The Scottish Parliament has been making laws for the people of Scotland for two decades now and quite an impressive output of legislation it is too.
Recently, however, I found myself asking the questions: how frequently and to what effect does the Scottish Parliament review its legislative work. I suppose the question that I’m really asking is whether our elected representatives give serious thought to the efficacy of the laws that they have passed in our name?
In political science, the mismatch between legislative intent and the effectiveness of laws or policies is often referred to as the implementation gap i.e. where the political rhetoric and reality fail to meet.
Two stories caught my eye these last 18 months or so. The first involved the repeal of the (much maligned) Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications etc (Scotland) Act 2012. This law was passed with the intention of combating bigotry and sectarianism which is/was often expressed through the medium of football e.g. Glasgow Rangers v Glasgow Celtic; Heart of Midlothian v Hibernian; and Dundee v Dundee United.
The intention behind the legislation may very well have been a noble one, but it proved almost unworkable in practice. In 2013, Sheriff Richard Davidson (sitting at Dundee Sheriff Court) called the legislation “mince” (for our readers outside Scotland, this isn’t a legal term but rather one of derision). Unsurprisingly, the accused, one Dion McLeish was acquitted of all charges. Following Sheriff Davidson’s caustic remark, it really was all the way downhill for the Act. It was only a matter of time before the law was repealed (it was on on 19 April 2018 by a temporary coalition of Conservative, Greens, Labour and Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament). Much to the chagrin of the minority Scottish National Party led Government, the writing really was on the wall for this particular piece of legislation.
The Scottish Nationalists had always been accused of the worst type of virtue signalling by the opposition parties at Holyrood i.e. the practice of making superficial or grand gestures which are totally lacking in substance.
Does Scotland have a problem with bigotry and sectarianism? Almost certainly; but how do you tackle it effectively? That is the $64,000 question.
The second story involved the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010. This Act was introduced to promote greater responsibility for the control of dogs which could pose a danger to the public. Was this piece of legislation working effectively? Unfortunately not concluded the Scottish Parliament’s post legislative committee which stated there was still an “unacceptably high prevalence of dog attacks”.
Again, how do you address the issue effectively and ensure public safety? Good question and one which I’m only too happy to leave the politicians to sort out.
Links to the story about the criticism of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 can be found on the BBC website can be found below:
Copyright Seán J Crossan, 26 December 2019