I could not agree more. As I will come on to say, the Scottish Government and Scottish politicians are always looking elsewhere for better ideas and fresh thinking. In recent times, the UK Government have started to open their eyes and mind a lot more to policies of other Governments, including potentially looking at a presumption against short sentences. It is a shame that the Secretary of State has moved on from the Chamber, so we will have to see whether that progresses, but the Government are to be commended for moving on from their closed approach.
The public health model and the violence reduction unit have worked so well that they are now being tried and tested elsewhere. Most notably, Sadiq Khan has taken forward a VRU here in London, which we very much welcome. I hope it is allowed to be effective and is resourced appropriately, as far too many young people are losing their lives on the streets of London.
Any legitimate and full discussion of serious violence must recognise the scale of gender-based violence. Scotland is not exceptional in the sheer scale of this disease, but the Scottish Government are committed to tackling it root and branch. Conviction rates in this area sit at their highest ever levels. Clearly there is still work to do, but victims are now more likely to come forward and report abuse and violence.
The 2017-18 recorded crime statistics included 421 new crimes of disclosing or threatening to disclose an intimate image. The recording of those new crimes is due to the enactment of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament. About 25% of the increase in sexual crime in 2017-18 can be directly attributed to the new intimate images offence. The Scottish Government set up an expert group last year to identify fresh actions to prevent sexual offending involving children and young people, after commissioned research found an increase in cyber-enabled sexual crime between 2013-14 and 2016-17. Those crimes, such as communicating indecently or causing others to view sexual images, typically have younger victims and offenders when committed online.
Police Scotland has a national rape taskforce and rape investigation units within every division, dedicated to investigating rape and serious sexual crime. The Scottish Government are investing an additional £1.1 million to improve how sexual offences cases are handled and improve communication with victims, and a further £2 million to speed up access to support for those affected by rape or sexual assault. That will bring total investment in Scotland in tackling all violence against women and girls to at least £25 million over the next three years.
Sexual crime is a crime of the utmost seriousness, and a type of crime that disproportionately, perhaps overwhelmingly, affects women and girls. Often sexual crime and gender-based violence stem from ignorance, because of a lifetime of unchallenged views and attitudes among men—attitudes that are often exacerbated by peer groups. We need to challenge the sexist attitudes that support this most heinous behaviour.
I am proud to chair the all-party group on the white ribbon campaign and to be an ambassador for White Ribbon UK and White Ribbon Scotland, which is to be commended for its recent work with bookmakers across Scotland in educating customers and getting them to sign the white ribbon pledge. I urge everybody, particularly all the men present, to make sure they sign the white ribbon pledge never to commit, condone or excuse gender-based violence.
The SNP Scottish Government are leading the way on evidence-based, progressive policy in tackling serious violence. The scale of Scotland’s success is in many ways astonishing. Much of the credit goes to the violence reduction unit—including its co-founders, Karyn McCluskey and John Carnochan—and of course to Police Scotland. However, this success itself comes with a recognition that we must keep trying harder. Indeed, John Carnochan has himself said recently:
“There is a danger people think Scotland is fixed—it is far from being fixed”.
He is right. As I said earlier, too many young people are still being ostracised and too many young people—too many people—are still being killed. We have made fantastic progress, but there is still a lot more to do. The public health model, when implemented and resourced properly, is effective. I am confident that it will continue to grow and develop in Scotland, but we are always looking elsewhere for fresh thinking about and approaches to many of the challenges we have heard about and undoubtedly will hear more about as the debate develops. In that spirit, I hope that Members and Ministers from elsewhere will continue to look to Scotland and learn from our experience.