Friday, 29 May 2009


Regular readers will know how much I dislike double standards. Like, seriously dislike double standards.

So I read this piece by Jeff a couple of days ago on the calls for Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill to resign over "one escape[d]" prisoner. Jeff argued that while there were calls for MacAskill to go over this issue, one prisoner escaping did not merit resignation - or even a vote of confidence in the man in charge. I wonder if he has changed his mind now that there are further stories in today's press. I suspect not, given his comment here.

Some food for thought though. Kezia Dugdale has done a tremendous piece of digging and found an article written by the "under-fire" Cabinet Secretary in March 2006 - when still in opposition. Key phrase for me:

A big boy didn't do it and run away. Sadly, it always seems to be not their responsibility or it is someone else's fault. That is simply unacceptable. There needs to be Government and Ministerial responsibility shown as much as individual and social responsibility displayed.

Got to hand it to Ms Dugdale on this one. Question for Jeff though - if the man himself thinks that in this type of situation the person in charge should go, should he go?

Edit - I should point out that I think Kenny MacAskill is doing a find job as Justice Secretary. And I'm not convinced that one prisoner (or indeed two...) escaping is something to resign over - Cathy Jamieson would, apparently, agree. My point is that is something is good for the goose then surely it should be good for the gander too. Saying one thing in opposition and another is in Government is all well and good... but if its a principle, then perhaps that's a different ball game.


Jeff 29 May 2009 at 17:34  

Sitting on a bus after a rather tortuous day at office so not going to fully get into it just yet (Blog post will be up later) but you've leapt far too quickly to the double standard conclusion as far as i can see. That said, there's a good bit of Lib Dem fence sitting going on in your post so question to you Malc - You're Kenny's boss, would you sack him or back him?

Malc 29 May 2009 at 17:50  

I'm not Kenny's boss. Which is fortunate for him, for you and the whole country really!

Indy 29 May 2009 at 17:59  

have just posted these questions on Kezia Dugdale's blog - I will be interested to see if she publishes it and even more interested in her answers if she does.

Kezia in 2006 49 prisoners absconded from Castle Huntly. Three of them were convicted killers.

One of them - Roderick McDonald - then carried out a violent rape on another man and murdered a different man by strangling and stabbing him.

Cathy Jamieson did not resign. She did not come under any pressure to resign. The SNP did not call on her to resign.

Can you explain to me why your party thinks that Kenny MacAskill should resign when Cathy Jamieson did not - particularly in light of the fact that the escape of Roderick MacDonald led directly to the rape of one man and the death of another?

Furthermore do you have any comment on the fact that almost 14,000 prisoners in the UK have absconded from open prisons in the past ten years, including 130 convicted killers?

Do you consider that successive Home Secretaries should have resigned because of this?

Finally, the numbers of prisoners absconding in Scotland has been reduced under Kenny MacAskill's leadership from an average of over 70 per year to 16.

Can you explain why you consider this to be grounds for resignation when to most people that appears to be an improvement? In what circumstances does an improvement in performance become grounds for resignation?

Indy 29 May 2009 at 18:07  

Incidentally Malc this is the difference:

Labour/Lib Dem ministers were personally responsible for the decision to privatise prison and court escort services and award the contract to Reliance.

They were personally responsible for the slopping out fisco as they had the opportunity to put in place the measures which would have avoided the taxpayer becoming liable for millions of pounds worth of compensation claims and did not do so.

They took the decision to block an enquiry into the Shirley McKie case.

They were not however responsible for the escape of Roderick MacDonald.

Malc 29 May 2009 at 18:09  


I'm not immune to that argument. But the point I'm making is not the fact that x prisoners have escaped under the SNP v x number under Labour.

It's the fact the now Justice Secretary made a point of stating that "reponsibility should be taken by the appropriate minister" but that in government, when he is that minister, somehow that principle is not to be adhered to.

But I will be interested to hear Kez's repsonse.

Malc 29 May 2009 at 18:11  

Okay, I posted that comment before your second comment Indy. Point still holds though, I think. If he thinks its a point of principle - ie what he called for and the basis upon which he called for it - then doesn't that hold now.

Jeff 29 May 2009 at 23:06  

Spoken like a true Lib Dem Malc. You'd neither back him nor sack him, just talk around the question.

Jeff 30 May 2009 at 10:27  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff 30 May 2009 at 10:28  

PS Pretty interesting that Kez has posted up Scottish Unionist's fawning comment at 8pm but not Indy's more challenging comment from 5pm...

There's only going to be one winner of a one-sided argument!

Where does that fit with your dislike of double standards? ;)

Malc 30 May 2009 at 10:57  


Painting myself further into a corner I'd suggest it shouldn't be up to me (or his boss for that matter) to decide. He's made his bed with his comments previously. If he still agrees with his 2006 principles then he should do what he thinks is the honourable thing and take "ministerial responsibility".

Laura,  30 May 2009 at 13:20  

Not getting your argument Malc.

As Indy illustrated clearly, the system has improved under Kenny MacAskill.

I'm sure he is more than happy to take responsibility for that. Not sure why it means he should resign though? For saying 'enough's enough' after a disastrous catalogue of bad decisions from the former Minister? Hardly like-for-like is it? Thanks to you and Kezia for reminding us of how bad things were then!

Anonymous,  30 May 2009 at 16:39  

Slopping out is a good example of Jamieson getting it personally wrong.

And the reason that the former Scottish Executive got intro trouble over slopping out?

Because the Ministers made an informed decision to put the cash earmarked for ending slopping out elsewhere, having had advice from their officials that the continuance of slopping out carried a high risk of Human Rights claims.

That is a ministerial decision, which the current Scottish Government is still having to pick up the tab for.

Read the judgment in Napier on the Scottish Courts website, if you care to research these matters.

MacAskill does not appear to have had anything to do with any of the decisions on transfer of prisoners to the open estate.

So double standards?

Kezia doing a brilliant job - no, usual decontextualised spin, methinks.

Indy 30 May 2009 at 20:34  

Malc, what are you talking about?

Of course the Justice Secretary is responsible for the prison estate. No-one is arguing about that.

The issue is whether it is appropriate for Labour to call for his resignation because a convicted killer failed to return from home leave when his Labour predecessor did not resign in worse circumstances i.e. when a prisoner had absconded and then gone on to rape and murder.

That is just bizarre and preposterous.

The number of prisoners absconding under Kenny MacAskill's leadership has gone DOWN not up.

Let's take a parallell here. Recorded crime has also gone down under Kenny MacAskill's leadership - would Labour be justified in calling for his resignation because crime is still committed?

That is the equivalent of what they are doing here.

Malc 31 May 2009 at 09:19  

Is it so hard to read what I said?

It's fine to disagree with me on my point - but let's make clear what my point is. And it has nothing to do with prisoner numbers - escaped or otherwise.

KM stated - quite clearly - when in opposition that he believed Cathy Jamieson should resign when this kind of thing happened. Now the same thing has happened when he is Justice Sec, my question is shouldn't he be held to his own standard?

Anonymous,  31 May 2009 at 18:46  

Malc - Is is so hard to respond to the comments on this page about the nature of the issues (one ministerial policy; the other operational matters) ?


Except your own arguments would be skewered, if you did.

"This kind of thing" is to equate chalk with the theory of relativity.

So, a response would be nice if the post is to retain any credibility in the land of the blog.

Malc 1 June 2009 at 08:28  


Again, my point - if it needs repeating - is that I'M not saying KM should resign. KM said KM should resign - presumably at a time when he could not conceive of being in a position where he held could be held to that standard.

But since you ask. Whether he had a direct influence on "any of the decisions on transfer of prisoners to the open estate" or not should it matter? If he is at the head of the decision-making body - as he should be - responsibility for the decision-making lies with him. That is what "ministerial responsibility" is all about.

Indy 1 June 2009 at 10:46  

Malc you say that when in opposition Kenny believed Cathy Jamieson should resign when 'this kind of thing' happened'. That's not true.

The 'thing' you refer to is prisoner absconds. Neither Kenny (nor any other SNP MSP or spokesperson or MSP or spokesperson from any other party) demanded that Cathy Jamieson (or any other Labour minister) resigned as a consequence of a prisoner absconding. That's a fact.

It is why your (and Kezia’s) argument simply does not hold water. Also explains why she has not answered any of the questions I posed. You have both been hoist by your own skewers, if I can put it that way.

It is a bit much incidentally for you to go on to suggest in your most recent post that because you have been pulled up on this ‘Apparently nothing critical of the SNP Government will be allowed in an independent Scotland.’

When your criticism is based on suppositions which are factually incorrect you should be prepared to admit you’ve got it wrong.

Malc 1 June 2009 at 16:04  


When I said "this kind of thing" it was my second attempt at explaining it. I thought the first one was clear enough but apparently not.

Here's what I said first:

"It's the fact the now Justice Secretary made a point of stating that "reponsibility should be taken by the appropriate minister" but that in government, when he is that minister, somehow that principle is not to be adhered to."

I never mentioned any aspect of it. All I said was, KM put a lot of onus on Ministerial Responsibility when in opposition but yet in Government.

That was the original point I made and that is the point I continue to make. I don't think it is factually incorrect to point out that when KM saw a mess made of a particular situation by the previous Justice Minister he called for "Ministerial Responsibility" - by which he meant resignation.

That is a fact. You can read it again if you want. Yes he mentions several issues - a "catalogue of errors" - but the bottom line is he wants someone to take responsibility for an error made.

Malc 1 June 2009 at 16:05  

Oh, and I am prepared to admit when I get it wrong - it has been done before. But I'd point out how quickly (and a distinct tone) in the responses I've had that suggest I may have riled a few Nat supporters.

Indy 1 June 2009 at 16:25  

Malc you are making no sense at now.

Kenny MacAskill has made no attempt whatsoever to evade ministerial responsibility for abscondees from the open prison estate or for anything else in his remit.

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