Leaders: More must be done to tackle domestic violence

Stephen House, Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland. Picture: TSPL
Stephen House, Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland. Picture: TSPL
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SOMETIMES, to understand something more fully, you have to look at it from another angle entirely.

That is why a comment from Scotland’s most senior policeman, Stephen House, yesterday, at a conference organised by Scottish Women’s Aid, was instructive.

Taking questions, the new chief constable of Scotland’s singlepolice force agreed with Professor Rachel Pain’s opinion thatdomestic abuse could be ­described as “everyday terrorism”.

Mr House said: “I actually don’t believe that the comparisons the professor made between domestic abuse and terrorism are particularly much of a stretch. There’s a huge amount that they have in common and it’s a useful indicator to look at the two kinds of crimes.”

As Prof Pain later explained, both the terrorist and the ­domestic abuser aim to exert ­control through fear, and this is as important an aspect of their malevolence as the physical ­violence they inflict.

Comparisons such as these are a useful way of highlighting – and hopefully accelerating – the sea change in attitudes to domestic violence that has taken place in recent decades.

Where once this was for too many people a taboo subject, gradually campaigns such as “zero tolerance” have taken a stand and challenged violence against spouses and partners and revealed domestic abuse for what it always has been – a crime.

However domestic abuse is difficult to eradicate, having its roots in a range of particularly intractable social ills.

Scotland’s record on alcohol abuse is one specific factor, but the truth is that some domestic abuse is committed stone cold sober and by perpetrators across every class and social ­category.

It is hard to tackle, but tackle it we must. Proposed changes to the criminal justice system in Scotland to make it compatible with European human rights law are already expected to have an effect on rape ­convictions.

Mr House believes the same changes – including a possible end to the need for corroboration – could have a similar impact on prosecutions and convictions in the field of domestic abuse. Moves to roll out best practice across the new single police force – due to come into operation in April – are also encouraging.

Welcome though these ­developments would be, it is impossible to argue against campaigners who say more must be done in the practical business of ­offering women – and it is mostly women, which is not to underplay the seriousness of domestic violence against men – a place of refuge.

There is no doubting the power of the simple reassurance to a woman escaping aviolent relationship that the man in question need never make her life a misery again, and that she has a place of safety she can rely upon.

Clarity at last on independence

FOR many months, this newspaper has been calling for greater clarity from the Scottish National Party in spelling out the process by which it envisages this country moving towards independence in the event of a Yes vote in next year’s referendum. Yesterday, the Scottish Government went a long way towards answering that call.

The paper released, Scotland’s Future: from the Referendum to Independence and a Written Constitution, is possibly the most helpful contribution to the debate since the referendum was ratified by the Edinburgh Agreement. The Scottish Government’s response is timely after the Electoral Commission’s call for clarity on what would happen in the event of a Yes vote.

Of course, whether it has the desired effect of emboldening a hitherto reluctant Scottish electorate to pursue the route it

details is another matter. Recent polls have shown just what a challenge the Yes Scotland campaign faces in the months ahead.

But at least now we have a

better idea of how negotiations would progress – at least as envisaged by the Scottish Government. The proposed postponement of some constitutional issues until after 2016 is a useful idea. But it has to be said that the timescale envisaged by ministers – of being able to declare an independent Scotland in time for the ­Holyrood elections of 2016 – is ­incredibly tight.

Is it really possible to untangle a political union of 300 years in that time? Yesterday’s paper points to some international examples that might suggest so, but the complexities of currency and defence arrangements are but two particular problems that will not be easily or swiftly reconciled. Still, this is a start.