Regular felonious behaviour is self-evidently uncommon, it is the exception. Our prisons may be bursting with offenders but most people observe the law and would be embarrassed were they to end up with a criminal record.
Yet in recent weeks we have had some highly troubling examples of our elected politicians – our lawmakers – playing fast and loose with the law because it suits them. I say now, if it is not corrected quickly and the transgressors become repeat offenders then we are on the road to anarchy and perdition – irrespective of whichever political party you might support or whatever cause you may advocate.
The behaviour of the former Scottish Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, is becoming a serious cause for concern. When hundreds of people gather and by their concerted action obstruct officers empowered by our courts to execute a warrant, I call that a mob. They do not have to swing punches or throw objects to be threatening, by blocking the right of way of our officers and preventing them in executing their duty those gathered on the streets are, in my humble opinion, using physical force of numbers and with it the implicit threat that trying to clear them so people can go about their business may result in violence, is the work of a mob.
One might hope an elected politician would understand this, and a Justice Secretary all the more so, but clearly in these febrile times – when immediate comment and judgement on social media is preferred over patience and impartiality before the law – it is now too much to ask.
Showing support for this politically incited and inspired mob was bad enough, but let us also not forget the breach of the Covid regulations the vast majority of us are observing. A few weeks ago there was an orderly rally against lockdowns held outside the Scottish Parliament with the co-operation between the organisers, the Holyrood authorities and the police. It is not impossible to protest – but what would now happen if, say, during the forthcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow an extinction rebellion mob gathers around politicians to make their movement impossible? Should the new Scottish Justice Secretary, Keith Brown, support them too because he is in sympathy with their aims?
The potential for double standards, inconsistency and therefore injustice at the hands of the Justice Ministry that is meant to protect is already becoming real. The celebrations of Rangers supporters and the pro-Palestinian rally taking place contrary to the law directly after the Pollokshields’ mob. One cannot pick and choose which were justified and which were criminal.
The public might have hoped our First Minister would be the embodiment of rectitude and observance of the law but not only did she share her (then) Justice Minister’s behaviour she echoed it with her own tweets and, rather than make an example of him, promoted him to become Health Secretary.
Humza Yousaf’s subsequent utterance in an interview that he is quite prepared to try and delegitimize UK law demonstrates conclusively he has learnt nothing from his juvenile behaviour.
The effrontery our politicians are willing to show for the laws that they expect us to observe is not a party political issue. It goes beyond the SNP Government in Scotland for it is also prevalent with the Conservative Government too.
Last week there was a judicial review of the Northern Ireland Protocol organised by my good friend Ben Habib, in an attempt to show it has been introduced in direct contradiction to the Belfast Agreement and the Act of Union itself. The former states that Northern Ireland people should have the opportunity to give consent for changes to their constitutional relationship with the UK while Article 6 of the Act gives all citizens equal treatment in trade and other matters before the law.
Without any shame the defence offered by the Government in court was that Article 6 of the Act of Union had not been breached – because it had already impliedly been repealed by the passing of the Withdrawal Agreement. Thus, without any consultation and without any expression at the time that this was happening, a law that formed one of the many legal bricks that builds our constitution was apparently destroyed. Readers may recall the Trade and Co-operation Agreement that delivered the detail of the protocol was rushed through parliament without proper scrutiny before Christmas.
The high-handed disregard for the constitutional relationships between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom by what is meant to be a unionist party is bad enough but we in Scotland should also observe just how willing this Government has been to dismiss an article of the Act of Union without due process. What does this mean for Scotland’s own relationship with those same politicians such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove?
Just at the moment Humza Yousaf has presented the idea laws he does not like can be delegitimized, so Boris Johnson’s legal representative argues for an undemocratic precedent that disposes of part of the Act of Union.
Does that mean separatist politicians can now ignore the Act of Union – a law they certainly don’t like? The protocol must be repudiated by the UK Government and the Articles of the Union given precedence – or lawlessness will be made commonplace across the whole UK.
Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org and served in the Scottish and European Parliaments for the Conservative and Brexit Parties respectively.