Scotland’s justice institutions ‘not fit for purpose’, says veteran journalist in first Holyrood speech – The Scotsman

Russell Findlay, who was elected to Holyrood via the Scottish Conservative list at last month’s election, criticised the “bad faith, back covering and secrecy” within Scotland’s justice institutions.

The West Scotland MSP has changed careers after 27 years as an investigative journalist, including stints at STV, the Scottish Sun and Sunday Mail.

Russell Findlay MSP Conservative has delivered his maiden speech in Holyrood.

Mr Findlay spent much of his career investigating organised crime. In 2015, he was the victim of an acid attack from a hitman hired to maim him.

It was this incident, he told the Scottish Parliament chamber, that inspired him to get involved in politics and move away from journalism.

In his maiden speech, closing for the Scottish Conservatives in a justice debate, Mr Findlay said that injustice was “rife” in Scotland, with legal regulation such as police complaints, judicial complaints, and parole boards “not fit for purpose”.

He said: “Injustice is rife in modern Scotland. It has a corrosive impact. Its effects are profound, often consuming lives or cutting them short.

“While injustices will always occur, they are compounded when there is no redress and no accountability.

“Too often, public bodies use unlimited funds to crush legitimate complaints, wage war on whistleblowers and use non-disclosure agreements to hide the ugly truth from the paying public.

“Bad faith, back covering and secrecy contaminate too many of our institutions.”

Mr Findlay also attacked the SNP and nationalism, stating that Holyrood “has the power” to fix the issues facing Scottish justice.

He said: “Elsewhere in our United Kingdom, many of these very same serious problems have been identified and reformed – to the benefit of the public.

“One of the most nauseating aspects of nationalism is the myth of self-righteous superiority and exceptionalism.

“The injustices I am speaking about are entirely made in Scotland. This Parliament has the power to fix them.

“But the SNP prefer to dupe our citizens with a relentless diet of manufactured grievance and dishonestly blaming all our ills on Westminster. Scotland deserves so much better.”

He added: “My personal experience of the criminal justice system confirmed everything I had seen as a journalist. It made me angry.

“It made me realise that unless people stand up and be counted, nothing will change.”

Mr Findlay’s maiden speech was delivered as Scotland’s new justice secretary Keith Brown said there was a “very strong case” for abolishing the nation’s controversial not proven verdict.

Mr Brown said there were “complex issues” involving the verdict – which is not used in other parts of the UK – and these needed to be carefully considered.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has previously said it is time to look at whether Scotland retains not proven, as part of efforts to tackle the “shamefully low” conviction rates for rape and sexual assault.

The SNP manifesto for May’s Holyrood election committed the party to consulting on its abolition.

Mr Brown said it was “fairly plain that amongst the various parties in this chamber there are different views” on the issue of not proven.

He said it was right that a proper consultation was carried out, adding there would be “implications for other parts of the justice system” if the verdict was scrapped.

Edinburgh fringe performers feel ‘jilted’ as Covid closes venues again – The Guardian

Audiences and performers from around the world will once again have no anarchic festival home in the Scottish capital to head for this August. The vast Edinburgh festival fringe – the largest annual concentration of live comedy, drama, cabaret, music and dance – is to be restricted to just a few events and an array of online offerings in 2021.

“I feel a little like a jilted lover: many of us do,” Guy Masterson – a fringe stalwart and producer and director of some of its most successful plays for more than two decades – told the Observer. “There has been so much dithering from the city council and the Scottish government and no real recognition of what the fringe means to the Edinburgh economy.”

Masterson, who has had a run of hits including his acclaimed 2003 revival of Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men, in which he cast well-known comedians, was due to bring a major new show starring Marcus Brigstocke and others to the fringe.

“There seems to be no respect for the people who make the fringe happen each year. Instead there is disdain,” said Masterson. “I do understand why some residents may resent everyone flooding in each year, but it creates enormous income. For some reason there has been a focus from the authorities on supporting the international arts festival, and that’s fine, but you only have to look at the bottom line to see the difference compared to the fringe.”

Last year, all the city’s summer festivals were cancelled. This year, although the prestigious international festival will go ahead with a reduced programme chiefly in large open-air auditoriums, the official festival fringe, with its myriad of amateur and independent professional performers, has had to fend for itself in an environment where small pop-up venues are understandably considered a potential health hazard.

“It has been an awful for me as a producer. You work on your wits anyway, but now the whole marketplace has been removed,” said Masterson, who is instead staging Scaramouche Jones at London’s Wilton’s Music Hall. “2020 would have been my 27th year at Edinburgh and although the fringe may resurrect next year, will the artists and crew have survived, or just taken on other jobs and commitments?”

The Festival Fringe Society, which coordinates the thousands of events that surround the international, commissioned, festival, has been open for registration since early last month and will not reveal how many shows have yet signed up, despite a 25% cut in fees. Tickets will go on sale from 1 July, when the situation may have become clearer.

Some live performances, said Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the fringe society, would take place from 6 August. A “fringe player” has been created to allow remote audiences to watch productions.

“Our primary concern is this assumption we can all trade our way to recovery, when we haven’t been able to trade since August 2019 and the current 2-metre distancing means there is no financially viable way to deliver shows this year,” she said. “This is precisely the time to help this vital community of creatives get back on their feet.”

McCarthy added that fringe producers and venues were “in active conversations with Edinburgh council and the Scottish government, and are working relentlessly to realise the extent of what’s both safe and possible.”

Only two years ago there were 3,841 shows on the fringe at 323 venues, with 3,012,490 tickets sold to customers from 63 countries.

Mel Brown, who runs the Impressive publicity agency and the Funny Women comedy awards, has worked at the fringe every year since 1999. “Most promoters and agents are not sending their acts up as they simply would not get the worth out of it,” she said this weekend. “Performing in Edinburgh is very expensive, and with half-capacity venues and therefore half the ticket sales, and no real media to support it and no awards, there is simply no point.”

The absence of the fringe had “made a massive dent” in the comedy community, Brown said: “Newcomers who wanted to debut have had to wait – putting their live careers on hold, unable to even develop their material in clubs.”

Mural of Nicola Sturgeon set to free man shackled to Covid appears in Edinburgh – The Sun

A GRAFFITI artist dubbed ‘the Scottish Banksy’ has depicted Nicola Sturgeon set to free Scotland from the shackles of coronavirus.

The mural is the latest in a string of Covid pieces from The Rebel Bear, and can be seen close to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

The mysterious artist works in the wee hours then shares his paintings on Instagram, giving punters the option to buy them.

During lockdown, The Rebel Bear has been extremely busy, and has created a series of Covid-inspired murals, mostly in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Some of his most popular pieces have been a couple pulling down their masks to share a kiss, and an NHS worker in PPE making a loveheart symbol with her hands.

Another of his early works showed a man in black and white being shackled by a huge green virus particle, which appeared on Bath Street in Glasgow city centre last April.

And The Rebel Bear has revisited that piece for his latest mural, but put a more positive spin on it.

Standing beside the restrained man is Ms Sturgeon, who is holding a pair of boltcutters.

And with a ‘freedom’ hashtag including on the artist’s Instagram post, he appears to be implying the pensive-looking First Minister is ready to cut the chain and set the Scottish people free.

And with the Canongate mural being within a stone’s throw of the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon may even see the artwork during her time at Holyrood.

The Rebel Bear shared the photos on Instagram, saying: “The previous lockdown man with the wee addition of Nicola. Located at 80 Canongate right next to the Scottish Parliament.”

Since being posted last night, the pics have racked up almost 2,000 likes and attracted dozens of comments.

And Scots artist created a mural close to Old Trafford which showed Rashford, surrounded by a number of school children holding empty plates, booting down the door of 10 Downing Street.

And he has previously decorated dozens of walls with installations and stencilled images including Donald Trump and Boris Johnson as babies.

NATO Secretary General praises UK role in alliance – UK Defence Journal

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg hailed the UK as a key ally in talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday, focusing on preparations for the NATO Summit on the 14th of June.

The Secretary General said:

“It’s great to be back in London and thank you so much for your strong personal leadership on strengthening our transatlantic bond. The bond between Europe and North America. And the United Kingdom is really a staunch and highly valued NATO Ally. You invest a lot in our common security. And I had the pleasure of visiting the HMS Queen Elizabeth off the coast of Portugal last week and that is really an impressive aircraft carrier, demonstrating the commitment of the United Kingdom to our common security, to our collective defence.

And we need that commitment because we live in a more unpredictable world, with more global competition and therefore we need to strengthen our Alliance and that is exactly what we are going to do when I’m looking forward to welcoming you and all the other NATO Leaders to our Summit in Brussels in June in two weeks time where we will demonstrate our strength, bold and forward looking agenda, and demonstrate our commitment to standing together. The transatlantic bond, not only in words, but also in deeds. So once again, thank you much.”

He also thanked the UK for showing leadership on defence investment.

Looking towards the NATO Summit, Mr Stoltenberg stressed that the gathering of Allied leaders will demonstrate the Alliance’s strength and transatlantic unity at a time of increased global competition.