. This bill is about making clear that it is criminal and everyone will have to pay heed to that.

    I fully accept that police and prosecutors should not be given powers just because they ask for them but in this context I think they have a valid case and have made a valid argument for having those additional powers. If you disagree that is fair enough but, as I said, you will have to stick to that position even if the legislation succeeds in reducing the incidence of offensive behaviour or the damage that it causes. That is not playing games, it’s the way it is.

    Also, you say that violence and public disorder around football games (and also marches and parades incidentally) is already being reduced. That is true but only at the expense of a huge investment in police time and resources. The cost of that is not just financial – it also means police being pulled out of other areas which leaves communities with a reduced police presence. I don’t think that’s acceptable. So long term we can judge the success of this by whether we have to go on pulling in many hundreds of additional cops to police high profile matches and their aftermath because of the risk of public disorder and violence or whether that becomes less necessary because there has been a change of culture.

    Finally, I have not been able to read Labour’s alternative plan which has been publicised in the press because it is not on the website but if it rests on sanctioning clubs for the offensive behaviour of fans that would either be ineffective or unfair. It would be ineffective if it rested on showing that clubs are not taking all reasonable steps to reduce offensive behaviour – because they are and it would be almost impossible to prove otherwise. But if clubs were sanctioned in spite of that it would be unfair, not only to the clubs themselves but to the vast majority of supporters who are completely blameless.

    1. Why would it be unfair?

      Take the English hooliganism “problem”. Clubs were banned from Europe, threatened with points being docked etc. So the Clubs upped their game and eliminated hooliganism. No extra legislation needed.

      1. Seriously? You think it would be fine to dock points from Celtic, for example, because of the Uefa finding even though everyone else thinks that the club has taken every step it could reasonably be expected to take to deal with the problem?

        1. But the possibility is now concentrating minds, isnt it? “What more could we do?” – and there is more that they could do.

          When was the last time someone who sang a sectarian song (at either Ibrox or Celtic Park) had their season ticket taken off them, or banned from attending games?

          1. Season tickets will be removed if it can be proven that the holder has used “Foul, insulting, offensive or abusive language or behaviour; racist, discriminatory or sectarian behaviour ,remarks, songs or chants; and the promotion or endorsement of any political organisation” because none of these things are permitted and that is part of the terms and conditions of sale.

            That’s worth remembering perhaps – the legislation will not prohibit anything which is not already prohibited by the club(s) because they all have policies like that. (It’s not as if any club actually want fans to indulge in offensive behaviour).

            So maybe the real point of difference is that you are saying it is up to the clubs to enforce that and the SNP is saying it is up to the police.

          2. I am saying it is up to the clubs and the police. Presumably the police want these extra powers because they feel the clubs have not done as much as they could?

            There are any number of videos on youtube which show quite clearly individuals engaging in this type of offensive behavihour. They could be identified by the police, or by the club and the club can then take action (indeed the current legislation is enough to charge them too), but seemingly it doesnt happen.

            My question is why?

    2. See my comment above. There is simply no way to judge the success of this specific legislation on the basis you suggest. It would be dishonest. The fact is that we haven’t given the last attempt any time at all to be judged, so any post-legislative judgement will be unable to be separated from judgement of section 38’s success. Your argument is utterly unreasonable.

      1. Well it’s your opinion that breach of the peace plus the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 are sufficient to achieve a reduction in offensive behaviour, public disorder and violence in and around football matches. It’s the opinion of the police and prosecutors that they are not. People can make their own judgement about that and in due course I have no doubt they will.

        1. Again, not my point. You claimed that the success of this present legislation could be judged on the basis of a reduction in crime at football matches. It could not possibly be. I hope you’ll accept that.

          1. No I have never said the aim is simply to reduce “crime”. What I said was that the aim is to reduce offensive behaviour, public disorder and violence. What constitues “offensive behaviour” – ie. when offensive behaviour can be considered a crime was, I thought, the bone of contention. Is that not part of what Labour objected to? That criminalising specific types of behaviour associated with football is an attack on free speech or a form of “thought crime” etc. That’s what a lot of Labour people have been saying and that’s what principle is at stake surely.

            To try and say it’s all just about the technicalities of legislation, not about the onjectives of the bill or the desired outcome is an argument about process, not principle. You said Labour objected to the bill in principle. So the principles behind the bill must form part of your objection, it’s not simply about process.

            But whatever the case we are going round in circles so probably not much point in continuing.

          2. You are still refusing to acknowledge the very simple point I’m making. You claim that if offensive behaviour, public disorder and violence continue to decline after the passing of this bill that will be proof of its success. This is a logical fallacy. There is no way to judge the success of this legislation given that it is designed merely to “send a message”. Please acknowledge this.

  18. Duncan,
    I’ve been reading you on this site for a while now and I am impressed by you. I don’t agree with you but you are good; you’re couteous and you try and stick to the argument. You know your brief better than any Labour MSP I’ve ever heard on TV. And you are passionate (sometimes thats a disadvatage).

    But sometimes you miss the bigger picture. Let me try and explain. You have made a very good case why Labour and yourself are against this anti sectarian legislation the SNP government are pushing. First I have to say I am not 100% on the details. I don’t think anybody is. My first reaction to it when first proposed was ‘Don’t go into that minefield Alex’. I personally would forced the resposibility onto the two Glasgow clubs to clear up their own mess, but that is not the point of this comment.
    In one of your previous comments which was part of a long and tangled debate about the measurement of the effectiveness of the legislation, you ask ‘Explain to me how you would prove that this legislation had been effective? This is the point I want to make to you and I’m not having a go. This legislation willl be measured at the ballot box, not by some ‘performance indicator’. When the Green Brigade and The Copeland Rd are united in their oppostion then right minded Scots will be in the opposite camp by instinct. So another win AS and another OG from Labour for opposing.
    The vast majority of the Scottish people are’nt interested in the detail and a good size chunk are still to be persuaded by the SNPs main policy. But the overall feeling I think ( and it is being born out by voting trends) is that the present administration are trying and for that they are winning support. It is the exact opposite for the Labour party.
    Duncan, listen to the people, when a political party losses the trust of the voters as did the Conservative party in Scotland in the 80s then the answer is not to crank up the attacks on the opposition it is a time for reappraisal.
    If the Labour party still don’t get it they will come May 2012. Maybe then we will see some real big picture politics from Scottish Labour. What do reckon?

    1. I appreciate the compliments Richard, thanks. And I do take your point about the bigger picture. But I value honesty above politics. If the SNP’s aim is merely to do something to make it appear that they care more than Labour about sectarianism then I will condemn it. And if that means Labour ends up being painted as being anti-anti-sectarian then I will fight that slur honestly rather than playing political games.

      I fully acknowledge that that may mean my career is less than successful; but I’d rather be honest than play that game. When new crimes are introduced as PR exercises, we devalue our criminal justice system.

  19. Duncan – no I don’t acknowledge that. Yes the bill is partly about sending a message but it is also about creating two new offences. Clearly it is your opinion that this is not necessary. But equally clearly it is the opinion of the police and prosecutors that it is.

    If you are going to take the view that they don’t know what they are talking about and sectarian/racist etc behaviour around football is already declining then why has Labour set out plans to sanction clubs for sectarian behaviour by fans?

    That does not suggest Labour believes that the problem can be left, as it is already declining. It suggests that you think it is best dealt with in a way which does not involve creating new criminal offences.

    1. You keep making the same point and avoiding my point. I’m challenging your direct suggestion that if these problems decrease after the new bill is brought in then we can call this new legislation a success. It’s simply not true.

      The SNP will claim success for this law whatever happens to the numbers. So will you. I’m putting a marker down now that given the legislative context (S38 etc.) and the social context (ongoing grassroots work etc.) it will be impossible to judge what impact this legislation has had.

  20. “I am saying it is up to the clubs and the police. Presumably the police want these extra powers because they feel the clubs have not done as much as they could?

    There are any number of videos on youtube which show quite clearly individuals engaging in this type of offensive behavihour. They could be identified by the police, or by the club and the club can then take action (indeed the current legislation is enough to charge them too), but seemingly it doesnt happen.

    My question is why?”

    Well I think there are legal issues about using video evidence – I am unwilling to delve into the depths of Scottish law here cos I would have no idea what I was talking about but from having been on a jury we were told that the CCTV footage that we saw was not evidence but could be used to illustrate the other evidence that we heard. So I would guess that unless they have other corroborative evidence the police could not charge someone on the basis of a video on you-tube. But I don’t really know about that, maybe one of the many lawyers out there could comment.

    It may be that clubs could withdraw someone’s season ticket on the basis of you-tube evidence – and possibly that has happened – but they would also need some kind of corroboration as well I assume. The people have paid for their season ticket, they would need to be able to show that they had broken the terms and conditions attached to it. Common sense would tell you that being on you-tube singing offensive songs was enough but then again there are probably lawyers who would be willing to argue otherwise.

    I don’t know what implications there might be if the rules on corroboration are changed because of Supreme Court judgements. That’s another one for the lawyers to work out but it may have some effect I suppose.

    1. If changes to the law to allow the use of video evidence were proposed, to make it easier to do that, then that would get my support. I am not a lawyer either, but it makes sense to me. Creating a new crime seems to me to be of little benefit, if you cant prosecute if you “only have” video evidence which isnt good enough.

      If thats the reason why stronger measures havnt been done up until now, then why not change that (which may also have benefits in other, non-sectarian, crime)? I think legislation is very much “a sledgehammer to crack a nut”, and looking at the wider picture would be better than something new on the statute books.

  21. Duncan,
    ‘When new crimes are introduced as PR exercises, we devalue our criminal justice system’. Cheap shot.
    Pity you can’t understand the position of the opposite camp, an essential skill for good strategists.

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