Friday, February 4, 2011

The moving question

Interesting to read via Better Nation of the stooshie over the plan to move the production of Question Time from London to Glasgow - and could there be a more deliciously ironic choice of location given the notorious events of a few months ago? Of course this is merely about a - slightly - fairer geographical division of resources and jobs behind the scenes, and needn't automatically lead to any reversal of the Neanderthal on-screen presumption that the "UK agenda" is whatever looks important to people living in London. However, the departure of the programme's editor may be the first sign that this move has at least a chance of leading indirectly to positive change - ie. the sort of person who can actually bear to work in Glasgow (regardless of where in the UK they come from originally) may also be the sort of person more likely to recognise the legitimacy of broader perspectives. I won't be holding my breath, mind.

One thing that made me laugh in the Guardian news story that Jeff Breslin links to is this comment about The Review Show, which made a similar move to Glasgow not so long ago -

"It emerged last year many guests were being flown from London to Glasgow at huge cost to licence-fee payers."

Tell me, does no "expert" on the arts that might realistically appear on a show like that live anywhere other than London? Was nobody ever flown down from Scotland or the north of England at "huge cost to licence fee payers" during the programme's former life - or was the attitude that if people were silly enough to live several hundred miles away from the acknowledged centre of the universe, they were by definition ruling themselves out of any possibility of appearing on "national" television?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's the eternal question : 'What Would Iain Do?'

Back at the height of the controversy over the release of the convicted (if unlikely to be the actual) Lockerbie bomber, Iain "the Snarl" Gray informed the Scottish Parliament that if he had been First Minister, Megrahi would still be behind bars. The only possible interpretation that could be put on those words is that Gray would have issued binding instructions to that effect to whoever had been his Justice Secretary - an utterly extraordinary admission, given that the legal position is that decisions on compassionate release must be taken by the Justice Secretary alone, and indeed on a quasi-judicial basis, free from political considerations.

All the same, given Gray's refreshing keenness to share with us how he would act in a variety of hypothetical scenarios, I wonder if he'd now care to tell us what he would have done if he'd been...oooh, I don't know, a junior Labour minister in the Foreign Office just after Megrahi's illness was diagnosed? Would Mr Gray have helpfully advised the Libyans on how to apply for compassionate release as the actual Labour junior Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell did at the time, or wouldn't he? Come on, Iain, you don't even have to - hypothetically - contravene the law in answering this one...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Six Nations prediction

For the third year in a row, I've filled out a Six Nations sweepstake form for a member of my family, who seems to be labouring under the misapprehension that I know something about rugby. To be fair to myself, we did somehow win two years ago, although on the other hand we finished second-bottom for the 2007 World Cup! Anyway, this is what I came up with, mainly just by following the overall championship betting (with the exception of Ireland's two home games) -

Weekend 1 :

England to beat Wales by less than 10
Ireland to beat Italy by 10 or more
France to beat Scotland by 10 or more

Weekend 2 :

England to beat Italy by 10 or more
Wales to beat Scotland by less than 10
Ireland to beat France by less than 10

Weekend 3 :

Wales to beat Italy by 10 or more
England to beat France by less than 10
Ireland to beat Scotland by less than 10

Weekend 4 :

France to beat Italy by 10 or more
Ireland to beat Wales by less than 10
England to beat Scotland by 10 or more

Weekend 5 :

Scotland to beat Italy by less than 10
Ireland to beat England by less than 10
France to beat Wales by 10 or more

It wasn't until I'd finished that I noticed I had Ireland down for another Grand Slam, which doesn't seem quite right somehow, but who knows? The results in Dublin could certainly make or break the season for both England and France. As for Scotland, I always try to err on the side of pessimism to counter the peril of wishful thinking - but afterwards I always I being pessimistic enough?

Monday, January 31, 2011

My response to Indy on prostitution

I've been having an exchange with Indy on a previous thread about the discriminatory Swedish law on prostitution, and as my latest reply was several light-years over the character limit, I though I might as well devote a fresh post to it! Indy had said -

"In Scotland both buying and selling sex is illegal as I understand it..."

Not so - in fact, the opposite of that statement is true. All sorts of things associated with prostitution are currently outlawed (kerb-crawling, overt advertising of sexual services, etc.) but the actual buying and selling of sex behind closed doors is perfectly legal. In fact, it's so legal, it's taxed. The Trish Godman proposal to import the Swedish law would change that, criminalising only the buyer, while perversely leaving the seller with no responsibility whatever for what would by then be regarded as an illegitimate transaction, even when that person is acting completely independently.

"In the first place the Belle De Jour type of prostitute (if she really exists)..."

If by "Belle de Jour type of prostitute" you simply mean someone working through free choice and without coercion, yes of course they exist, and in considerable numbers. For example, see this open letter to Holyrood from one such person -

"My name is Laura and I am an independent escort. I am not pimped, coerced or working under duress in any way. I am not labouring under any addiction, nor am I the product of an abusive background. I have been a sex worker for some 16 years and it’s fair to say I love my job.

The first part of Trish Godman’s opening statement makes for interesting reading ;

“People who buy sex do so of their own free will, whereas the majority of prostitutes are unwilling participants in this exchange of cash for sex.”

Of what “majority” does she speak, exactly ? Over the years I have met women working at every level of the sex industry and in fact, it has been my experience that the vast majority of those women are happy in their work. Sure, there are days we dislike, the same as every other job, but the only women I have ever encountered who are truly unhappy are those who are drug addicted, or trapped through fear. This proposed legislative change does not take the above into account in any way, it seeks to prohibit the purchase of sex regardless of any circumstances."

Returning again to Indy's comment -

" not likely to come to the attention of the police in the first place and if she does i.e. if a self-employed woman, not being coerced or constrained into acting as a prostitute, makes her living providing a sexual service for a particular group of clients e.g. disabled men then she could probably get herself classified as a sex therapist of some sort and thus be outside the application of the law."

Because she is presumably working behind closed doors and takes care over how she advertises her services, she already is outside the application of the law, and the introduction of the Swedish model would not change that. The question you instead need to address is why it is just or rational to criminalise her disabled clients (or indeed her other clients), but not her, when she is getting as much out of that consensual transaction as they are. Furthermore, your hint that prostitution might be acceptable as long as only "certain groups" are the purchasers opens up a whole new can of worms, and another area of inequality before the law if we were ever to go down that road.

"For practical purposes the laws on prostitution these days relate primarily to street prostitution and to the provision of prostitutes as part of organised criminal activity."

As I understand it, you're saying that's precisely as it should be. Why, then, do you want to introduce a law that would change that?

"After all it would serve no-one's interests to lock up even more drug addicts in our already overcrowded jails and everyone recognises that."

Would it serve anyone's interests to lock up (or more likely heavily fine) disabled clients of prostitutes? I can't find the link, but I seem to recall reading a study that suggested that as many as a third of the clients of sex workers are "the lonely and the sad", ie. not necessarily disabled, but very far removed from the one-dimensional charaterisation of clients we're supposed to be buying into. Trying to create a legal framework that casts all these people regardless of circumstance and motivation as "exploiters of women", and the people who freely choose to provide them with sex (many of whom are not even women) in exchange for often considerable financial reward as "victims of male violence against women" is plainly nonsensical, and worthy of the logical contortions seen in authoritarian states down the years, where whole swathes of law is/was rooted in dogmatic articles of faith, rather than the "seeking of truth from facts".

For the avoidance of doubt, I'll go back and emphasise the point "freely choose to provide". If the prostitute is not acting freely, of course the law should take punitive action against whoever is responsible for de facto slavery. But that's not what the Swedish approach is about.

"That's why it would be much more effective to focus on arresting and charging the clients."

I've already set out why I don't think that's true, and this article expands on that point much more comprehensively than I can, explaining why the much-trumpeted "success" of the Swedish model is a mirage born out of wishful thinking. But even if, for the sake of argument, your proposition was correct, I would still have considerable difficulty with the idea that "effectiveness" automatically trumps natural justice and equality before the law. After all, a law relating to street violence that solely criminalised males under the age of 25 (and allowed everyone else to act with impunity) might well be reasonably "effective" at tackling the problem, but I trust most people would accept that it would be grossly discriminatory, and contrary to our most fundamental values as a liberal democracy.