Beetles, babies, and bathwater

Last week I was responsible for a massacre. I spotted some small black creatures infesting a new rose bush. Rather than do the intelligent thing and investigate them, I did the stupid thing, decided they weren’t welcome, and sprayed them.

Next evening they were all back again. Note to self: “Buy some stronger spray”.

Then I searched the web for “small black creatures on roses.” I discovered that I had thoughtlessly wiped out a few villages of harmless pollen beetles. Pollen beetles – the name kind of gives it away – are actually quite useful in pollinating flowers.

Thoughtlessness, rushing to judge, unintended consequences, failing to do my research – to all those blunders I plead guilty.

A few thousand dead pollen beetles – probably no-one will (or should) weep. But my “night of the pollen beetles” made me stop and think: how often do we throw the baby out with the bathwater? How much damage is done, while the intention is to do good? How many of us daily commit those sins while believing we are doing something good? I hate to think.

Last week saw a little-reported item of news that seemed to me might be extremely damaging, yet which clearly has the best of intentions. The Justice Committee of the House of Commons published a report on Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) which said that the committee is “unconvinced that the TR model can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service.” “Ever”: that’s quite a long time.

I must declare an interest: 3SC is heavily involved in the TR programme. Part of our salaries depends on it. We have an interest in seeing it survive and work better. Not all the witnesses before the Justice Committee felt the same way – some felt that “returning to public ownership was the only option” according to the report.

Yet before we rush out and buy a killer spray, maybe we should listen to Rory Stewart MP, Minister of State for Justice. He told the Committee: “Some of the problems that we are facing are problems of managing radical change. I can understand why people think that the current system has serious flaws, but I emphasise that there would be considerable costs in trying to reinvent the system yet again.”

TR has been with us since early 2015 – just about three years. I do not think it at all surprising that after just four years the new system has flaws, needs attention. Quite the reverse – it would be miraculous if TR was working properly for all 260,000 people on one form or another of probation. Rather than junking the baby we need to see what can be done better – hasty judgements are too common these days.

John Swinney, Chair