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Please don’t take this as any sort of measure of an average night on the tiles with me and my pals but here’s a question that came up, and led to some heated debate, the last time I was out for a pint: “What’s your favourite parable?”
Being a former alter boy, I had a head start on some of the people around the table in so far as I could at least call to mind a parable or two. My friend and I plumped for the Parable of the Talents but for different reasons. He thought it represented a nifty defence for the casino bankers whose risk embracing speculation brought economies around the world to its knees and some to the verge of collapse. Introducing a slightly more low brow and more pop culture reference, my friend reminded us of a court scene in South Park in which a roughly etched cartoon version of Johnny Cochrane, the American attorney who at that time had gained world wide fame through the nightly television coverage of the OJ Simpson trial, appeared in court to argue ‘the Wookie defence’ (‘it makes no sense!’). My friend said that he had expected the Masters of the Universe to employ a similar tactic when they appeared before the Parliamentary Select Committee and employed the ‘Parable of the Talents defence’.
You possible need several pints to find that funny but it certainly caused my friends and I to chuckle.
I took the Parable of the Talents to have a parallel which was more political and more current. I thought that the disappointment and feeling of abject loss of opportunity felt by the master in the story would be understood by the Scottish electorate and would have particular resonance with the Scottish legal profession.
We are in, what is likely to be, an entirely unique political situation. We have a majority Government at the Scottish Parliament; all of the committees have a party majority; and even the Presiding Officer comes from the party in Government. In short, the legislative possibilities are limitless.
There is a wealth of legislative change that Scots criminal law and Scots civil law requires. The work has been done in relation to many areas, the need clearly identified and the demand for change unanswerable and yet we have now had two legislative programmes since the election which are light, to put it mildly, in legislative proposals and ambition.
The anachronistic legislation covering Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAIs) demands immediate attention; there remains a profound problem with workplace deaths that can only be addressed through robust Corporate Homicide legislation; the Scottish Law Commission have given us a clear way forward in relation to psychiatric injury but their report is sitting on the shelf gathering dust; and the decision of the Inner House of the Court of Session in the Aitchison v Glasgow City Council case highlights that there is real and immediate need to overhaul the Prescription and Limitation legislation. There are only a few examples from my own immediate practice experience which instantly came to mind but there are many more examples that can be given.
The Scottish people handed the Scottish Government an historic majority and trusted that it would be used wisely but we have, thus far, been paid with very little legislative return.
The Labour Party front bench has been asking many questions of the Scottish Government recently on issues relating to their honesty and their competence. They have been entirely right to do so because the questions demand answers but I wonder if the problem with the Scottish Government is more basic and more simple: Is it simply the case that they are so focused on 2014 and the referendum, that their eye is off the ball and their attention is not where it should be, which is to say, on the day to day running of the country?
There has been a lot said about the referendum and there are lots of maxims with which we will all be only too familiar – “Indie Lite”; “Devo Max” etc. I believe that a new term will enter the political lexicon on account of the Government’s approach to legislation, their parliamentary majority notwithstanding. That term is “Government Lite”.
2014 is important, for sure, but it is not an excuse to squander a great opportunity to deliver real legislative change or to give up on the day to day running of the country. My advice to the Government would be that they should get their shovels out now; dig up the talents that they have buried; and invest them in running the country lest they pay the ultimate price – not in 2014 but in 2016 at the Scottish elections.
Image Credit: DearMrLevy.com