I often see people suggesting, as a kneejerk response to some atrocity or other committed by some recidivist career criminal, that we should string ’em up, as it’s the only language they understand. It’s tedious to have to point out the mountain of evidence that capital punishment has no deterrent effect, that many countries with capital punishment have far more violent cultures and higher murder rates than our own, and additionally that, by the way, the British government does not, in any case, have the power to bring back capital punishment, what with us being part of Europe and all.
All of this is academic, as I’ve yet to meet anyone who really, truly believes there should be capital punishment. Nobody with the courage of their convictions, anyway, nobody prepared to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak. Nobody who would give a fully positive answer in my capital punishment referendum.
It’s often pointed out that if we were to hold a national referendum, public opinion would favour a return of the death penalty. Well whoopy doo – public opinion reads horoscopes and thinks Derek Acorah can speak to the dead. Public opinion reads the Sun. Public opinion is demonstrably as dumb as a rock.
But let’s have a referendum, by all means. Let it be simple, and feature just two questions:
1. Do you favour the return of the death penalty?
2. If you voted YES to Q1, do you volunteer to be the first innocent person executed?
YES votes only count where there’s a YES to BOTH questions. Anyone else obviously isn’t really, truly in favour of the death penalty in all respects. Anyone voting YES/NO is a fantasist, who believes that you could build a system where you’d only execute people you were “sure” were guilty, as though our existing system doesn’t already make “sure” people are guilty before it jails them for life. People like Stefan Kisko, or the Birmingham Six, or the Guildford Four, or Colin Stagg. You know, people who are definitely guilty.
Either that, or someone voting YES/NO is a person who wants the death penalty back, but only if it applies exclusively to other people.
In the unlikely event the YES/YES voters win, we will of course round the lot of them up and execute them, as per their request. The referendum can then be rerun, safe in the knowledge that the IQ of the nation has just doubled.
Not much is certain in a society with the death penalty. It’s hard to know whether it would be applied equally across races (probably not). It’s hard to know whether it would act as a deterrent, ever (probably not). It’s hard to know whether it would save public money (probably not).
One thing is certain, however – certain beyond any possibility of sensible argument. It would be administrated by fallible humans, and sooner or later, an innocent person would be killed by the state. I don’t volunteer to be that person. Do you?