Only the complacent SNP thinks our streets are really any safer.

By Graham Grant

WITH schools in the grip of an indiscipline crisis, Scotland’s ‘Violence Reduction Unit’ has some much-needed guidance for teachers.

‘Start the day with meditation, everybody, teachers and the pupils’, it advises, because it will help everyone ‘emotionally regulate’.

‘If the emotions are free’, the unit’s James Docherty counselled on Twitter, ‘attainment will take care of itself’ – the kind of chilled-out mantra that a 1960s hippy would have been proud to offer.

Doubtless there is some wisdom in his words, but in schools where headteachers are effectively barred from excluding unruly pupils, you might wonder if meditation would be deemed a slightly inadequate response.

Part of Police Scotland, the unit, known as the VRU, has played a vital role in tackling youth gang culture, particularly in the West of Scotland.

The official consensus is that, over the last decade or so, the country has effectively shed its unwanted reputation as a violent nation.

But there are worrying indications that much of that valuable work risks being undone, as crime statistics begin to show regular increases in violence.

There have been some startling rises in certain categories and marked localised surges which – taken together – undermine the narrative, repeatedly peddled by the SNP, that Scotland is ‘safer’ on its watch.

Opposition parties last month challenged Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf over a 14 per cent rise in violent crime in only two years, and accused ministers of becoming ‘dangerously complacent’ following previous declines in recorded offences.

The number of non-sexual crimes of violence recorded by Police Scotland in April-June compared with the same quarter last year rose by 7.1 per cent from 1,914 to 2,050.

Murders increased from ten to 13, while robberies were up 12.5 per cent from 399 to 449.

But in Renfrewshire and Inverclyde the number of robberies rose by 84 per cent, while in Fife – where a Police Scotland report says ‘the majority of crimes have an element of drugs involved’ – they increased by 61.5 per cent.

At the same time, the detection rate for violent crime across Scotland has fallen in the past year from 79.5 per cent to 69.7 per cent.

This means fewer violent offenders are being brought to justice, while a spate of gangland executions is a reminder that organised crime is thriving, despite concerted efforts to confiscate ill-gotten gains and ‘disrupt’ its activities.

These trends are signs that problems many had hoped had been eradicated are beginning to re-establish themselves – and it may take more than meditation and ‘emotional regulation’ to curb them.

Yet the steady flow of rhetoric about the fall in violent crime from top brass and senior SNP politicians continues.

At a recent meeting of the Scottish Police Authority, none of the board members challenged Chief Constable Iain Livingstone about the latest figures, which also showed a rise in overall crime.

Last year an investigation by the Mail revealed that nearly half of housebreakers and violent thugs had been spared jail since the SNP came to power, as the party focused on emptying prisons in favour of electronic tagging and (supposedly) revamped community service.

While some of the experts tasked with violence reduction argue that ‘austerity’ is driving the increase in robberies, there is concern among the rank-and-file that a looming decline in manpower caused by the financial squeeze will hit frontline policing – and violence may rise further.

The Scottish Police Federation has warned beat patrols are virtually extinct, as Police Scotland switches its emphasis to heavy social media coverage of officers’ presence at community events, including funfairs and galas.

Fine in principle, but infuriating for anyone who has been told there are no officers available to respond when they report a crime.

There is copious evidence on display on social media to demonstrate that officers are indeed available – but often they’re dressed as penguins or fishing for plastic ducks…

A familiar line of argument from police chiefs and ministers is that statistical increases in the reporting of some crime can be positive because it suggests higher levels of public confidence in the ability of police to catch criminals.

Yet the Scottish Government has admitted the majority of crime is not even reported to the single force – including 44 per cent of violent offences – so perhaps confidence isn’t quite as high as police chiefs like to assume.

Similar theories are routinely deployed when police data shows rising sexual crime (as they generally do), including a 20 per cent increase in rapes and attempted rapes in the last year, from 1,878 to 2,255, while sexual assaults are up by 13 per cent, from 4,281 to 4,826.

The figures for rape and attempted rape show 54.6 per cent were ‘cleared up’ in 2017–18 – the lowest on record – down from 59.6 per cent in 2016–17.

This means more and more sex offenders are avoiding justice – as growing numbers of alleged victims tell police about their ordeals.

For years, police attempted to explain these increases as a product of the ‘Savile effect’, as victims of historical sexual crime came forward in the wake of the revelations about the paedophile.

But six years after the allegations against Savile came to light, this hypothesis is less convincing.

Police insist that a large proportion of rapes are ‘historic’ – about 40 per cent – but this means only that they were reported more than a year after they were said to have occurred, so it’s not always the case that these allegations are decades-old.

Rape Crisis Scotland has said the rise in rape reports is ‘worrying’, and that ‘while it may be some of this increase is due to more confidence to report what has happened, it is also possible we are seeing increasing levels of sexual crime taking place’.

There is no doubt that police are devoting more resources to the investigation of allegations of sexual crime dating back several decades, partly as a result of the ongoing statutory inquiry into institutional child abuse.

But the familiar and much-repeated assertion that growth in the reporting of sexual offending demonstrates greater public confidence in the way the force handles the investigation of sex crimes – and that much of it is in any event ‘historic’ – is beginning to look a little threadbare.

Complacency over crime has begun to take root because of political pressure to ensure the mantra that Scotland is safer under the SNP – dutifully trotted out by Mr Yousaf as it was by his predecessor Michael Matheson – remains viable.

But the public aren’t so easily conned, and there will be a heavy price for the SNP to pay if it cannot halt the rise in violent and sexual crime – and ensure those responsible face tough justice.


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Graham Grant.

Graham Grant.


Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Columns on MailPlus