THE LONDON RIOTS
I have a very personal interest in the London riots - a member of my family lives in a London borough, and has already experienced the fringe of the riots. I am certain that many Scots share the same concerns, and do not regard the sufferings of Londoners with detachment.
Let me say straight off what any objective observer would say faced with the media reports of the riots - they are examples of entirely unjustifiable criminal behaviour by large numbers of mainly young people, exacerbated by the presence of adult agitators from outside the boroughs involved, with an agenda that has little relationship to the concerns of the residents of the areas affected. They have in effect attacked their own people, their own communities and damaged their own amenities and environment.
Those convicted of looting, criminal behaviour, violence against people, the police and property, including arson that endangered life and rendered families homeless, should be punished with the full rigour of the law.
But let me also say that the perceptions of those who actually live in the areas affected, and who may themselves have been victims of the riots, arson and looting, are shaped by their real first hand experiences as well as the media reports they too are exposed to. They are able to compare the presentation of reality by the media with reality itself, and their experiences include not just the riots themselves, but what preceded them.
Compared with their perceptions, those of detached armchair theorists, including myself, are of strictly limited value. They must be listened to vary carefully indeed, because what they have experienced and suffered may come to all our streets and our very doorsteps.
COMMENT - MEDIA, POLITICIANS, THE PUBLIC
The reflex response of most commentators has been to condemn the violence: a few irresponsible ones have defended it. (I had acrimonious exchange with one of them, an anarchist, on Twitter yesterday.)
A few indescribably crass individuals have thought it a subject for comedy, and I have had words with them too.
Accepting that unequivocal condemnation of violence and criminality is necessary in a society that claims to be civilised and espouse the rule of law does not mean, however, that comment must stop there. Regrettably, that is just where it has stopped with many commentators, especially politicians, seeming to feel that they have discharged their public duty by condemning the violence, but feeling no equal responsibility to identify, examine and analyse the location of the violence, the timing, the triggers and the root causes.
In fact, it is worse than that, with many senior politicians - and the police - denying that there are root causes, or indeed that any explanation need be sought, other than an outbreak of opportunistic violence and criminality.
THE FACTS - such as they are …
Last Thursday, the Metropolitan police surrounded a minicab and shot and killed an occupant of the cab, Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old London black. (His race may be relevant.)
The police initially said that they had returned fire after Duggan shot at them, and that one of his bullets hit a police radio. Duggan was armed, apparently with a starter pistol modified to fire live bullets.
It is now understood (The Times, today and other newspaper reports) that he did not shoot before an officer shot him twice, once in the chest and once in the arm. On bullet passed through his arm and hit the police radio, and there are ballistic reports that support this, although the police were refusing to confirm this.
The police clearly had information that led them to pursue him, and that must have included the likelihood - or certainty - that he was armed, since the police were armed. Two explanations present themselves - the police surrounded the car believing he was armed, and either saw him in possession of a firearm which they believed he was about to use, or shot him in the belief that he was armed and was likely to use a firearm.
The family of the dead man demanded an explanation from the police, and the response did not satisfy them. They then mounted a demonstration at Tottenham police station that escalated into violence, under circumstances that are unclear and disputed, and subsequently extend to rioting that included young people and adults who were not from the area. The rioting then extended to many other areas of London, and now have repeated themselves in other English cities.
This is about as much as can be said with certainty on what was undoubtedly the trigger for the riots: it does not explain them.
What can also be said with chilling certainty is that the police failed anticipate, prevent or control the riots. The British Press today contains unprecedented headlines, of which The Times is probably typical - Mobs rule as police surrender streets. From a tabloid, this could be dismissed as sensationalism or exaggeration - from the Times - and others - it is a sober statement of fact.
SOME OTHER FACTS
Here are some other facts, which many politicians would have you believe are irrelevant. I don’t.
The UK Parliament is in its extended summer recess.
The millionaire Prime Minister and the millionaire Deputy Prime Minister were both on expensive holidays
The UK has recently experienced a bank collapse caused by the rampant greed, irresponsibility and gambling of obscenely rich bankers, who continue to reward themselves on a grand scale for their failure at the expense of the taxpayer.
The UK has recently experienced large scale abuse of expenses by its elected representatives and its unelected Lord, some of which was criminal and resulted in imprisonment of the offenders.
The UK has recently experienced a major scandal involving the press (News International and News Corp) that has involved the police, the highest offices of Government and the highest echelons of the Metropolitan Police, resulting in the resignation of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and an Assistant Commissioner, the resignation and subsequent arrest and prosecution of the Prime Minister’s closest adviser, David Coulson, the arrest and prosecution of senior employees of News International, the arrest of the former head of News International, who was also a close friend and neighbour of the Prime Minister, the closure of one of Britain’s oldest newspaper, The News of the World.
There is serious international financial crisis that threatens global collapse of the financial system, and the UK has draconian cuts to public expenditure and public services by the Coalition Government, a declining growth rate, unemployment, declining real incomes and rising prices of essential such as food and power, and it is virtually impossible for young people to get a foot on the housing ladder.
The government that cannot control what is happening on the streets of its capital city - on its own doorstep - has just emerged from one illegal, morally repugnant, and financially ruinous war - Iraq - and is still engaged in another even longer running conflict, Afghanistan.
The UK Government, its politicians, many of its media commentators and the police claim that none of this is relevant to the sudden collapse of law and order among deprived communities, and an apparent total loss of respect for the rule of law and the values of an ordered society among young people, especially young urban blacks.
I believe it is blindingly, blatantly and obviously relevant.
A high proportion of crime in the UK today stems from the trade in illegal drugs. (The trigger event, the Tottenham shooting, may well have related to the drugs trade.) The so-called war on drugs has failed and is failing in the UK and in every country in the world because the criminalisation of drug use is the core problem, not the solution, as was conclusively proved by Prohibition in the United States, the criminal legacy of which live on in organised crime.
The legalisation of drug use, accompanied by licensing and control of distribution and providing full professional support to those addicted to them would, at one stroke, reduce crime and free huge resources for other purposes - policing, medical and social.
This is the truth that dare not speak its name, because of a craven failure of nerve by politicians and the empty, destructive moralising of much of organised religion in Britain.
Last night’s Newsnight Scotland offered a platform to John Mason, MSP to explain his position on his motion on gay marriage, and produced a Green MSP, Alison Johnstone, in what the producers presumably hoped would be a balancing viewpoint in the discussion.
As is increasingly the case with Newsnight Scotland, the analysis piece that preceded the discussion, presented by Julie Peacock, actually shed some light on the controversy. The discussion, chaired by Raymond Buchanan, was an exercise in utter feebleness, with John Mason becoming nearly invisible in his projection of sweet reasonableness, one which was swallowed whole by the affable Alison Johnstone, who smiled winningly and appeared infinitely relieved that she didn’t have to engage in any real debate.
I award Newsnight Scotland four stars on the quality of the analysis piece, and one star on their choice of panellists. Raymond Buchanan did what he could with such unpromising material, which was very little.
The central issue, which is the nature of the marriage contract and the legal requirements under Scots Law of solemnisation of a marriage, legal or civil, and the role of organised religion and competing religious sects in this was not explored at all.
HONOURS, THE SNP AND SIR BRIAN SOUTER
The Scotsman and the Herald continue to distort the debate by exaggeration, omission of facts, and biased simplification, and in the process, fail to ask the fundamental questions, most of which I have supplied gratis to them, and some of which have been answered by the SNP. Virtually none of the essential content of the SNP’s detailed press release have been reported by either newspaper.
Long may your circulation decline, Scotsman and Herald - God knows why I pay £1.75 a day to prop it up.