WEE dafty Douglas Ross has been left with egg on his face after his bosses in Westminster announced criminal justice plans which are virtually the same as plans by the Scottish Government.

Plans which Ross and his colleagues have spent the last few weeks denouncing in apocalyptic and hysterical terms.

In the King's Speech on Tuesday, the Conservative Government revealed its intention to introduce legislation which would ensure that those convicted of criminal offences resulting in a prison sentence of less than one year would be punished with community service rather than spending time behind bars.

The measure is being introduced in part to tackle overcrowding in prisons and also because of mounting evidence that short prison sentences do little to discourage re-offending. Indeed, they may exacerbate it as they can result in offenders losing their jobs and homes.

Studies have shown that approximately two-thirds of those prisoners who are released after serving a sentence of less than 12 months go on to reoffend within a year.

It is argued that this is because short sentences provide little opportunity to rehabilitate an offender and instead focus on a brief punishment, while causing huge disruption to the family networks, housing stability, and employment which can assist in preventing repeat offending.

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Former prisons minister and Conservative leadership candidate Rory Stewart commented that short prison sentences were "long enough to damage you but not long enough to heal you."

During his tenure as Justice Secretary, Tory MP David Gauke advocated for the criminal justice system to move away from using short prison sentences.

Gauke referred to research suggesting that the replacement of certain short prison sentences with community orders could lead to 32,000 fewer proven reoffences per year.

He argued, amongst other things, that short prison sentences did not offer enough time to address problems such as drug misuse.

In 2019, the SNP government in Scotland introduced sentencing guidelines directing judges to sentence offenders they would otherwise jail for less than 12 months to serve their sentences in the community.

The Scottish Tories reacted with fury to the plan, denouncing it as the Scottish Government "taking a risk with public safety".

In fact, the vast majority of those sentenced to short terms in prison have been convicted of non-violent offences in which drug or alcohol abuse often plays a role.

The National: Will Russell Findlay become a cheerleader of the UK's weak justice agenda?Will Russell Findlay become a cheerleader of the UK's weak justice agenda?

A short prison sentence in a prison estate in which drug use is rife does nothing to tackle the underlying issues which led to the original offence.

On the very same day that the Conservative government at Westminster was announcing its plan to replace short prison sentences with community service, Scottish Tory justice spokesperson Russell Findlay (above) was quoted in the Express, the favourite publication of the hang 'em flog 'em brigade, bewailing the falling numbers of people in Scotland being sent to prison saying: "These figures yet again confirm that victims of serious crimes are being failed by the SNP's weak justice agenda which puts the interests of criminals first."

It is facile and misleading to assume that there is a simple causal link between crime rates and incarceration rates.

The USA has a notoriously punitive justice system in which lengthy prison sentences for relatively minor offences are commonplace.

As a result of this presumption of prison, the USA has the sixth highest incarceration rate in the world, at 531 people per 100,000. In Scotland the incarceration rate was 128 per 100,000 in 2020.

However despite this policy of locking up criminals and throwing away the key, the USA is a far more dangerous society than Scotland.

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To look at just the most serious of violent offences, homicide, Scotland had a homicide rate of 1 per 100,000 in 2021/22.

The equivalent figure for the USA was 6.5 per 100,000.

Of course, gun violence is far more prevalent in the USA due to that country's fetishisation of guns, but knife crime is also higher in the USA. Figures show 4.96 homicides "due to knives or cutting instruments" in America for every million of the population in 2016, in the UK the equivalent figure was 3.26.

Throughout the period when the Scottish Government's policy of avoiding short prison sentence has been in effect, violent crime in Scotland has continued to fall.

In 2022/23 there were 68,870 non-sexual violent crimes recorded by the police in Scotland. The number of violent crimes in Scotland has generally fallen from a peak of 92,266 in 2002/03, to a low of 61,913 in 2020/21.

Now that the Westminster Tories have adopted very similar policies to Scotland, the Scottish Tories should be shamefacedly backtracking on their previous hysteria, but then if they were capable of feeling shame they wouldn't be Tories.

More trouble for Keir Starmer over stance on Gaza

The divisions in the Labour party continue to widen over Keir Starmer's refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza even as the reported death toll surpasses 10,500.

Amidst reports of widespread disquiet among Labour party members and MPs over Starmer's uncompromisingly pro-Israel stance, the first Labour front bencher has resigned over the issue. Imran Hussain, MP for Bradford East, said he was quitting his role as shadow minister for the new deal for working people in order to break with Starmer's line and to advocate strongly for a ceasefire.

In a resignation letter to Starmer Hussain said: "It has become clear that my view on the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza differs substantially from the position you have adopted."

A classic Tory deflection

In a classic example of the Tory penchant for yelling "Look over there!" when confronted with evidence of Conservative misdeeds, Health Secretary Steve Barclay attempted to deflect from Boris Johnson's horrific suggestion that he would rather "let the bodies pile high" than impose another lockdown by demanding that attention should focus on Scotland instead.

Giving evidence to the UK Covid Inquiry, former chief of staff and long-term Johnson ally Lord Udny-Lister confirmed that he had heard Johnson make the remark.

Has Barclay ever looked at the Scottish media? It is constantly desperate to find something to attack the Scottish Government about.

But even so, not even the most rabid critic of Nicola Sturgeon has ever suggested she said anything as crass as Johnson's 'Let the bodies pile high' remark.