Scotland decides: Could the ‘Yes’ vote deliver a different kind of Scottish society?

Open University academic and Policy Press author Gerry Mooney has written extensively on the subjects of Scottish social policy and devolution. On the eve of the referendum to decide whether Scotland should become fully independent from the UK Mooney shares his views on how a ‘Yes’ majority return on Thursday could lay the foundation for a more socially just Scottish society. Interview and report by Rebecca Megson.

Gerry Mooney feels whatever happens at the referendum, the debate has changed the political landscape of Scotland

Gerry Mooney feels whatever happens at the referendum, the debate has changed everything for Scotland

Gerry Mooney is a ‘Yes’ man. Unapologetically so, in fact.

What’s more, he is bursting with excitement about the possibility of Scotland returning a majority ‘Yes’ vote for independence tomorrow. He believes that this will be the first step on the long road to developing a different kind of society from the rest of the UK, a society that is centred on equality and fairness.

But Mooney is quick to point out a misunderstanding about the ‘Yes’ vote, one that he suggests is being deliberately made by the Unionist politicians – that is those on the ‘No’ side of the debate.

“A ‘Yes’ vote has been portrayed as a vote for the SNP, for Alex Salmond and for Scottish nationalism”, says Mooney.

“In reality, the vast majority of people voting ‘Yes’ wouldn’t actually go on to vote SNP and are not nationalists. What a future independent Scottish Parliament would look like, we simply don’t know yet. That will have to be decided further down the line, through Scottish general elections.”

Misunderstanding

This isn’t the only misunderstanding about the referendum debate south of the border, according to Mooney. Whilst the UK national news focuses on what he calls ‘blazing representations of Scottish nationalism’ – men and women in kilts and tartans, calling upon the spirit of Braveheart – his experience is that this has been very much on the margins of the debate in Scotland.

“On the ‘Yes’ side there is no need to assert Scottishness, it is taken for granted, whilst for the ‘No’ camp they have to almost ‘overdo it’ in stressing their Scottishness,” says Mooney

“It is the ‘No’ campaign who have actually had to do a lot more because of the independence campaign as far as nationalism is concerned. They’ve had to defend their Scottishness, to develop and portray a sense of Britishness and a British nationalism that includes Scottishness.”

“Many people are unhappy with the policy decisions being made by the UK coalition government in London”

The real debates in Scotland over the past couple of years leading up to the referendum have centred on future Scottish public services and social policy, rather than rampant nationalism. Mooney says:

“Many people are unhappy with the policy decisions being made by the UK coalition government in London. There is a lot of opposition to austerity, to the privatisation of schools and the privatisation of the NHS. These policies are out of tune with what many in Scotland would like to see.”

Irrespective of the outcome tomorrow, Mooney believes the political and policy landscape will never be the same again in Scotland. Even if the ‘No’ campaign wins, if the ‘Yes’ campaign gets 48% of the vote, as some polls are predicting, that isn’t a voice that is going to disappear. The consequences of a ‘No’ vote are, according to Mooney, uncertain.

Mooney’s enthusiasm for Scotland’s independent future is infectious. He feels that the spirit of devolution will be equally as infectious for the rest of the country, predicting calls for greater devolution in Wales and the instigation of an Assembly in the North of England if a ‘Yes’ vote is returned.

Westminster Parliament feels 'remote' to many in Scotland - Photo Wikipedia

Westminster Parliament feels ‘remote’ to many in Scotland – Photo Wikipedia

“The rise in the dominance of London and the south of England in the last 10 years has really shifted the view on devolution. London seems as remote and alien to people in the North of England as it does to people in Scotland.”

Until recently, the ‘No’ campaign and the main political parties at Westminster have largely ignored the possibility of Scotland returning a ‘Yes’ vote. Mooney says:

“It is astonishing to see that the UK government has suddenly woken up to the fact that this referendum is happening. In the last two weeks, as the polls have shown that the ‘Yes’ vote was consolidating and catching up with the ‘No’ campaign, the ‘danger’ button has been pressed down in London.”

Mooney is amused that, as he sees it, the panic in Westminster has led to Scotland making the lead item in the news every day. Renewed focus on the country is, he believes, largely being seen as too little, too late.

“It looks extremely desperate. Until these past two weeks the ‘No’ campaign has been completely and utterly negative, portraying Scotland in crisis if it votes for independence. Now, all of a sudden there are promises of more powers and discussion of what being part of the UK can do for Scotland.”

There have been a lot of promises made by London if Scotland votes ‘No’ but Mooney feels that there’s very little sense of what the promises are likely to amount to in the long run, or if Westminster politicians can be trusted.

He says: “We don’t know what a future Scotland will look like – we can’t guarantee it will be the future we want and hope for but we will have more power to create that society if we’re independent.”

“However, we can be certain, if it’s a ‘No’ vote there will be more austerity, more cuts, more poverty and rising inequality.”

Mooney has no illusions that the change will happen overnight. However he is confident that the creation of a new Scotland that is focused upon the pursuit of equality can only be realised if Scotland delivers a ‘Yes’ majority tomorrow.

More from Gerry Mooney
Social justice and social policy in Scotland [FC]Read Social justice and social policy in Scotland – available at the special discounted price of £15.00 (RRP £28.99) from the Policy Press website this month.

Articles by Gerry Mooney
OpenLearn articles can be found here

The Conversation articles can be found here, including the recent: ‘Campaigns fight to define what Scottish Social Justice means’ 

On Discover Society: ‘Scotland: State and devolution…but not revolution…as yet?’

In the Scottish Left Review on ‘Poverty and Independence’

Gerry’s other publications can be viewed at his OU webpage

What do students really want from a textbook?

It’s that time of year again, the leaves are turning glorious russet colours, the excitement of the summer festivals is all but behind us and we’re all getting ready to knuckle down to another academic year.

Figuring out what to spend the student loan on in terms of books to help with studying is always a bit of a challenge. Academic books are often, by their very nature, at the bigger end of the budget and it can be hard at the beginning of a course to know if that essential reading ‘set text’ is really going to give you everything you need for the coming year.

We had a chat to some students to find out what Policy Press books they found most helpful during their studies…

Melissa Emmerson USE THIS ONEMelissa Emmerson used Social work and lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people by Julie Fish when studying for her BA (Hons) in Social Work at the University of Central Lancashire. She says:

“I found the case studies in Social work and lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people enabled clarification and contextualisation of the subject.

I look for clear presentation of chapters with titles, case studies and study points/activities. Additionally I look for a book with a reasonable font size and style; if it is too small I generally won’t use it due to the amount of research and the strain on my eyes. Line spacing is important so I can use sentence markers.”

Rebecca Regler photoRebecca Regler, also studying BA (Hons) in Social Work, at Ruskin College, used Child protection: Managing conflict, hostility and aggression by Siobhan Laird. She says:

“I found the psycho-social theories of conflict and aggression very helpful when critically analysing behaviour within both my practice as a student on placements and also within my essays.

The book explored conflict within child protection practice in a multi-dimensional way including the implicit and explicit nature of power dynamics within multi-agency working. The summaries at the end of each chapter entitled ‘points for practice’ were useful as they concluded the main points in a clear and concise way. It used complex ideas but they were presented in a way which was accessible and understandable.”

I find that case studies are beneficial in textbooks as they provide practical examples of how theories can be applied to practice. The case studies which I find the most useful are those in which are relevant to the reality of social work practice in its current challenging context as opposed to an idealistic or outdated perspective.”

Mark Dobson USE THIS ONEMark Dobson, currently a postgraduate research student at the University of Reading, used The future of development by Josef Esteva, Salvatore Babones and Philipp Babcicky on the Development Geographies: Asian and African Realities module at Kingston University London. He says:

“I appreciated the quality of empirical and factual evidence (e.g. statistics from a wide variety of sources such as international organisations such as WDI, UN, FAO, UNDP, WHO etc.) used to develop the core argument that ‘Development’ as it has been practiced over the last 60 years is not what it seems at face value and has actually caused more damage than good.

I found particularly useful the mix between outlining the history of (under)development in a critical fashion with the introduction of key theorists such as Ivan Illich and concepts such as ‘Buen Vivir’ (“the state of living well”). The book is excellent in debunking the way that development is measured using GDP and highlights the fallacy of conflating economic growth along Western lines (through neoliberalism and free markets) with development.

The book explains that no current measure of development is fully fit for purpose because they lack sensitivity to, for example, social inequality that remains hidden behind the statistics. The authors scrutinise the development statistics by introducing a change in perspective and argue for a radical abandonment of development and move towards a grassroots reclamation of the collective commons.

Generally, I like textbooks that make a specific argument and provide a new insight into a concept (like Development) because they strike me as an original contribution and provide arguments that I have not come across in other academic work on the subject.”

Alexandra Chapman photo USE THIS ONEAlexandra Chapman, has just graduated from the University of Ulster, and used Paul Spicker’s Social policy: Theory and practice (3rd edition) for most of the modules on a Social Policy undergraduate course. She says:

“I was able to use Spicker’s book for various modules, which emphasises its overall importance and contribution to social policy as a whole and to the undertaking of this specific degree.

Part one, ‘Social policy and society’ reviews welfare inequalities and responses and provides a rounded and readable study of social issues which helped particularly in the first year of my degree.

Spicker also includes a well detailed glossary which made finding specific terms/topics convenient. Reviewing case studies and questions for discussion were also very beneficial, as it broke down certain topics making them easier to understand.”

For more info on Policy Press textbooks please take a look at the section on our website here. Inspection copies are also available for lecturers leading a relevant course.

Report by Jessica Miles and Rebecca Megson

Personal brand ‘essential’ to gangland survival

Academic and Policy Press author Simon Harding’s award winning book The Street Casino is based on findings from his extensive ethnographic study of local residents, professionals and gang members in south London.

Harding’s research provides a fresh perspective and new insights on the gang world. He believes more time should be spent understanding, rather than condemning, the street gang system if we are serious about helping the young people trapped in it. Interview and report by Rebecca Megson.

 

SimonHarding2NEW FINDINGS show that street gang leaders actively work to build a ‘brand’ for themselves as an essential part of gang culture.

Author and senior criminology lecturer Dr Simon Harding has been researching street gangs for some years. He has found that on the street developing a person’s brand is as essential as it is in mainstream consumerist society.

Harding explains that an individual’s brand is effectively ‘capital’ on the street; capital that can be traded, exchanged, increased and reduced. Brand protection is one reason why street violence erupts and escalates so rapidly.

Harding says: “If I ‘dis’ you, I take some of your ‘street capital’. You have to act pretty quickly in order to regain it. You might do that by knifing me, in which case you have now regained and multiplied your street capital.”

It doesn’t end there, though. “If the person is knifed in front of other people the value of that action is perceived to have increased. The wider group of people then also knife the person as their way of getting a piece of the capital.”

‘Creativity and intelligence’

Harding’s ethnographic study has focused specifically on a deprived area of Lambeth, South London, SW9. He interviewed people from the area, including young people involved in street gangs.

He says: “What I found was an enormous amount of creativity and intelligence – these young people just want to get on with their lives. They are in gangs but they view it as something they have to get involved in even though they don’t really want to be. We owe the young people involved a moral and social responsibility to understand their world.”

Harding is very clear on one point that he feels needs to be addressed first and foremost: the wellspring of gangs is poverty.

“People enter gangs because there is no plausible alternative available to them. The old ways of moving from adolescence into adulthood have evaporated.”

“the gang has a strong gravitational pull”

There are few opportunities for the young people Harding talked to – something which he says is made worse in a multiply deprived area that has been effectively ‘written off’ by both local and national government.

As local services retreat, youth facilities and clubs close. If jobs exist they are sub-minimum wage and dead-end. Harding says: “These people are constantly battling the poverty trap, the gang has a strong gravitational pull.”

At this point, literally the only ‘game in town’ is the gang.

Harding says: “This is where my metaphor of the ‘Street Casino’ comes in – life is a casino for these people. They think they are going to win and win big, but the reality is very different.”

As with a real casino, there are many diversions along the way to keep people playing. They win a little, get some girls, have some entertainment.

Harding found that young people believe in the ‘game’ as their way out. They get addicted, the game becomes compulsive and people get stuck in this world. “The gang becomes the only game in town – but more than that, it becomes the only game they know how to play.”

In light of his findings Harding believes that young people need better support from local services, who in turn should work more effectively with a deeper understanding of the gang domain to provide a safer, alternative future to the Street Casino.

Copies of The Street Casino are available to purchase, with a special discount from the Policy Press website.
The Street Casino has just been awarded The Frederick Milton Thrasher award for Superior Gang Research. The award was established by the journal of Gang Research in 1992 to honour and recognise outstanding scholarship, leadership and service contributions by individuals and programs in dealing with public safety issues like that posed by gangs.

That difficult second research methods book

In this week’s ‘A year in the life of an academic writer’ series,  Policy Press author and independent researcher Helen Kara discusses that difficult ‘second album’ experience in academic writing.

Helen Kara There is a myth around that the second book you write, in any genre, is always harder than the first.  My novelist friends subscribe to this, and I’ve heard it from musicians (about second albums) too.  With this book, I have found it to be true in one sense, and not in another.

Rock star or researcher, that difficult ‘second’ album/book myth persists

My last book, which was my first research methods book, essentially involved writing down what I knew about research methods, working out where the gaps in my knowledge were, and filling them.  As I had learned quite a bit over 10 years of professional experience and two postgraduate research degrees, the gaps weren’t huge.

This book is different: while I knew a fair bit about creative research methods when I started, there were a few gaps in my knowledge.  Hence all the reading I talked about last week.  Essentially, I have been immersing myself  in the subject, and while that’s fascinating, the quantity of literature combined with the deadline pressure means it has also been really difficult.

The writing itself, though, doesn’t seem any harder this time around.  Which doesn’t mean it’s easy.  There’s so much to think about, from word choice to overall structure.  But I’ve written enough, now, to know how to tackle a project.

Finding voice

With the first draft, it’s just a case of getting words on the page, and then knocking them into some kind of approximately book-shaped shape.  Then there’s a lull in which to work out what to do with the second draft.  I knew straight away there were two things that needed attention.  One is the book’s ‘voice’.  This needs to be consistent and have the right tone – and, in the first draft, it wasn’t and didn’t.

Readers of my first book have commented favourably on its voice, which they tend to describe as friendly and helpful.  That’s great, but it’s not the voice I need for the next book.  A few days after I stopped working on the first draft, I realised which ‘voice’ I needed: an enthusiast’s voice.  Not an annoying bouncy Tigger-ish one, but I do love this subject, and it would be a good idea to let that shine through the text.

“the feedback from my anonymous typescript reviewers was a real blessing”

The other thing I needed to attend to was the balance, in some parts of the book, between examples (too many) and surrounding text (not enough).  This can happen when there’s so much reading and not quite enough thinking time.  It’s the writer’s equivalent of too much data and not enough analysis.  So I’m pondering those passages, and working out what it is the examples and I are actually trying to say.

Given that my real challenge this time round was that I didn’t have the same depth of knowledge of the subject as my first book,  the feedback from my anonymous typescript reviewers was a real blessing.

researcher reading

Filling reading gaps identified by reviewers

They identified a few gaps in my reading and I was really grateful for this, as I’d much rather know about gaps now, and fill them, than find out after publication.  Hence the 50-odd papers and 20-odd books I need to deal with.

Additionally, one reviewer spotted that the dissemination chapter was shorter and weaker than the others (I’d been worrying about that), and helpfully suggested ways to lengthen and strengthen it.  The other reviewer picked up a glaring omission in chapter 3, and I’d also picked up another in chapter 6.  So I decided that as well as rectifying those omissions, I needed to check the structure of each chapter for more omissions, and fix any I may find.  One of the reviewers also suggested that I could consider developing the conclusions to each chapter, so I’ll give that some thought.

That’s a perfectly manageable to-do list.  I think I’ve been very lucky with my reviewers this time.  However, that’s not always the case.  Next week I’ll write about dealing with reviewers’ comments: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  If you have any stories to share on this topic, please leave them in the comments box below.

 

More blog shaped words from Helen can be found here:

Three compromises you have to make when writing a book

How much pre-writing research do you have to do?

Where does a book begin?

What, another blog on academic writing?!!!

A year in the life of an academic writer: About Helen Kara

And some books by the same author:

Research and evaluation for busy practitioners

Policy Press bytes

Three compromises you have to make when writing a book

As part of our special ‘A year in the life of an academic writer’ series,  Policy Press author and independent researcher Helen Kara sheds light on some of the compromises required when writing an academic book.

Helen KaraSo, when you write a book, here’s what you do. You read everything that has already been written in the relevant field(s), carefully and thoughtfully. Then you write a considered appraisal of what you’ve learned, giving your own unique take on the subject, starting on page 1 and finishing at the end.

Right?

Wrong.

The process of writing academic books is full of compromises. Here are some of mine.

1) Not being able to include everything
Regular readers will know that my next book is called Creative Research Methods for the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide, and is scheduled for publication next April. I had terrific input on the first draft typescript from two anonymous reviewers, each of whom did a great job of balancing praise with constructive criticism.

They both suggested several scholars to whose work, they thought, I should pay more attention. Also, since I finished the first draft of the book back in April, I’ve found some other scholars whose work I’d like to include – not to mention a whole academic journal, very relevant, which I’d managed to miss the first time around. (No, I’m not giving the link – they might be looking!)

I knew there were a lot of examples of creative research work out there, but I had no idea quite how many. It’s an enormous number, with more articles and books being published every week.

HK books for 2908 postTop Tip: As I was reading for the first draft, I made a literature grid in Excel to keep track of all the articles and books I found. The grid currently has around 500 articles (of which around 320 made it into the first draft) and around 100 books or book chapters, which are all in the first draft. I now have another 50 articles and 20 books/chapters to read for the second draft.

That still won’t be anywhere near everything there is – there’s my first compromise – but I feel fairly sure I’ve included the main people in the relevant fields.

2) Only reading relevant sections
Luckily, I like reading. Although with that amount of material to get through, I’ve had to take a strategic approach.

As an academic writer, I have ethical responsibilities to the scholars whose work I read: I should read carefully and thoughtfully, aiming to reach a full understanding of the writer’s meaning and purpose, so that I can cite their work accurately and effectively. But I also have deadlines, which brought on my second compromise.

I went looking in articles and chapters for the explanation of the research method(s) used. I didn’t care how thrilling the literature review was, or how fascinating the findings. I only wanted to know how the research had been done. Then I read that section carefully and thoughtfully etc. But I couldn’t read the whole of every article and chapter; there wasn’t time.

Confession time: There were a few which were simply too enthralling to resist, like the article about arts-based research in rural Cambodia to establish the views of children about their prosthetic legs, and the article about research into intuition and personal creativity whose participants were all chefs with Michelin stars. But, luckily for my deadlines, these were in the minority.

3) Breadth over depth
One of the trade-offs every academic writer has to make is: breadth, or depth? It’s not possible to do both unless you write a massive book – and even then I’m not sure you can. So my third compromise was to aim for breadth.

I’m aware that this carries the risk of being too shallow – but depth carries the risk of being too narrow; it’s always a tricky balance. I chose breadth with the aim of giving a solid overview of creative research methods in practice, and will also signpost further resources so if a reader wants to delve more deeply into one aspect or another, they will be able to. For this topic, to me, that seems the best approach.

What, you may ask, will I do when I’ve finished all this reading? That would be the actual writing – and I’ll tell you about this stage of my writing process next week.

More blog shaped words from Helen can be found here:

How much pre-writing research do you have to do?

Where does a book begin?

What, another blog on academic writing?!!!

A year in the life of an academic writer: About Helen Kara

And some books by the same author:

Research and evaluation for busy practitioners

Policy Press bytes

How much pre-writing research do you have to do?

As part of our special ‘A year in the life of an academic writer’ series,  Policy Press author and independent researcher Helen Kara shares her top tips on the research you need to do before you even begin penning the great work….

Helen KaraLet’s say you’ve had a terrific idea for a book that is making your brain fizz with delight. Should you run to the computer and start writing immediately, the sooner to light up the world with your genius? Nope. You need to check a few things before you reach that point.

First stop: Amazon. I know it’s the evil empire, but it’s still very useful for doing research, and they don’t make any profit from that. Suppose you decided my throw-away line about Mongolian puddings actually was a genius idea, because you lived for several years in Mongolia and you think other countries would benefit from learning about their impressive range of delicious desserts. So search Amazon (not just .uk but also .com) for ‘Mongolian puddings’ – and lo and behold, you truly do have a genius idea, as there are no existing books in direct competition. But do think of other search terms you might use. What about ‘Mongolian desserts’? Luckily there are no competitors there, either.

Production values

Once you’re sure there is a gap for your book, do some research into publishers. Look at the publishers of existing cookbooks and make a short list of those you might like to work with – generally speaking, the ones that publish the books you like the most. This is where you’ll realise that book publishing isn’t just about the words, it’s also about production values: paper quality, cover design, typeface, layout etc.

When you have a shortlist of publishers, check them out online. How big are they? National or international? What’s their business model – co-op, limited company, PLC? Are they solvent? Who else writes for them, and would you like to be in that gang? Do you know any of those authors – or can you find them online – to ask about their experience of working with that publisher?

Don't sit around waiting to be chosen by a publisher...

Don’t sit around waiting to be chosen by a publisher…

Novice writers often seem to feel quite diffident about approaching publishers, as if it would be a real honour to be chosen to write a book. I see this the other way round. Publishers can’t function without authors. That doesn’t mean authors have a right to walk all over publishers and make unreasonable demands. But authors do put in several years of unpaid time upfront, with not much financial reward at any stage.

For example, I began work on my last book in January 2011, spent many months writing it, then helped with the marketing, and two and a half years later I’d earned a modest sum in royalties. I’m not complaining about this, I know it’s the deal for any writer these days and I benefit in other ways. Nevertheless, given that we’re not in it for the money, it makes sense to me that authors take control from the earliest stage and find the publisher they feel most enthusiastic about working with.

I chose Policy Press because it’s a non-profit, which fits with my own ethos, and they work collaboratively with authors, so I can get involved in all phases of the book’s life. Other authors don’t want to collaborate, they want to do the writing and leave it to the publisher to do everything else. And that’s fair enough – but it’s sensible to work out what kind of author you think you’ll be, and find a publisher to fit.

“…then, and only then, is it worth starting work on your Mongolian Puddings masterpiece.”

Once you’ve chosen a potential publisher, find the author guidelines on their website and read their book proposal form carefully. This will give you a lot of insight into the kind of work you need to do at the early stages of writing. However impressive your idea might be, the commissioning editor will need to be able to sell that idea to the publisher’s sales team before you’ll get a contract. Your proposal helps the commissioning editor to make this sales pitch. If you can’t sell the book to the publisher, there’s little chance of it selling to readers.

When you’ve got your head around all that, find the relevant commissioning editor’s contact details online and give them a ring to talk through your idea. This may sound radical but, generally speaking, commissioning editors are happy to hear from prospective authors. You need to know whether your idea is, in principle, the kind of thing they’d be interested in commissioning. You also need to know whether they have already commissioned a similar book – if they have, it’s time to go back to square one. Also, you’re sounding them out as someone you may be working with quite closely, so it’s worth assessing how well you think you and they would get on.

If all the responses from the commissioning editor are positive, then, and only then, is it worth starting work on your Mongolian Puddings masterpiece.

Talking of starting work… I realise that I’ve been saying a lot about various stages of academic writing, without saying anything about what I’m actually working on at the moment. I confess that’s because I haven’t been doing much academic writing in the last few weeks, as I’ve been writing a hefty research report to a client’s deadline. But now I’m getting going on the second draft of my next book, so next week I’ll tell you how I’m approaching the process.

More blog shaped words from Helen can be found here:

Where does a book begin?

What, another blog on academic writing?!!!

A year in the life of an academic writer: About Helen Kara

And some books by the same author:

Research and evaluation for busy practitioners

Policy Press bytes

Books for Prisoners: Protecting the ‘perks and privileges’ of reading

In July the Howard League called on people to send books directly to justice secretary Chris Grayling, asking that he forward them onto prisoners. Their Books for Prisoners campaign aims to overturn a ruling by the Ministry of Justice that controversially banned the sending of books to prisoners, classifying them as ‘perks and privileges’.

Policy Press asked our author Peter Wallis to share his views on the ban and why he believes the access to books by prisoners needs to be reframed as necessary and essential.

Author Peter Wallis

Author Peter Wallis ‘shocked and saddened’ by book ban

‘If you randomly select 100 people aged 15-18 in custody, 55 will not have had access to full time education prior to custody, and 28 will have had no education at all.’ Peter Wallis, Understanding Restorative Justice

I was shocked and saddened by the news that Ministry of Justice rules may prevent prisoners from receiving books from outside. I started thinking of the lifeline that the written word can provide for those locked away from society.

I thought of Stories Connect, where prisoners discuss books and literature in prisons such as HMP Channings Wood, where one inmate said: “Stories Connect didn’t just change my life, it saved it”. I thought of the psychotherapist Murray Cox who introduced Shakespeare into Broadmoor, which now has regular performances from the RSC. I thought of the work of the Prison Phoenix Trust, which encourages prisoners to consider their time in their cells as an opportunity for spiritual growth. Hundreds of books are sent each year to prisoners to introduce them to the practices of meditation and yoga.

Personal

On a more personal note, I thought of my grandfather, who served three and a half years in solitary confinement at HMP Ipswich and in Wormwood Scrubs as a conscientious objector in the First World War. He spent his time in his cell learning German in the hope of contributing to attempts towards reconciliation with the enemy when the war was over, moving his family to Berlin soon after the war ended.

“It seems desperately short-sighted to stop books being sent to prisoners.”

I believe that during his time in prison my grandfather was rationed to 6 books, and was also limited in the amount of paper he could use for correspondence, often sending his letters to his mother in miniscule writing on toilet paper.

It seems desperately short-sighted to stop books being sent to prisoners, many of whom have had little or no previous educational opportunities.

Guardian journalist Erwin James received all of his education inside prison. Surely the government wants to boost any opportunity to enable our most marginalised and poorly educated citizens to feel connected and part of society. How much better by encouraging reading rather than endless gym sessions, TV or computer games?

Understanding restorative justice: How empathy can close the gap created by crime by Peter Wallis is published by Policy Press and available at a discounted rate from our website.  Policy Press will be sending a copy of Peter’s book to Chris Grayling, requesting he pass it onto prisoners as part of the Howard League’s Books for Prisoners campaign.


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