Community Safety

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:43 pm on 21st February 2007.

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Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 2:43 pm, 21st February 2007

We concur whole-heartedly with a lot of what the minister said. Clearly, a variety of action requires to be taken, whether through legislation or local initiatives. We have supported such initiatives, sometimes through our council representatives and sometimes by assisting organisations—Executive or otherwise—to do their job.

Notwithstanding the fact that the election is beginning to concentrate all our minds, it is important that we get matters in perspective. There is clearly a great problem in Scotland. Occasionally, the debate about antisocial behaviour and crime oscillates between the perception that we reside in Valhalla and the perception that we reside in a living hell, when the truth, as with many things, is that we are somewhere in the middle.

There are problems with serious and organised crime and with violent crime, notwithstanding the statistics that the minister set out. We accept that the statistics show a decline in crime in many areas, but in some areas there has been a greater number of homicides. That clearly needs to be addressed.

That said, we have to recognise that, for the vast majority of people in Scotland, life is actually tolerable and pleasant and that it is only in certain blighted places, as the minister knows from her constituency, that life is made a living hell. It ill serves us to allow ourselves to be portrayed as some version of Beirut, as the recent United Nations report did. We need to ensure that we debate such matters.

One of our major problems is not so much crime as the fear of crime. However, to individuals, perception is reality. There is no point in any of us—regardless of our political hue—saying that the crime statistics are going down if people believe that there is a clear problem. It is fundamental that we address that problem.

This debate is about community safety, which is, perhaps, more to do with antisocial behaviour than serious and violent crime, although the two are related. However, we must recognise that some antisocial behaviour is not criminal. A great deal of it is criminal, of course; we have laws against such behaviour, and we expect them to be enforced by our police and other authorities. However, there are other elements of antisocial behaviour that, while not being unlawful, are unacceptable—in Scottish terminology, we would describe it as downright ignorant behaviour. If someone fails to take their turn cleaning the stair—whether they are in a student flat in Edinburgh or in a council scheme in the west of Scotland—that can make life intolerable for those who have sought to maintain the ethos and the sanctity of an area. We need to strike a balance in that regard.

Some matters need to be dealt with by legislation and the enforcement of laws. For example, children—not just youths—are able to acquire alcohol, which results in bad behaviour. The laws relating to underage drinking need to be enforced.

As I said, some elements of antisocial behaviour are criminal and some are not. In that regard, as the minister said, the important issue is one of respect. I have said previously that I support that agenda. We have also talked about individuals taking responsibility for their own behaviour. People have to realise that actions have consequences and that ordinary people—not just politicians—are tired of excuses for patently bad behaviour. If someone does something, they must face the consequences of their action and understand that, frankly, we will not be satisfied with hearing some excuse about what provoked or caused it.

However, we must recognise that, in Scotland, drink, drugs and deprivation fuel a great deal of those actions. That does not excuse them, but there is a clear and consequent relationship between those factors and bad behaviour and criminality, which we must address. There is no one simple legislative solution. No Administration can bring in a single act that will eradicate those problems; a variety of things must be done across the board. In some areas, legislation will be required; in other areas, such as health, work will have to be done around education and intervention.

We believe that the fundamental requirement in relation to securing trust and promoting responsibility is a visible police presence in our communities. That deters criminals and restores the confidence in the police and the judicial system that many people have lost. We might be able to bandy about claims of record numbers of police officers, but our police have responsibilities that they did not have before, not least in relation to terrorism, sex offenders legislation and a variety of other issues. Further, we have the problem of gapping, which is caused by officers being recruited but not coming on stream. Together, those factors have resulted in our having a less visible police presence than ever before.

That is why the Scottish National Party agrees with many of the comments that were made by the minister. We fully accept and have supported some of the legislation that has been passed and many of the actions that have been taken. However, the fundamental way of bringing about the level of community safety that our people want is to have a visible police presence that will deter crime and reassure our citizens.

I move amendment S2M-5608.1, to leave out from "acknowledges" to end and insert:

"recognises the concern and anxiety in our communities caused by both low-level antisocial behaviour and serious and violent crime; appreciates the increased burden placed on our police forces by new legislation and additional requirements; believes that the best way of tackling both serious crime and antisocial behaviour is a visible police presence to reassure the public and deter criminals, and therefore commits to the recruitment of 1,000 additional police officers for our communities."