Violence Reduction

– in the Scottish Parliament on 20th September 2018.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-13995, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on violence reduction in Scotland, progress and future priorities.

Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

It is a pleasure to open my first debate as Minister for Community Safety and to be able to highlight the significant progress that has been made in reducing violence in Scotland and talk about our future priorities in the area.

Over the past decade, recorded violent crime has almost halved, and there has been a parallel fall in the number of emergency admissions to hospital that result from assault. That trend is reflected in the Scottish crime and justice survey. The fact is that violence has been reducing over the past decade.

I pay tribute to all those who have played their part in driving that downward trend, including Labour and Liberal Democrat members, whose parties regarded violence as a national priority during their time in office. Their hard work, which was taken forward by the Scottish National Party, has resulted in people feeling safer in their communities. Fear of crime continues to decrease.

That direction of travel is attracting attention from far and wide. Our approach to reducing violence in Scotland is being advocated by the World Economic Forum and is drawing interest from countries across the world, including Canada, Australia, America, Japan, South Africa, Sweden, Denmark, Lithuania and Estonia, many of which are looking to Scotland for answers.

Earlier this year, Cressida Dick, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, visited Scotland to learn more about our approach to violence, and yesterday I was pleased to note that the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced that the city of London will have its own violence reduction unit, which will be based on the Scottish model, in particular our public health approach. I wish the city authorities well as they adapt the model to meet the particular challenges that they face in London.

Why is there worldwide interest in what Scotland is doing to reduce violence? We have come a long way since 2005, when the United Nations declared Scotland the most violent country in the developed world. In the same year, a World Health Organization study of crime figures in 21 European countries showed that Glasgow was the murder capital of Europe.

More often than not, solutions to violence were sought in the criminal justice system, through increased stop and search and tougher sentencing. In 2016, we increased the maximum penalty for possession of a knife from four years to five years. The average length of custodial sentence imposed for knife crime has almost doubled over the past decade. People who are convicted of a crime of violence in Scottish courts are more likely to receive a custodial sentence than they would have been 10 years ago.

Although those are important interventions to stop violent crime, we knew that we also needed to do something different. Strathclyde Police formed the violence reduction unit, with a focus on Glasgow. Soon after, the unit became Scotland’s national centre of expertise. The unit used analysis that showed that Glasgow’s most problematically violent areas were also the poorest areas and those with the highest rates of addiction, domestic abuse, teenage pregnancy and suicide.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

I am carefully following what the minister is saying and I agree with a great deal of it. Might the current situation in local government, with year-on-year cuts to local services, have an impact on local interventions, reversing some of the good work that has been done?

Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

The member should agree that we have given local government a very fair settlement. We have also invested substantially in violence prevention programmes. As I will go on to outline, that has paid real dividends in Scotland, to the extent that the approach that we are taking here is being looked at by countries around the world.

Violence was recast as a disease, the symptoms of which I have described. That was the foundation of our public health approach to reducing violence in Scotland, which comes from the understanding that violence is preventable, not inevitable.

Since 2008, we have provided the violence reduction unit with an unprecedented £12 million. It has tackled the root causes of violence, rather than just treating the symptoms. Over the past few years, we have supported a number of other violence reduction programmes, including the mentors in violence prevention programme, which aims to support young people to have discussions about gender-based violence issues. We have provided funding to support organisations such as Medics Against Violence, which targets young people who are at risk of being killed or becoming victims of serious life-changing injuries. Health volunteers are used to deliver education sessions in secondary schools that involve them talking to young people about the consequences of violence and how to keep themselves safe.

We are also supporting Medics Against Violence to deliver its ask, support, care programme, which aims to give national health service staff, including dentists, as well as vets, hairdressers, beauticians and firefighters, the skills to reach out to people when there are signs of potential domestic abuse.

Since 2009, we have also supported the no knives, better lives programme, which has targeted young people aged between 11 and 18 in addressing the issue of knife carrying. The success of the local partnerships involved, which have taken part in a wide range of diversionary activities that are funded through Scotland’s unique cashback for communities programme, is making a real difference. However—credit where credit is due—our young people are now making better choices for their lives, and fewer of them are carrying knives. I was particularly honoured last week to attend a celebration of Police Scotland youth volunteers at the Parliament, to learn about the difference that that initiative is making to young people and their communities.

We have also supported the development of the street and arrow food truck. Its programmes offer people with previous convictions who wish to turn their lives away from the cycle of violence tailored interventions that will support them in achieving that. Yesterday, I met Leeann and Callum, two young people who had recently been supported by the VRU approach. Both of them had been in and out of prison, had addiction issues and had experienced violent and chaotic lifestyles but, through street and arrow’s tailored support and intervention, they now have steady jobs for the first time in their lives and are positive, contributing members of their communities. Their lived experience is a powerful demonstration of how a public health approach to justice changes lives for the better.

I am pleased that our recent programme for government includes a package of measures to better support the victims of crime. We are extending the delivery of our navigators programme into two new hospitals—Crosshouse hospital in Ayrshire and the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Glasgow. The programme is a hospital emergency department-based intervention, in which navigators aim to interrupt the cycle of violence. Callum, the young man I mentioned earlier, spoke positively about the programme—he said that, when he was at his lowest point, the navigators reached out to him, which made a huge difference to his life. The expansion of the programme will enable us to reach out to more people with chaotic lifestyles.

I have mentioned just a few of the initiatives that have developed over the years, which are being driven forward by the efforts of many caring and passionate people. Today, I want to pay tribute to those individuals who make such initiatives what they are and who often give up their own time to help others to turn their lives around.

I am aware that the Liberal Democrats lodged an amendment on the importance of throughcare in our justice system. It was not accepted, but we would have supported it, because if offenders who have committed violent crime are not given the right support, it is likely that they will go back out on to the streets and reoffend. The cabinet secretary and I would be happy to meet Liam McArthur to discuss his ideas further.

We know that the underlying causes of violence are deeply rooted in poverty, inequality, toxic masculinity and Scotland’s relationship with alcohol. The introduction of minimum unit pricing is allowing us to take direct action to tackle the provision of high-strength, low-cost alcohol across Scotland. As members may be aware, our alcohol strategy is due to be published in the coming weeks.

However, to effect a further downwards trend, we need to understand violence better. That is why the previous Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, commissioned a detailed study to improve our understanding of non-sexual violent crime and, in particular, emerging evidence that violence may be becoming more concentrated on repeat victims and within certain communities. The first part of that research will be published next Tuesday and will look into the characteristics of robberies. A report on serious assaults will follow in the spring. We will continue to work with partners to further our knowledge about what works to reduce violence and to understand where our focus needs to be in the future.

The recent focus on Scotland’s approach has certainly been welcome. During the past decade, we have provided the leadership and support to turn Scotland’s record on violence around. However, we know that there are very real challenges ahead. We must look at new and emerging evidence, understand what works, learn from others where we can, break cycles of violence across all our constituencies, and change our nation for the better.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the World Economic Forum’s recent recognition of Scotland’s progress in turning its record on violence around; notes that, through a public health approach, police recorded crime, the number of accident and emergency admissions and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey results, including incidents not reported to police, all indicate a significant reduction in violent crime over the last decade; recognises the role of the Violence Reduction Unit, which was established in 2005, in driving these reductions in partnership with a range of public and third sector partners, and acknowledges the importance of support for victims and their families who are affected by crime, along with prevention, early intervention and services that support rehabilitation and ultimately reduce reoffending to ensure that violence continues to reduce across Scotland.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

When we face great problems in public services, it is common for us to call for a different approach or to say that we must do more. Today’ s debate is an important one, because the motion rightly acknowledges that, in the area of violent crime, a different approach was taken and s ignificant progress has been made. However, we must not be complacent, and the amendment in my name seeks to guard against that.

It is important to acknowledge that Scotland has turned its record on violence around. No longer are we the most violent country in the developed world

, as reported by the UN in 2005

. Neither is Glasgow the murder capital of Europe, as reported by the World Health Organization in the same year. At least part of that stems from another event in that year, when, as has been described by Ash Denham, a novel approach to violence was taken by Glasgow’s violence reduction unit. It extrapolated from health principles in treating the cause rather than the symptoms of violence, and it treated violent behaviour as a disease that spreads from one person to another. At least to some extent, that appears to have been successful, with the numbers of homicides and facial trauma patients having fallen across the country. Therefore, I am pleased to echo the minister’s thanks to the VRU for the work that it does.

I would also like to note the navigator programme, which is currently running in Glasgow and Edinburgh. It places professionals in accident and emergency departments to engage and support patients at what are called “reachable, teachable moments”, in order to break the cycle of violence. It is a great initiative and we need to see it expanded—perhaps even beyond what the minister has suggested.

I think that there will also be consensus on the importance of early prevention through education. Again, I echo the minister’s reference to the no knives, better lives programme. Last November, I watched the powerful and often harrowing play “Balisong”, which was run by that programme. Such theatre, which was created by young people, for young people, drove home to the roughly 12,000 people who saw it the very serious consequences of carrying a knife.

However, that is only part of the picture. We have much further to go in making Scotland safer and tackling all forms of crime. I know that because, when those in power pat themselves on the back as they quote recorded crime levels as the definitive measure, they fail to recognise the hidden figures and, crucially, the fact that correlation does not necessarily equal causation. In an answer yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice said:

“I hope that everyone will look at the data to see where we have had success”—[

Official Report

, 19 September 2018; c 11.]

However, with respect, that argument is flawed: raw data does not automatically allow a causal link to be made. If we think about that, it stands to reason. As was described in the World Economic Forum report, victims of violence are more likely to go to A and E than to the police. The Scottish crime and justice survey shows that at least two thirds of crime goes unreported. The SNP’s own crime-counting rules mean that figures on violent crime do not include, for example, assaults that result in a broken nose or a loss of consciousness. However, I suggest that if we were to ask someone who had been knocked out whether they had been a victim of violent crime, the answer would be a resounding yes.

Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

I want to reinforce my point. We say that recorded crime is at a 43-year low, but I accept the member’s point that not all crime is recorded. However, across the recorded figures, accident and emergency admissions, which the member has just mentioned, and the Scottish crime and justice survey, we see a long-term and sustained decrease in crime. Does the member accept that?

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

No, and I will say why. If we look at the data that is being recorded, we see that large numbers of violent crimes are going unreported, so the data on which the conclusions are based is unreliable. Official statistics offer part of the picture, but for Ash Denham to rely on them exclusively is dangerously complacent and misleading.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Let me address the point first. Last year’s recorded crime publication showed a clear rise in the number of crimes of violence, including homicides, attempted murders, serious assaults and robberies. More recent data from Police Scotland confirms that violent, sexual and drug-fuelled crimes increased by between 7 and 11 per cent last year. The number of crimes involving offensive weapons rose by 10 per cent. Police now deal with more than 161 domestic violence calls a day and, of course, they are just the incidents that they hear about.

Most shamefully of all, the chances of someone who lives in Scotland’s most deprived communities being a victim of crime remain the same as they were 10 years ago. We cannot be complacent about violent crime or, as

Scotland on Sunday put it, we cannot allow

“a hunger for ‘good news’ ... to blunt our critical faculties.”

Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

Earlier, you talked about the official figures not being the way to do it. You used the example of people going to accident and emergency instead of the police. The minister got up and told you that the accident and emergency figures are going down. You responded by saying, “Aye, but that doesn’t matter.” What is it exactly that you want? Do you want every single incident to be recorded by somebody like Robocop?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

First, Mr Kerr, you are not going to lose time. Secondly, can members remember not to use the “you” word? I am fed up saying it. You say “the member”—I am the “you” person sitting in the chair.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I do not disagree. I accept that the number of hospital admissions for trauma are down and I accept that progress is being made. My point is that we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent. That is what I am concerned is happening in the Government.

As a further example, yesterday the Minister for Community Safety stood up and stated:

“The evidence points towards a long-term and sustained reduction in antisocial behaviour”

, only for Jamie Halcro Johnston to adduce Police Scotland management figures that clearly show that, in one year, antisocial behaviour has increased by 25 per cent in parts of his region.

The minister was thus forced to concede that

“The 2017-18 report suggests a slight increase overall in antisocial behaviour.”—[

Official Report

, 19 September 2018; c 15, 16.]

It is a 5 per cent increase across 23 local authorities.

Our message, and the reason behind our amendment is clear. We should celebrate the successes but stop ignoring the reality on the ground, stop ignoring what police and experts are saying, and start an honest dialogue with the people of Scotland about the difficult decisions that have to be made to reduce violent crime.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I really cannot.

On which note, as Niven Rennie makes clear in

Holyrood magazine today, policing alone will not drive reductions in violence. That is not to say that officers on the ground are not part of the answer, because they are. However, almost every area of Scotland has fewer officers on the front line now than they had five years ago, and more cuts are on the way.

Strong community policing is essential to prevention and detection. If the SNP is serious about combating violent crime, it will get officers out of backroom roles and on to the front line, where they can make a difference.

We should congratulate the violence reduction unit and build on its successes, but we cannot close our eyes to the fact that violent crime appears to be increasing and the number of local police officers is being cut. The SNP must acknowledge the true level of crime on its watch. It must put victims first by keeping dangerous offenders off our streets. That is what our amendment seeks to reflect, and I commend it to Parliament.

I move amendment S5M-13995.1, to leave out from “, the number” to “partners,” and insert:

“statistics indicate a significant reduction in violent crime over the last decade; recognises the role of the Violence Reduction Unit, which was established in 2005, in driving these reductions in partnership with a range of public and third sector partners; however further notes with concern the recent comments from the Director of the Violence Reduction Unit that violent crime is up to 11 times higher than indicated in these recorded crime statistics; accepts that the latest statistics show that violent crime is now increasing again,”.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I will begin by restating some of the facts—I do not apologise for doing so, as they bear repetition.

In 2005, the UN published a report declaring Scotland to be the most violent country in the developed world and, a week later, WHO figures led to Glasgow being named the murder capital of Europe, as other speakers have mentioned. That translated into 70 killings a year. Further, at that time, more than 1,000 people a year required treatment for facial trauma alone, many as a result of violent stabbings and beatings. Indeed, I recall being told by my cousin, who was working as a junior doctor in an accident and emergency department in Glasgow, about the realities that she faced when she was having to learn about knife trauma, and it was harrowing.

In that same year, the violence reduction unit was founded. I do not want to spend too long rehearsing the background of the VRU—I think that the minister did an excellent job of setting out the work that it has done. I welcome the opportunity to debate this topic and to examine and mark the advances that have been made. However, we must also analyse not only the impact of what has been achieved but why it has been possible to achieve that impact. We must look at the methods that have been used and think about why they have been successful because, above all else, what is important is that we continue to combat violence in our communities and make progress in reducing the number of victims of violent crime.

I believe that there are three principal reasons why the VRU approach has been successful. The first concerns analysis, which involves understanding the factors that drive violence. The second concerns prevention because, once we consider the issue through a public health lens, we can understand that violence breeds violence, that it spreads like an epidemic and that violence is a social disease—in some cases a social norm—and we can start to work out how to treat it. The third concerns cross-agency working, which is vital, because violence is not something that can be tackled by the police alone; it requires Government, social work, employers, courts, prisons, social enterprises, schools and families to all intervene at the appropriate times and places.

Could that approach be copied in other areas, particularly with regard to drugs? Recently, we have spoken at great length about Scotland’s drugs problem and about the need to treat it more as a health issue than just as a justice one. Ultimately, however, it is both a justice and a health issue, and perhaps the model that we have adopted in relation to violence reduction, with analysis, prevention and cross-agency working, could be used to tackle Scotland’s shameful record on illegal drugs.

The VRU has been wildly successful. The murder rate in Glasgow has fallen by 60 percent, facial trauma numbers have halved and violent crime is down on 2005 figures by every measure.

I also want to note yesterday’s welcome announcement by London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, of a commitment to create a violence reduction unit in London. I understand that a similar public health approach has been taken in the West Midlands.

Labour is happy to support the motion that has been put forward by the Government today. However, we must take the opportunity that the debate gives us not only to focus on progress, which is vital, but to offer a critique, which is also fundamental. As Liam Kerr said, we cannot have an ounce of complacency in our approach to this issue.

Our amendment seeks to make two fundamental points that we hope the Government will acknowledge in the vote this evening, in the spirit of continued consensus and co-operation on this issue.

The first point is that we must recognise that the success of a cross-agency approach is put at risk when the agencies are not fully resourced. The second point is that, although the long-term trend is clear, the short-term trend is much more worrying.

On resources, the Parliament knows well our criticism of cuts to public services over the past decade under the SNP, and particularly the cuts to local government. Local government is a key partner, and the cuts to local government have been stark. That can only have a negative impact on the ability of the whole system to deliver reductions in violence. However, we must also recognise the great work that the third sector organisations do in this area. They are also experiencing huge difficulties as a result of constraints on their budgets, and we should be mindful of the effect that that could have. People often talk about joined-up thinking, co-ordination and early intervention, but those approaches can happen only if local government and the third sector are properly and adequately resourced.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

Does the member welcome the Scottish Government’s recent investment in local authorities to address the issue of women offending?

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I will congratulate the Scottish Government when it funds local government adequately and stops year-on-year cuts to its resource grant from central Government.

We also know from official statistics that violent crime has seen a long-term decrease, and I acknowledge that. It should be celebrated. However, more recently, Government statistics are also clear that non-sexual violent crime has shown a 14 per cent increase in the past two years. The clear-up rate—the percentage of those crimes being solved—has fallen to 77 per cent. Those are concerning trends and ones that I raise because I am keen that the Government and Parliament do not just pat themselves on the back but understand that there is much more to do and that we need more focus on tackling the issues.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member is in his last minute.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

The member may be rising to ask what my position is on the Conservative amendment. It is with regret that I say that we will not be supporting the Conservative amendment because of the inaccuracy within it. However, I agree with much of the sentiment. As the violence reduction unit would say itself, the reality is that only 43 per cent of violent crimes are reported and health admissions as a result of violent acts in our communities are much higher than reported crime. Although those statistics are not necessarily outside international norms, they must be recognised.

On that basis, I understand the sentiments but, because of the inaccuracy, I cannot support the amendment. I believe in a full, frank and honest discussion. I do not believe that we can vote for an inaccurate amendment.

I see that the Presiding Officer is nodding at me, so I will conclude there.

I move amendment S5M-13995.3, to insert at end:

“; notes that the success of the public health approach will be at risk unless public and third sector partners are properly funded; further notes with concern that numbers of non-sexual violent crimes have increased by 14% in the last two years, while the clear-up rate has fallen from 84% to 77%, and encourages the Scottish Government to investigate the reasons for this recent trend, which has seen a stall in the long-term progress in reducing violent crime.”

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

This is not necessarily the debate that I thought that we would have. The Government motion talks about the:

“recognition of Scotland’s progress in turning its record on violence around” and we should applaud that. We should express gratitude to the people who have delivered that success.

There is no Green party amendment, because I do not take offence with anything that is in the Government motion. I do not suppose that opposition colleagues do substantially either. Recognising success is not the same as assuming that there is perfection. There certainly is not perfection and we have a way to go.

As someone who is not particularly numerate, I cannot juggle the figures. It has to be seen over the longer term, and it is irrefutable that tremendous progress is being made. We know that. We heard from the Minister for Community Safety that people come here looking for answers. I wish them every success. It is tremendous that Sadiq Khan is to come here. There are too many young men in London whose lives are being lost. If lessons can be learned from Scotland and any life saved, that is real progress.

We had a debate in the chamber recently on the United Nations international day of peace. I quoted Boutros Boutros-Ghali—a thing that I never thought that I would do—who, as secretary-general, was asked to respond to the security council about how it could improve peacekeeping and peace enforcement. Those are key phrases that we could align with the debate today.

In his response, “An Agenda for Peace”, he came up with the term “peacebuilding”. That is post-conflict social and political reconstruction activities, aimed at preventing a relapse into conflict. What distinguishes it from peacekeeping and peacemaking is the insistence on society-wide reconciliation. That applies to policing. Proactive policing is good. Enforcement is reactive. We should treat the disease of violence, and the fact that it has collaboratively been recognised as a disease is helpful.

We have seen some movement in Government. I welcome that the Government moved the drugs portfolio from the Justice portfolio to Health. The Labour amendment to the motion notes success, and we will support it. Like the minister, I am sorry that we did not get into a debate on the Liberal Democrat motion, which was not accepted. It included significant issues that we need to look at. I am happy to reflect on the success that is there.

There is a way to go on the issue because, although the drugs portfolio has changed, there is the issue of supervised injecting facilities. I want to see an end to the so-called war on drugs. Language is important, and we do tend to use a lot of violent imagery.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I am grateful to the member—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

No, I have to call you first. It is a little technicality.

I call Liam Kerr.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I did not disagree with anything that the member had said up until that point, but I will disagree with him now. Does the member not accept that Niven Rennie’s contribution at the weekend is very important and that, in order to avoid complacency, we should pick up the issue in our amendment to the motion?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The same applies to you, Mr Finnie.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

I beg your pardon, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I have to earn my keep. On you go.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

Yes, indeed.

No, we will not support the Conservative amendment for the reasons that Mr Johnson has outlined. Someone cannot stand up and bandy about figures and not be accurate themselves—that simply is not appropriate.

I have the highest regard for Niven Rennie, and his predecessor Mr Carnochan. The violence reduction unit has made a very positive contribution. The reality is that Niven Rennie will contribute to that—and no doubt he will use his many years of experience in doing so.

There can be a legislative response on drugs and the associated violence but, unfortunately, at this time, it is not in the gift of this Parliament to introduce such legislation.

Huge strides have been made in relation to domestic violence—navigators have already been mentioned a number of times and that approach is very positive. The minister also mentioned various initiatives. We all frequently commend the work of Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland.

The issue is not always simply about money, but about the structures that are in place to support those suffering from domestic abuse. There are specialist police units and specialist units within the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and decisions are taken about policy and fast-tracking specialist courts. An issue that I will keep coming back to is judicial training, because ignorance abounds on the bench on occasions—hopefully the number of times that that happens is reducing. Legislation is in place that deals with the treatment of complainers and witnesses; the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill has also been introduced. Those measures all encourage people to come forward, if they have confidence in the system.

Yes, we have a way to go. An area of violence that has been recognised in legislation—it was fascinating to work on this issue in the Justice Committee—is coercive and controlling behaviour and the psychological violence that we see. The violence reduction unit has carried out work on bullying in the workplace and in school, and on the violence that we see visited on people through the use of technology.

It is important that support for children is in place that recognises the problem that comes with exposure to the disease of violence. Someone said to me about my member’s bill, which will be discussed here in the coming months, that violence against children is the last acceptable form of domestic violence. My bill enjoys support from police officers, social workers, paediatricians, Scottish Women’s Aid and many other organisations. One comment in support of the bill says:

“There are no studies showing that children’s behaviour improves as a result of physical punishment and most show that it has a negative impact on a child’s long-term ... well-being”.

There are lessons to take from violence. We can all learn—and, on that particular issue, there is no one who knows more than me what can be learned.

The role of alcohol—

The Presiding Officer is indicating that I should close. Early intervention and support from the third sector are vital to people, and it is important that we support the third sector.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

This is my first opportunity to welcome Ash Denham to her new post. I congratulate her on the tone of her remarks and I indicate my willingness to take up the offer that she extended regarding further discussions about throughcare.

A little like John Finnie, I saw the debate as an opportunity to put on record my thanks to the police and the range of public and third sector organisations in health, education and social work and elsewhere that have played a part in achieving the impressive reduction in violence that we have seen in Glasgow.

Niven Rennie was correct, of course, when he cautioned against seeing the reduction of violence to a level that suggests that “we’ve cracked it”. Too many communities across the country still endure unacceptable levels of violence, and the A and E departments, as Niven Rennie warns us, continue to deal

“with far higher numbers of serious assaults than those reported to police.”

That is a powerful argument against any sense of complacency. It is not, however, a reason not to acknowledge and celebrate the progress that has been made by the VRU. That progress has been achieved in large part, as others have said, by adopting an innovative approach that views violence as a public health issue requiring treatment—as we would treat a disease. Such has been the success of that approach that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced his intention to adopt a similar model in that city. The recent escalation in violence in communities across London has been alarming, characterised very often by tit-for-tat attacks that bear all the hallmarks of a contagion. In that respect, I hope that the VRU approach will prove as successful in London as it has clearly been in Glasgow.

In the Scottish context, where do we go from here? How do we build on the success of what the VRU has achieved to date? Is it realistic to think that we will ever get to a point where, in Niven Rennie’s words, we can say, “we’ve cracked it”?

Although the motion sets out future priorities, it is less clear about the actions that will accompany those. Addressing underlying causes, such as poverty or inequality, and factors to do with attitude or behaviour, takes time. Although short cuts are superficially appealing in order to allay public anxieties, they are unlikely ever to be truly effective or deliver lasting improvement.

The VRU has shown that holistic support structures work. That lesson can be carried through to other areas of our criminal justice system. One area where Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that there is more that we could be doing—and that would deliver real benefits in reducing the risk of violence and other types of offending behaviour—is in relation to the support that we provide to those emerging from the prison system.

Extending the presumption against ineffective, short prison sentences in the first place is important and the Government must press ahead with introducing that as quickly as possible. However, more can and should be done for those in our prison system. Making the provision of throughcare more widely available, rather than limiting statutory provision to prisoners serving four years or more, would be a good start. It would also be consistent with the principles underlying the success of the VRU.

A recent report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland confirmed that point, but found that, overall,

“there are lengthy waiting lists for many key programmes” and that

“prisoners are at risk of being released into the community without having completed treatment programmes designed to reduce future reoffending”.

That is disappointing and shows that we can and must do better.

Providing support to individuals while they are in prison helps to break the vicious cycle of recidivism. That includes support with issues such as finding housing, substance misuse, education and training, and money management. Ensuring continuity in that support after release is essential—the support must be seamless. As the VRU shows, co-ordination can deliver real benefits for the individual, the community and society as a whole.

However, as it stands, those benefits are not being realised. In May 2018, David Strang said,

“I have seen too often people leaving prison with approximately £75 in their pocket and with the prospect of having to wait several weeks before being eligible for basic benefits.”

He added that many of those people “end up homeless”, which has a clear consequential risk of them reverting to reoffending behaviour, keeping the wrong company and in many cases, turning to violence.

The success of the VRU relies on accepting the need to take a longer term perspective. Based on David Strang’s account, the same cannot yet be said for how our courts and prisons treat violent offenders. I accept that delivering proper throughcare across the prison population is likely to be costly. However, all the evidence shows that failing to do it is considerably more costly.

We owe it to those across the public and third sectors who have contributed to the success of the VRU—and many more who are working hard to reduce the violence that still blights too many of our communities—to be bold. Enabling the expansion of good quality throughcare in prisons and communities across the country is one way of demonstrating that boldness of ambition.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Before I move on to the open debate, I remind members that because of the limits of our technology, if you intervene, your request-to-speak button goes off. It is just one of those things. Surely we can overcome that? We can send people into space, so we must be able to get buttons to go back on. I will leave it there.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

I associate myself with Liam McArthur’s comments on throughcare. I do not touch on it in my speech, but I agree with him on all those points—and with much of what John Finnie said, too.

Much of what I am about to say has already been said in the opening speeches, but it is worth repeating, because it is a success story. The overall picture shows that Scotland has made great progress in reducing violence and there has been a sustained long-term reduction in violent crime in Scotland over the last decade.

I believe that that is the result of the Scottish Government adopting a public health approach to tackling violence, as advocated by the World Health Organization. The emphasis is on prevention activity such as education and early intervention, which we know always works; partnership working with the national health service, local authorities and community groups; and appropriate law enforcement, as necessary. By continuing to tackle the causes of violence and not just the symptoms, we have broken down the relentless cycle of violence and reduced the terrible impact that it has had on individuals, families and communities.

I was born in Glasgow—a city that was once known as no mean city. As we have heard, the World Health Organization described it as the murder capital of Europe in 2005, due to gang violence and its aggressive reputation. We all know that, thankfully, that is no longer the case due to the progress that has been made, which has seen Glasgow’s murder rate drop by 60 per cent. Even the World Economic Forum has praised Scotland’s efforts in reducing violence, with the new approach seeing violent crime in Scotland decrease by 49 per cent—almost half—in the past decade.

The Scottish Government is fully committed to preventing and reducing violence and it has invested over £14 million in violence prevention measures and programmes since 2008. As we have heard, a key part of the Government’s work to tackle violence is support for Police Scotland’s violence reduction unit, which is a renowned national centre of expertise on violence. It aims to reduce violent crime and behaviour by working with partner agencies to achieve long-term societal and attitudinal change and, by focusing on enforcement, to contain and manage individuals who carry weapons or who are involved in violent behaviour.

The SVRU began in 2005, when Strathclyde Police established a violence reduction unit to target all forms of violent behaviour and, in particular, knife crime and weapon carrying among young men in and around Glasgow. Following the success of the unit, the programme was extended nationwide, and since 2008 the SVRU has been funded by the Government to the tune of £12 million.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Does the member share my concern that so little is being done to reduce violent crime in the most deprived areas, such that the victimisation rate has remained fundamentally unchanged for a decade?

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

I am just not sure how the member can evidence the statement that so little is being done in the most deprived areas. I do not know where that is coming from. A lot of focus has been on the deprived areas.

Similar programmes exist around the world that are not delivered through the police. Violence reduction programmes in Chicago operate through the university, for example, while similar programmes in New York and Baltimore are administered through the cities’ health departments.

The SVRU team is a mixture of researchers, police officers, civilian staff and former offenders who have turned their lives around and are now succeeding in helping others to do the same. I believe that its early pioneers, John Carnochan and Karyn McCluskey, will go down in history as being instrumental in eradicating the unacceptably high levels of violence in Scotland. They had the monumental task of making a difference, and they did that by offering hope to so many disengaged and disadvantaged young people. They offered them hope, and that was what they needed to turn their lives around.

The SVRU introduced the mentors in violence prevention programme after seeing its success in America. Again, it learned from good practice. The MVP programme trains students in the skills to safely intervene and prevent violence in Scotland.

As the minister said, we learned only this week that Scotland’s approach to tackling violence is being adopted by other areas of the United Kingdom. London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has already been incorporating elements of the public health approach in his knife crime strategy, and a violence reduction unit has been set up on a similar model to ours.

Earlier this month, I held an event in Parliament to highlight the work of Professor Ross Deuchar, assistant dean of the University of the West of Scotland, who is researching a radical new approach to rehabilitating and healing violent offenders in Denmark. Professor Deuchar is a Scottish criminologist who is known primarily for his work on gangs, masculinity, street culture, violence and gang desistance, as well as policing, procedural justice and focused deterrence strategies. He is also the author of a new book called “Gangs and Spirituality: Global Perspectives”. His work has spanned three continents and he has worked with the most marginalised gang members on the streets, in youth clubs and in secure accommodation and prisons.

The event in Parliament focused on groundbreaking new work on the healing effect of yoga, meditation and breathing to prevent offending, with members of the Danish breathe smart programme demonstrating the technique.

To say that the event was fascinating is an understatement. We heard from Jerry Rasmussen, who is a self-confessed former violent criminal whose life has been turned around by that practice. He was lost. He had a high adverse childhood experiences count, and he had known only a life of violence and criminality. However, he started to live again because of the patience of the breathe smart team. It was emotional and uplifting to see the real man behind the formerly macho, defensive and desperately unhappy offender he once was. To use a cliché, that restored my faith in human nature and reinforced my view that we can and must find alternatives to reducing violent behaviour and reoffending.

The Art of Living Foundation provides classes and programmes to individuals and organisations throughout the UK. Its vision is of a stress-free and violence-free world. Who would not want that?

In conclusion, I am proud that Scotland is at the forefront of tackling violence. We must never get complacent and there will always be work to do, of course, but we have come a long way since the days of no mean city.

Photo of Michelle Ballantyne Michelle Ballantyne Conservative

I welcome and acknowledge the improvements that we have seen in Scotland since the rather damning report by the United Nations in 2005, which declared Scotland to be the most violent country in the developed world. According to the University of California, Scotland had a higher violent death rate than America had at that time. As we have heard, those reports came after the World Health Organization had revealed in 2002 that 34.1 per cent of males in Scotland had carried weapons at least once during their lifetime. It is clear that that is not a description of Scotland that any of us ever wants to see again.

In the child poverty debate last week, I highlighted the principle that we cannot just battle with the symptoms of an issue, but must deal with it at the root. Today’s debate has highlighted an excellent example of doing just that.

I add my congratulations to the violence reduction unit and welcome the incredibly impressive results that it has achieved. Part of the reason why I want to talk about it relates to what Daniel Johnson mentioned. I loved the description of the approach that the VRU took in addressing the problem as if it were a disease. First, it diagnoses the problem. It then analyses the causes and examines what works and for whom. Finally, it develops solutions. Once evaluated, those solutions could be scaled up to help others. It is brilliant that Scotland has gone out there and is genuinely starting to help others, and it chuffs me no end that London is coming to us for help. That is to be celebrated.

Perhaps most important is that the VRU did not seek a quick fix. It wanted to change society’s attitude to violence and to bring about partnership working between the police and the health, education and social work services. It does not mention the third sector on the front page of its website, but I am sure that it is involved.

That is what makes the approach possible. Long-term attitudinal changes in society are often missed when actions and policies are tied to short-term funding solutions. I have experienced that myself. Funding often ends for effective projects simply because funders seek new, exciting ideas. I am pleased that more than a decade on from the formation of the VRU, it is still going strong and continues to roll out the principles on which it started its work.

I am extremely impressed that the VRU is the only police member of the World Health Organization’s violence prevention alliance. This is about changing the attitude that the solution is just about enforcement, and instead thinking about violence as something that is embedded in society that we need to address.

The Scottish Government is quite right to highlight the success, and I am very happy to add my voice in welcoming it.

Here comes the “but”. There is always a “however”, isn’t there? My colleague Liam Kerr and others have said that, in celebrating and welcoming success, we must not be complacent or take our eye off the ball. Although we are keen to stress that, nationally, crime rates are falling and things are improving, that is not always the whole story.

Niven Rennie has been mentioned a few times. He has said that

“There is still too much violence”,

and A and E departments are dealing with far higher numbers of serious assaults than are reported to the police.

I had a look at what is going on in some areas in South Scotland. In my region, there are worrying trends that underlie the national figures. Figures from the past year in the Borders show that there has been a 13 per cent increase in recorded crime. We have seen a 20 per cent increase in sex offences and a 17 per cent increase in housebreaking. Other offences, including weapons and drugs offences, have risen by 29 per cent.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I thank Michelle Ballantyne for her thoughtful contribution. I caution the use of the word “trend” when using one year’s figures. The trend has been downward throughout the decade. Using just one year’s figures can be a danger.

Photo of Michelle Ballantyne Michelle Ballantyne Conservative

I accept that point, but there is concern when the figures suddenly start to rise again, and we need to look at that. I accept and do not dispute that the overall trend is down.

Some progress has been made this year in the Scottish Borders. The Conservative and independent led council is using its budget to support a community action policing team, which is having positive effects. However, I question whether it is right that our local councils are contributing to policing on our streets; we may need to think about that.

I hope that the Deputy Presiding Officer will forgive me for mentioning that she was quoted in a recent issue of the

Midlothian Advertiser as saying that

“crime is at its lowest in ... forty years”,

—which is quite correct—and claiming that that

“proves that the SNP’s approach to issues such as knife crime is paying dividends for our communities.”

That is, nationally, quite correct.

Unfortunately, in Midlothian, overall crime has risen by 12 per cent, which is one of the biggest rises in crime in a local authority area in Scotland. The local area commander, Chief Inspector Kenny Simpson, regularly raises the subject of antisocial behaviour in the newspaper. He felt compelled to write an article which had the headline “Number of youths armed with weapons is cause for concern”, in which he referenced a recent spike in vandalism. I caution that national figures can sometimes hide local issues. In welcoming improvements, we must also be willing to acknowledge what we still need to tackle.

There are still issues that concern me and members of the public. We have visited some of those debates here, including on the soft-touch approach, on early release dates for offenders and on there being fewer front-line officers. Overall, I congratulate everyone who has contributed to the positive national trend, but there is still work to do.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you for the name check.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

It gives me great pleasure to speak in the debate. I declare an interest as a social worker registered with the Scottish Social Services Council; I spent four years prior to my election working in the criminal justice field, so I was, as members will imagine, pleased when I heard that the World Economic Forum has recognised Scotland’s progress in reducing violence and its complete overhaul of its record and approach.

Crime in Scotland has decreased significantly since 2006-07, in no small part thanks to the violence reduction unit, which was founded in 2005. The figures are stark. Between April 2006 and April 2011 in Scotland, 40 children and teenagers were killed in homicides that involved knives. Between 2011 and 2016, the figure fell to eight. I am very clear that every death is unacceptable and that that figure is still eight too many. I will put Liam Kerr’s mind at ease and say that by no means is there complacency. In Glasgow, the figure between 2011 and 2016 was zero. That is where we need to get for the whole country, although it is clear that the plan is working.

To people like me who have worked in the area, it is a pleasing but not surprising start. I know first hand the great work that is done by all the agencies in the criminal justice system, including help to rehabilitate people who have served custodial sentences; the “change now Caledonia” programme that works with people who commit domestic violence offences; substance misuse and addiction programmes; and youth justice approaches. The list goes on.

I dispute Neil Findlay’s assertions that public services do not have the money to do the work, because that is not what I have seen and experienced. I could spend literally my whole six minutes just listing public and third sector services, but of course I am not going to do that. However, it is only right that I pay tribute to all the people who work across the sector, including my former colleagues who do a fine job in challenging circumstances.

At the core of our approach is a welfare and human-rights based model, which is why social workers carry out much of the intervention work, rather than parole officers, as is the case in England. As has been said, violence is a complex issue that comes in many forms. It is clear that there is a strong link between poverty, adverse childhood experiences and violent crime. There is a well-documented—

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

I will not, just now.

There is also a well documented, strong and complex interplay between unemployment, homelessness, mental health and addiction issues, and offending and violence. I am therefore a staunch believer that we should focus on the causes of violence, which is why it needs to be said clearly that the Tory welfare and austerity cuts are plunging our children and vulnerable people into dire poverty and hunger. The cuts will limit our youngsters’ chances and increase the likelihood of violent offending. Every party in the chamber should applaud the Scottish Government for reversing that trend, in the face of those inhumane policies, through, for example, cashback for communities and other initiatives.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

If I have time later, I will take an intervention from the member.

Since 2008, the Scottish Government has invested £14 million in violence prevention measures. A key part of the Scottish Government’s work to tackle violence is Police Scotland’s violence reduction unit. The internationally recognised SVRU was set up with the aim of reducing violent crimes and behaviours by working in conjunction with partner agencies to achieve long-term societal and attitudinal change. It is essential that we focus on enforcement to contain and manage individuals who carry weapons or are involved in violent behaviour.

There are some really good national policies. For example, the presumption against the short-term sentence is absolutely vital if we are serious about reducing reoffending. There is also the issue of remand; I look forward to taking part in the debate on remand in the chamber in a couple of weeks, following the Justice Committee’s inquiry.

There needs to be scope for local interventions. We heard how in Glasgow the challenges to gang culture have helped to reduce violent crime. In my area, Coatbridge and Chryston, the statistics are looking good—they certainly reflect the national reduction in violent crime—but we are by no means ready to celebrate, just yet. There are significant issues with mental health; police officers report routinely that they are the first port of call for people who need treatment. There are also major issues with drugs, statistics on which for Lanarkshire regularly make the local news.

However, I want to finish by focusing on alcohol and its link to violent crime in my part of the world. A couple of weeks ago, the local paper, the

Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser

, released shocking figures. It said that more people were admitted to Monklands A and E for alcohol-related harm than to any other hospital in the area—1,800 patients since 2015. That is perhaps not surprising in an area that has been devastated by years of deindustrialisation, Tory policies and unemployment, which have resulted in generational unemployment, crime and poor health outcomes.

Most members will have heard of Buckfast tonic wine—commonly referred to as Buckie—which is a high-volume alcoholic drink that is associated mainly with Coatbridge and Airdrie. I will not fight with my colleague Alex Neil over this, but it is also associated with most other Lanarkshire towns; indeed, most towns there will have rivalries over which is the Buckfast capital. It is not a new issue or something to be mocked or scoffed at.

I found some startling figures. Between 2008 and 2012, Buckfast was mentioned in an average of 2,893 crime reports a year by Strathclyde Police. That works out at just under eight a day. That is backed up by crime reports that I saw when I worked in the sector. Buckfast is not subject to minimum unit pricing. That is not coincidence. There is a link between alcohol misuse and violent crime, but there is clearly a problem with that particular choice. One of the main problems is that the bottle is made of glass. In accounts of violent incidents, bottles appear to be a more frequently used weapon than any other, making Buckfast not only a precursor to violent behaviour and crime, but a tool that is readily available to use.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

I join the long list of politicians who are calling on the manufacturer to consider other materials for the bottles. A survey that was conducted at Polmont young offenders institution in 2007 produced striking results. Of offenders who had been drunk at the time of their crime, 43 per cent had been drinking Buckfast. There is clearly a link, albeit that the statistics are not fully up to date.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You have to come to a close, Mr MacGregor.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

I had other things to say about local agencies, but I will finish by saying that the statistics are very good. They are not surprising to me—a lot of good work is going on. I commend the Scottish Government for the work that it is doing, but as everyone has said, there is more to be done.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

I join my colleague Rona Mackay in associating myself with Liam McArthur’s comments about through care. Unless we can get that right, predominantly for men leaving prison, we are setting people up to fail and it will not help anybody.

Violence is a complex issue that comes in many forms. Beyond the obvious health problems that result from violence, and beyond the psychological trauma and physical injuries, violent behaviour in itself is an epidemic that spreads from person to person. To break cycles of violence and reduce the harm that is done to individuals, their families and communities, we must tackle the causes and not just the symptoms of violence.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to that approach and, in particular, the work of the Scottish violence reduction unit, which has been recognised internationally as being at the forefront of Scotland’s approach to preventing violence. The unit team is a mixture of researchers, police officers, civilian staff and former offenders. Its remit is to tackle violence in all its forms, from gang fighting to domestic abuse to bullying in schools and the workplace. It has had many successes—a fact that was reflected in the announcement on Wednesday that London will echo Scotland’s approach to violence by treating it as a public health issue. That public health approach, which has been advocated by the World Health Organization and adopted by the Scottish Government, is effective. Prevention activity such as early education and early intervention, alongside appropriate law enforcement, is essential.

Crime in Scotland has decreased and most people feel safe in our communities. However, while celebrating successes in tackling violence and crime, we also have a duty to hear and act on some of the less comfortable facts. John Carnochan has told us that

“crime figures are only a small measure—and not a great one at that—of the levels of violence. In Scotland we found that only one third to one half of people in accident and emergency as a result of violence report it to the police. The ones which hadn’t reported to us had resolved to deal with the matter themselves, which led to more violence.”

With that in mind, I want to pick up on a particular strand of SVRU work that is based in hospitals. I was really pleased—in fact, I was absolutely delighted—to learn in the programme for government that the navigator project is being extended and that navigators will shortly be starting work in Crosshouse hospital, which serves my constituency. The aim of the navigator project is to break the cycle of violence for the individual, ease the pressure that violence places on the NHS and stop the revolving door of violent injury in our hospitals by identifying and supporting people in emergency departments or wards at the point of need. Navigators do that by talking to patients who have been affected by violence and using a wide range of contacts, services and resources outside the emergency room to offer help and support to those patients to change their lives.

Commenting on the work, Donogh Maguire, who is a senior emergency department consultant, said:

“This is possibly the most valuable non-medical change in the management of A&E in the whole course of my career. I think for inner-city hospitals this should be a standard means of engaging with the homeless and disenfranchised people that we have coming to our departments. The reason I say this is because the current mechanisms are failing or the people are not engaging with them, whereas here we’re getting the Navigators catching people at a time when they’re amenable to some intervention.”

I was also struck by comments that were made by people who are currently working as navigators when they were asked about the best and worst parts of their job. Sam Fingland said that best bit was

“Probably seeing the changes that people make themselves.”

She said that she is just there to “ignite that little spark” and that it is “rewarding” work. She also said:

“The job does exactly what it says it will do and that’s to help people navigate” and make changes.

Tam is also a navigator. He said that the best bit is

“Outcomes. I think that most Navigators will tell you the same, it’s what gives you the energy to come back weekend after weekend. It’s seeing that little bit of positivity in a person’s life that wasn’t there before. We’re not super heroes, we’re just helping people to save themselves by giving them hope, energy and self-belief.”

He said that the most difficult part is that

“you sometimes end up wanting change more than they do at that particular point in time. Maybe they haven’t fallen hard enough or they’re just not ready for it. ... It’s difficult but we have to remain positive that at some point when they’re ready they will get back to us.”

I said in opening that violence is a complex issue. It is, but it is not inevitable. Tackling it is the business of all of us. I commend all the people who are involved in that really important work, particularly those on the front line who are kindly, compassionately and tenaciously refusing to give up on those whom society finds it all too easy to ignore. I say to them, keep up the good work and never stop challenging and pushing those of us who could be described as being in the most corrosive gangs of all.

Scotland has made great progress, but as long as anyone suffers something that is not inevitable, and as long as even one person is suffering from violence, we still have a power of work to do.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

Recently, I have found from speaking to a number of people on the front line—whether prisoners, drug users, counsellors, medical staff or police officers—that they paint a very realistic and sobering picture of what is going on in our communities. Of course, we all welcome any reduction in crime, but the repeated trotting out of figures telling us that crime is at an all-time low and the like has little relevance to people whose lives are impacted by crime, violence, drugs and other social manifestations of an increasingly divided society.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

Yes, well—get it out the way quickly.

Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

It is not a political point, Mr Findlay. A bit more manners would be helpful.

Would you not accept that those who would have been affected by violence before and are now not being affected by it are seeing the benefit of the serious drop in crime?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

First, members should always speak through the chair. Secondly, we should always be polite to fellow members and it is for me to decide whether something is impolite or otherwise.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

In response to James Dornan’s point, I said that we welcome that drop—absolutely. Of course, anybody who lives in a community where there is violence welcomes the fact that things are happening to reduce that violence.

However, crime and violence are a condition of the society and economy that we live in. Only by treating violence as the ill that people have spoken about have we begun to make progress. That was the philosophy behind the Labour-led coalition Government establishing the violence reduction unit in the first place. There was a recognition that poverty, hopelessness and the impact of deindustrialisation had created the conditions for crime, antisocial behaviour and violence to flourish and that only by addressing those deep-seated problems in affected communities could we possibly deal with their often violent manifestations.

Whereas once there was reliable employment, secure housing and cohesive communities, now people have been left with precarious jobs, scarce or unaffordable homes and public services in a state of apparently permanent contraction. In many areas, drugs have taken hold, destabilising communities and setting individuals on paths of self-destruction. The combination of an ideological obsession with austerity and spending cuts feeds division, alienation, frustration and powerlessness.

It is unsurprising that some young people look at their future, compare it with that of their peers and think that there is an easier way out through drug use or dealing, organised crime, theft or other criminal activity, which is often a gateway to violent conflict. We have to look beyond that.

Public services are the key—they are the glue that holds our society together. If we cut youth work and cash going to drug and alcohol projects, allow social workers to drown in case work and the educational divide to widen, condition young workers to expect no more than a low-paid, precarious job, and leave communities in a state of decline and shrug our shoulders, saying that it is just a consequence of austerity, we do not have a chance of reversing the situation.

The decision by Scottish Labour to treat violent crime as a public health issue was the right one and we need to apply that principle to other areas of society, in particular drugs policy. Daniel Johnson mentioned that the violence reduction unit was set up as a result of 70 deaths a year through violence. We have 1,000 deaths a year through drugs—14 times as many. Where is the national emergency in that? It is a crisis—a crisis—and we are doing very little about it.

If we think that we can arrest our way to a drug or crime-free society, we are seriously deluded. We need to invest in local services and projects such as the violent offender watch project in Edinburgh and the Lothians, which works with Aid & Abet, a charitable organisation. VOW has been reducing violent offending by encouraging repeat offenders to address their behaviour and engage with mentoring services. The support workers from Aid & Abet are ex-offenders, and they include my constituents, the inspirational Kevin Neary and Donald Tumilowicz, who spoke in Parliament at an event that I organised earlier this year. They have reduced offending by over 80 per cent among the client group that they work with and they have an uptake rate of nearly 50 per cent. It is a strategy that accepts that we can reduce crime and get people back on the road to recovery more quickly and effectively if we work with them than if we work against them.

There is clear evidence that that approach is working—the project has saved £7 million, yet it exists on a shoestring. The project has to get lottery funding to keep going, and there is no certainty that it will continue. It should not be under constant threat; it should be rolled out across the country. I urge the cabinet secretary to meet me and representatives of VOW and Aid & Abet so that we can look not just at how to secure funding for the project but at how we can roll out such projects across the country, because those kinds of schemes make moral, political and financial sense. Our aim should be to create long-term attitudinal change rather than a quick fix.

I spoke about drugs policy, and I will continue to speak about it, because we have a national crisis on our hands. If having the highest number of drugs deaths in Europe does not qualify as a public health emergency, I surely do not know what does.

Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

The reasons for having the debate fill me with no complacency but a great sense of pride in what Scotland has achieved over the past decade and a half. I suspect that I am the only speaker in the debate who lived through being a teenager in Glasgow in the 1960s and 1970s, when I was blessed by listening to the best music and watching the best football team of all time. However, the one blight for most teenage boys back then was the threat of violence. Never a week went past without our hearing of a friend, schoolmate, colleague or even family member being the victim of a random attack, or being caught in the wrong place when two gangs were fighting, perhaps when coming home from football.

It gives me great hope for the future to see Glasgow go from being Europe’s murder capital to a situation where the World Economic Forum can congratulate us on the huge decrease in murders and violence. Of course, random violence, murder, serious assaults and other offences still occur, but we have come such a long way from the days when the surgeons in Johannesburg were recognised as the finest gunshot surgeons in the world and those of the Glasgow Royal infirmary as the finest at dealing with stab wounds.

How did we get here? The Scottish violence reduction unit’s website welcomes readers with the phrase

“Violence is preventable—not inevitable”.

Those words are important to me. As I look back over my younger years, I cannot help but wonder how many young men and women were written off because a life of violence, perpetrated by and against them, was seen as inevitable. Society just expected young people from certain areas to develop certain behaviours, because they were caught in a cycle, and that was just how it was.

Even back then, there were organisations that worked to deflect young men from that path of destruction, and they, too, should be remembered for their good work. However, it was only when the SVRU took an example from Boston and decided to approach the culture of macho violence differently that real strides began to be made in getting those men to see that there was another way. I congratulate the Labour coalition on bringing it in.

It took guidance, time and a better understanding of the many reasons behind violent behaviour before the problem could be faced head on. Experts now recognise the complex and varied reasons why a person may have violent tendencies. That is why the SVRU is due all the praise that has been heaped on it, not only from the World Economic Forum but in the chamber today. When Scotland becomes an independent country and we are bandying about names for statues or some other form of public recognition for people who have helped to make Scotland the modern, welcoming and peaceful society that it has become, two names at the top of my list will be John Carnochan and Karyn McLuskey. Without their drive and vision, I doubt very much that we would be having this debate. In case I forget to do so later, I will just say how pleased I am that Niven Rennie is now in charge of the SVRU—I can think of no one better.

The great thing about the SVRU was that it knew that the task could not be done by the police alone, so it adopted a multipronged public health approach. I have been absolutely fascinated to read about some of the other tactics that have been used, with the unit involving people such as hairdressers, dentists, firemen and vets to identify victims. We must also congratulate the Scottish Government on its continuing support for the SVRU, without which I doubt it would be able to continue as at present.

I have concentrated on male-to-male youth violence, for the simple reason that it is still by far the most likely type of random violence. However, we should not forget the other types of devastating violence, which can manifest in many forms, such as sexual, physical and, of course, emotional abuse. It is a multifaceted problem that can be tackled only with a rounded and interorganisational approach.

In my constituency alone, amazing work is being done with projects such as the Castlemilk Youth Complex, a project that, uniquely, is run for young people by young people. The project takes young people off the streets and puts them into community arts programmes. It seeks to find each young person’s unique talents and gifts and encourage them to be used in a fantastic way, through theatre and music.

Southside boxing academy, which trains in Mount Florida, has more than 100 members. It keeps its members off the streets and gives them the sense of self-worth that many of them lack.

Amazing work is also being done by women against violent environments, or WAVES, and the domestic abuse integrated support—DAISy—project, which seek to support young women to flee the horrific crime of domestic abuse. The projects provide not just a refuge but information and support, to enable broken women and children to rebuild their lives.

Every year, in June, another Castlemilk group, lost lives, invites the community to take part in a memorial garden. The garden is a wall of flowers, which are placed by people who have lost a loved one to violent crime, abuse or other horrendous circumstances throughout the years. This summer, my staff and I took time to read the many cards that friends and families had placed with the hundreds of flowers. There were memories of brothers, sons, husbands, fathers, sisters, daughters and friends—not one case was more or less tragic than the next.

I wish that I could show members the photos of that garden of loss, because that alone would remind each and every one of us why we must continue in our fight to reduce violent crime—and drug use; I agree with Neil Findlay on that—and encourage future generations to follow a different path. We must support the Scottish violence reduction unit’s motto and declare that violence really is preventable, not inevitable.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

I welcome Ash Denham to her new post and I hope that all goes well for her.

We are here today to discuss how further reductions in the most harmful crimes can be secured. Violence in Scotland is undoubtedly a concern for the people whom we represent. We cannot afford to deny the threat of violent crime in our communities, especially if the issue is not dealt with openly and effectively. I welcome this opportunity to debate the ways in which violence reduction measures can achieve success in Scotland in future.

I recognise that the violence reduction unit has made crucial progress. The unit’s original aim was to target the worsening levels of violence in Glasgow, but its remit spread to include the entirety of Scotland, with a goal to tackle all forms of violence, including bullying in the workplace and in schools, domestic abuse and gang fighting.

The violence reduction unit works closely with groups in health, social work and education, to develop approaches to the causes of violence and solutions to problems. We can see the efforts that the unit has made, and I welcome its contribution to lowering crime in Scotland. Indeed, it can be argued that the unit’s public health approach to violence has halved the number of facial trauma patients in Glasgow’s hospitals and has reduced the city’s murder rate by 60 per cent.

Although the Scottish Government has hailed those results as a complete success, we must recognise that the problem of violence in Scotland has in no way disappeared. Official statistics do not include the innumerable instances of unrecorded violent crime, and surveys and health data show the rate of violent crime to be much higher than the Government claims it to be. Niven Rennie made clear recently that there is still too much violence for “a progressive society”. We note that the VRU has issued a clarification of the headline figure that was used in that newspaper report, but the fundamental point remains that the figures that the SNP puts out in press releases are inaccurate. That is unfortunate.

According to the Scottish crime and justice survey, it is estimated that only 37 per cent of crimes were reported to the police in 2016-17. That means that we do not have a true picture of crime rates in Scotland and how to tackle the problem effectively. It is undeniable that violent crime is still an issue in Scotland. It represents about a third of all crime, and an estimated 231,000 violent crimes affected adults in Scotland last year. It is worrying that between 2014 and 2017 the number of violent crimes increased by 45,000.

That is an especially alarming discovery when we consider that cuts have been made in Scotland’s police force. If we restrict policing, we fail to take seriously the safety of our communities. Surely the cuts have contributed to the rise in street robberies and the confidence of criminals that they will not be caught.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I remind the member that the number of police officers is up 938 on the number that we inherited. If he thinks that we are not doing enough for policing, what does he make of the Tory Government, under which policing has fallen by 13 per cent—or 19,588 officers—in England and Wales?

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

The fact is that the SNP made the protection of police numbers its flagship policy and said that it would provide more support for the police and for various programmes. The SNP cannot deny that, but that support needs to be put in place, so that more effective use can be made of the police. I will make further points that will reinforce that.

The fall in police numbers also means that the threat of gang crime will become harder to target. The rise in the number of gangs has become alarming, because of their increased use of firearms and violence. Therefore, we need more community police officers in our communities, where local knowledge is paramount. That relates to the point that I made to the cabinet secretary.

Violence continues to be a problem in our communities, so the Government must admit the need to have an accurate picture of the state of crime in Scotland. The violence reduction unit has raised the issue of continued violence and has warned against ignoring crime the statistics on which are unrecorded. Without governmental recognition of the rise in the number of violent offences, the VRU will not be able to reach the full potential of its excellent services.

If the Government is to take significant steps forward in violence reduction, the unrecorded rate of violent crime must be taken into account. Crimes such as attempted murder and serious assaults are too common for the Government to become complacent. Rather, we should find ways in which they can be actively reduced. In particular, efforts should be made to reduce the reoffending rate. In my role as an MSP, I have gone round the prisons, and I praise the Government for the successful prisoner support programme that has been introduced in some prisons in Scotland, notably Low Moss prison. I encourage the Government to expand the use of such programmes.

It is my belief that preventative measures should be in place from the start. In that way, the issue of violence can be tackled before it has time to develop and worsen. One area of prevention that surely needs more focus is education. We know that more children are being excluded from school for using knives and makeshift weapons. Those instances of first-time offences can easily lead to more serious crimes, such as drug taking and violent or sexual abuse, which are all on the rise in Scotland. For that reason, a greater effort must be made to ensure that primary school pupils are taught about the dangers of violence and its consequences.

I note that the no knives, better lives initiative has aimed to deliver training in schools to deter young people from carrying knives, but more funding is needed to raise awareness in schools across deprived areas of Scotland and to support more such initiatives. That will help to ensure that young people are dissuaded from becoming perpetrators in the future. It will also lessen the potential for people to become victims of violence, which is more likely to affect younger adults.

A greater commitment to addressing the seriousness of violent crime in the education of young people should be a fundamental priority. Such a commitment has been demonstrated in the setting up of Police Scotland’s youth volunteers programme, representatives of which I met in Parliament the other day. The Government deserves some praise for that.

In connection with that—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You will have to come to a close, please, Mr Corry.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

Yes, I will do. I believe that more robust anger management training would go a long way towards lessening the potential for violent crime. Surely that preventative measure would provide a better understanding of how to pinpoint anger issues and prioritise educational training.

Further—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You must come to a close, please.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

The Scottish Government should encourage armed forces veterans to join Police Scotland when they leave the forces. They are an excellent skills resource.

In conclusion—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

No, I think that you have concluded, Mr Corry.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

I hope that the Government will agree with my suggestions.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We come to the final speaker in the open debate.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I thoroughly appreciated Ash Denham’s speech, and I welcome her to her post.

It is a fact that the level of crime is down. Violent crime, in particular, is down dramatically, and that has been the case over a long period of time. The trend began in the final few years of the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat Executive, and it has been progressively built on by our current SNP Scottish Government.

The work of the violence reduction unit and its various partners has clearly been a key driver of that success. I apologise for not saying more about the unit’s work, but many members have already done so. However, it is worth pointing out that the successful establishment of the unit was based on political consensus on the need to put violence in the public health domain, and we must continue that consensus, regardless of how we proceed following this afternoon’s debate.

The minister acknowledged that the nature of violent crime and how it manifests itself in our communities might be changing, that violence might be presenting itself in a more concentrated fashion in some communities and that there could be more repeat victims.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

Let me develop my point further. Some of that crime is significantly likely to be unreported, too. We have to have a better understanding of such patterns and changes, and we must develop our violence reduction strategies accordingly. That is not complacency—I think that we have a political agreement on that point.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I return to the point that I put to Rona Mackay, who was unsure about the research. The Scottish crime and justice survey from 2017 said that the violent crime victimisation rate for adults in the 15 per cent most deprived areas has shown no significant change since 2008-09. Does Bob Doris think that that is something to celebrate, or does he agree with my amendment in saying that we must show no complacency about such statistics?

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

It is a real shame that Liam Kerr has wasted my speaking time with that intervention, because I have already said that there are issues that the Government has acknowledged and that we must better understand the patterns of crime and do something about them.

I will continue nevertheless.

Perhaps we should look at how we could better direct resources to such areas when we identify the nature of such crimes in our communities. For example, when we look to put more money into deprived areas, Maurice Corry will have my support if he agrees that funding from recovery of the proceeds of crime should not be spread evenly across the country but should be concentrated in deprived areas in which the victims of crime suffer at the coalface. That would mean getting political consensus on that, and it would mean money leaving Maurice Corry’s constituency and going to mine in Maryhill and Springburn. However, we have to be brave if we are serious and sincere about tackling such issues in our deprived communities.

Without being complacent, we can celebrate the fact that violent crime figures are down. I view the debate very much from the aspect of what we can do next. I would like to look at that a little bit. I want to talk about Open Gates, which is an organisation in my constituency. It supports prisoners and ex-prisoners

“through an employment and training programme with the aim of reducing re-offending and stopping the revolving door back into prison”,

which has happened all too often. Crucially, it is run by individuals—including the irrepressible Pat Clark—who have managed to break the cycle themselves and who use their experience to mentor and support other offenders to do the same. It is a social enterprise organisation that

“will manufacture, recycle, and upcycle furniture and white goods and sell to the general public”.

Open Gates is based just off Possilpark, at the canal, in my constituency. I invite either the minister or the cabinet secretary to come and see for themselves the work that it does. Its funding can be precarious at times. Perhaps there should be more substantial support—through direct funding, or the Scottish Prison Service—to build a sustainable model around that, and to do so across the country. There is a positive suggestion about how we might take things forward.

I do not think that I could be involved in the debate and not mention various youth organisations in my constituency, such as Royston youth action, NUC North United Communities Ltd, Young Peoples Futures or New Rhythms for Glasgow, all of which work with young people. Crucially, however, they are at their best when they are funded not just to offer diversionary activities for young people but to work with young people and their families. When young people go off the rails, some of their behaviour and downward spiral can be replicated in the wider family. I know that the violence reduction unit also uses that model. We should perhaps think more imaginatively about how we can enhance funding for organisations, such as those that I have mentioned, that better networks support to the wider family rather than just to a young person.

Time is almost upon me, so I will make my final point. Earlier, John Finnie mentioned domestic violence, and we know about the success of the White Ribbon Scotland organisation here and globally. Gender-based male-to-female domestic violence is—or should be—unacceptable. In our most deprived communities we have to create a society in which male-on-male violence is just as unacceptable. That will be a real challenge in some of our communities and in some areas, but it is a nut that we have to crack. We will do so by placing the issue in the public health domain. That is why I celebrate the success of the violence reduction unit and support the motion that is before us this afternoon.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to closing speeches.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I begin by saying something that I should have said in my opening remarks. As we talk about this issue, we ought to bear in mind the people who are on the front line delivering the approach, whether they be police officers, social workers, people working in our schools or those in the third sector. It is only because they have challenged and changed their practices and worked holistically that we have managed to reduce violence in Scotland.

For the police in particular, it has meant a fairly significant culture change but one in which they recognise that it is important for them to have relationships on the ground and in the communities where violence is such a problem.

That is where the debate has been useful. It has not been uncontroversial—there have been heated words at times—but that might be the point. It would have been disappointing if there had not been points of controversy, because this is a challenging subject. Not all the things that we will discuss about violence in communities are easy. However, three fundamental things have been discussed. The first is the understanding or diagnosis of the problem. The second is how we need to challenge ourselves around where we can do more, and the third is how we look to the future.

In some ways, the approach to the problem was brought home to me when I was travelling through to Glasgow one day. In the best traditions of Scottish public life, we always bump into interesting people on that Glasgow train and, on that occasion, I sat down next to a key representative of the Scottish Police Federation, who discussed these very issues and talked about how to make progress. He talked about how it is about making early interventions by spotting the problems and intervening before they escalate to full-blown criminality. It is about looking at things such as the impact of the reduction in the number of school exclusions, as well as the reduction in the number of short-term sentences and the number of people going to Polmont. He said that those are chicken-or-egg factors. He even raised a point about lead in fuel. That might seem to be a random point, but the reduction in lead in fuel across the western world is considered by some to have led to a reduction in violence. My point is that there are many factors that lie behind the reduction in violence, and they are not always obvious. We must be unflinching in looking at them all and the consequences of the decisions that we make in public policy and how they reduce violence.

Niven Rennie has been invoked many times today. I have not been following Twitter, but I have no doubt that he will have given a verdict on whether we have reflected him accurately. There is no doubt that cracking the problem is going to be complicated and we are not there yet.

Michelle Ballantyne talked about the disease analysis. There are so many factors that we need to look at, and I will just introduce one more. Members know that I take a keen interest in ADHD. In the general population, 5 per cent of people have ADHD, and in the prison population, it is 25 per cent, but in Polmont, it is 40 per cent.

Those are some of the things that we need to look at. It is not just about looking at tackling crime by making arrests; it is about looking at the underlying factors and beyond things such as substance misuse and violence. We need to ask ourselves whether there are other underlying factors. Going beyond mental health, are there underlying psychological or neurodevelopmental issues?

A number of other members talked about the complexity of the cultural issues that we need to face when we look at this issue. I refer to Fulton MacGregor, Ruth Maguire, and James Dornan—I agree with him about the music of the 1970s by the way. The complexity was highlighted by Fulton MacGregor talking about alcohol and how it is not just the alcohol that we should be talking about; it is also about the containers that it comes in.

One of the key cultural questions is why only 43 per cent of violent crime is reported. Regardless of which side of the argument members have been on this afternoon, that is a fundamental question. We need to ask ourselves why it is that, in some of our communities and some parts of the country, people feel unable, or feel that it is inappropriate, to report crime to the police. Perhaps that can be one conclusion that comes out of this afternoon’s debate.

Something that I forgot to do in my opening remarks is join with others in expressing my support for the sentiment of the Liberal Democrat amendment that was not taken. Liam McArthur made two important points. First, if we are going to tackle violent crime as a cultural issue, we need to look at how individuals are supported as they come into contact with and leave the criminal justice system, whether that be with throughcare or other measures. That is hugely important. He made one other important point, which is that, ultimately, the levels of violence in our society will reflect the levels of poverty and inequality. Regardless of whatever else we discuss—whatever other measures we talk about and tackle—if we do not tackle poverty and inequality in Scotland, we will not be tackling the fundamental cause of violence in our community. I cannot put it more strongly than that.

In conclusion, I want to reflect on my colleague Neil Findlay’s remarks. Drug and substance misuse is one of the most tragic outcomes of poverty and inequality. It is also the outcome of the withdrawal of services. If we are looking at what further things we might do, one idea is to have something like a VRU for drugs, so that we can tackle that issue on a cross-agency, cross-service, holistic manner, in the way that we have tackled violence through the VRU.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

It is obvious from today’s debate that, across the chamber, there is support for and recognition of the excellent work that has been carried out by the violence reduction unit. As the Minister for Community Safety—who I, too, welcome to her post—Rona Mackay and Michelle Ballantyne stressed, it is a model that other countries are now looking to copy. Having said that, I consider it a great pity that my party will be unable to support the motion this evening, because the Government failed to acknowledge that, although the violence reduction unit has taken amazing strides in reducing violent crime, there is a serious underreporting of violent crime incidents.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I understand that point. If the Labour amendment were agreed to, would Conservative members support the amended motion?

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

The same problem would exist with the amended motion, so, sadly, we would still not be able to support it.

If we are to address this serious problem, as we all wish to do, the debate must start with an honest assessment of the situation. Therefore, I commend Niven Rennie, the former president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents and now the director of the violence reduction unit, for recently highlighting that violent crime is significantly underreported. As Liam Kerr explained, that is based on evidence that hospitals are dealing with far higher numbers of serious assaults than are reported to police. Not only that but, according to Police Scotland, the number of non-sexual crimes of violence rose by 8 per cent this year, going from 1,900 to 2,051, and the number of crimes that involved an offensive bladed weapon in the same period rose by more than 10 per cent.

That evidence backs up anecdotal evidence from lawyers that, even when a crime such as a serious assault is presented in an accident and emergency department, it is then downgraded to a lesser crime when it is officially reported. Such incidents have included ones in which a police officer has been the victim of an assault. Our front-line officers are under enough strain and stress carrying out their daily duties without having to cope with the downgrading of assaults, which then means that recorded crime statistics paint a rosier picture than might actually be the case. It is crucial that, as in any discussion of official statistics, we never forget that, behind those unreported assaults, there are victims of violent crime who, for a variety of reasons, are either unwilling to seek or unable to get justice.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

I am sorry; I would like to make progress.

One way in which to ensure that victims of crime and members of the public have confidence in our police force involves visible local policing.

It is therefore deeply concerning and a retrograde step that, in communities such as Uddingston, not only did Police Scotland close the police counters several years ago, it is now selling off property that police officers have been using as a base in the area. Although it is no longer functioning as an active police counter, members of the public in Uddingston found it reassuring that police officers had been using the station for their breaks. Now there is no such visible policing.

The Minister for Community Safety, James Dornan and the VRU have highlighted the excellent work carried out training hairdressers, vets and firefighters to identify signs of domestic abuse. That is a good example of the necessary early intervention to which John Finnie, Daniel Johnson and Ruth Maguire referred.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

I want to make progress, please.

I want to commend and raise awareness about the fantastic animal guardians programme that is run by the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which tackles violent behaviour in children and young people. The programme is funded solely through charitable donations and the R S Macdonald Charitable Trust and works in collaboration with social work, educational psychologists, children and adolescent mental health services, specialist teachers and children charities such as Barnardo’s.

Those stakeholders refer children who either have committed animal cruelty or have the potential to commit animal cruelty to the SSPCA. The SSPCA then works with those children on a one-to-one basis in a fun and non-threatening way and encourages them to recognise both their own emotions and what the animal may be feeling. Since the programme launched in May, the SSPCA has been inundated with referrals, with children as young as four years old being referred.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Ms Mitchell is finishing.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

Given that, on average, 14 children a week are excluded from schools in Scotland for assault with a weapon, that SSPCA programme is clearly invaluable.

Quite simply, it is only by ensuring transparency and honesty about the level of violent crime that it can be tackled effectively and victims can have confidence to report it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to close the debate. You have seven minutes, cabinet secretary.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I have had the great honour and pleasure of opening and closing many debates in Parliament in my six and a half years of being a Government minister. In closing a debate, I do not think that I could be prouder than I am today of the achievements of the VRU and how we are celebrating its undeniable success.

I am unashamedly Glasgow born, bred and educated. I represent a part of that city. As James Dornan suggested, while growing up in Glasgow there were undoubtedly some areas that I would not go to, especially as a young Asian male. I would avoid those areas because, if nothing else, of the perception that something could happen to me.

That is not so, now. I am so proud that we have moved on in leaps and bounds in my home city. If someone had told me when I was growing up that Glasgow would be held up as a model for violence reduction for the rest of the world, I would have thought that they had been downing too many bottles of Irn-Bru. I would not have believed it.

It is right that we all, across the chamber, recognise that great success. We should all be collectively proud that the World Economic Forum has held up the VRU as a great model. Labour’s mayor in London, Sadiq Khan, will replicate the VRU model for London. We should all be proud of the list of countries that Ash Denham read out that are looking at the VRU model.

Many of us in the chamber—or our political parties—have been part of the success. Ash Denham mentioned the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition that came up with the idea under Cathy Jamieson, who was the Minister for Justice at the time. In Glasgow, as has been mentioned many times during the debate, not just the current city administration, but the previous one have believed in the model. There is also ongoing work that the Government has been taking forward. We should all be collectively proud.

The downward trend is really important. I emphasise the word “trend”. It is an important word, because it is very easy to take figures over one year or two years. I am not dismissing those figures, and it is right that members mention them, particularly in relation to their constituencies or regions, but it is important that we look at the long-term trends, which are absolutely undeniable. They show that recorded violent crimes have fallen by 49 per cent since 2006, which is the lowest level since 1974, that there has also been a 56 per cent fall in the total number of emergency admissions to hospital, and that the number of young people aged under 18 convicted of handling offensive weapons has fallen from 489 in 2006 to 91 in 2016-17.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I am about to come to a “but”. Before I do, I give way to Liam Kerr.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

At the weekend, Niven Rennie said:

“When someone from government stands up and says crime is at a 43-year low, I always say it’s recorded crime that’s at a low.”

Does the cabinet secretary acknowledge his point?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I do. I would like to emphasise the words “recorded crime”. Members were right to raise issues about unrecorded and unreported crime, and we should all pay attention to that aspect. The figure that was given that two thirds of crime goes unreported is incorrect and overestimates the position. Nonetheless, I accept the point.

I return to the substantial issues that I want to make in the relatively short time that I have. I want to reassure Liam Kerr, Margaret Mitchell and other Conservative members that we are absolutely not complacent. I put on record, as my predecessor did, that violent crime is too high. I give members an absolute assurance that we are not resting on our laurels. We consider that too many young people still carry knives—indeed, one young person carrying a knife is one too many. We want to tackle unreported crime, and there have been many good suggestions from across the chamber about how we might do that.

I will touch on one other issue that was raised in the debate. In doing so, I will try as best I can to rise above the politics of the issue—here comes another “but”—but there is one thing that I cannot let go, which is the Conservative’s accusation about falling police numbers under the SNP.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I will give way to Daniel Johnson shortly.

There are 938 more officers than we inherited when we came to power, but there has been a decrease of 19,588 officers in England and Wales. For the Conservatives to accuse us of letting police numbers fall when their own Government has presided over a 13 per cent reduction is hypocrisy of the worst kind.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

On the numbers, does the cabinet secretary acknowledge that, since 2013, we have lost more than 300 officers from local divisions? Furthermore, will he acknowledge that we have seen increases in non-sexual violent crimes in 2015-2016 and 2016-17? Will he outline what he will do if increases continue to be seen in the next data release?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I will. It is important to listen to what the police say about the argument of centralised versus localised policing. In fact, one of the great things about Police Scotland is the ability to use a national resource to have a major local impact.

I do not dismiss the point that there can be figures covering periods of one year or two years that we should take note of, which is important.

I will come back to non-sexual offences and sexual offences. Unfortunately, we have seen—I use the would purposely—a rising trend in sexual offences.

I come to the other political parties and their amendments. We will accept Daniel Johnson’s amendment. His speech was very thoughtful, as I have often found him to be. His point about ensuring that we invest is important. I have a list of investments that we have made but, because of the time, I will not mention them.

I join members from across the chamber who considered that the amendment that was lodged by Liam MacArthur but not accepted for debate was very good. It included an important point about through care. I assure him that, in the next few months, the Scottish Government will be working with community justice partners to see what more we can do about that.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I really do not have time. I hope that the member will forgive me, but I am coming to the end of my speech.

Liam Kerr talked a lot about the accuracy of figures, but there is an inaccuracy in his amendment. It would have been sensible to have withdrawn the amendment, because the VRU provided clarification on the reported comments.

I know that time is against me, but as the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, I will repeat the central point without apology. I appeal to all colleagues, but especially Conservative members, never to fall into the trap of suggesting that there is a tension between strengthening the rights of victims—which must happen—and rehabilitation of offenders, because they are two sides of the same coin. If we truly want fewer victims of crime, we must preserve the hope of rehabilitation. I think that Daniel Johnson used that phrase in a previous debate.

Liam Kerr talked about difficult decisions; I do not doubt that I and the Government have difficult decisions to make, but so, too, do Liam Kerr and other Opposition members. I have often found Liam Kerr to be very thoughtful and not reactionary when I have dealt with him one to one. I say to him that all the evidence on the issue is irrefutable. Short sentences of less than 12 months are simply nowhere near as effective in rehabilitating offenders as community payback orders. My challenge to Liam Kerr is to examine the evidence, speak to the experts and, when it comes to the presumption against short sentences of less than 12 months, to do the right thing.

I appreciate that I am running over time. I give the last word to Callum Hutchison, one of the people who are involved in street and arrow, which is a project that has been mentioned by members of all parties. He said:

“The SVRU has absolutely transformed my life. They have helped repair a broken person. They believed in me when no one else did. lain Murray my project lead gave me the opportunity to become a trainee with Street and Arrow, which gave me hope in the future. I’m now a mentor helping guys just like myself and it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. The ripple effect from the SVRU helping me is massive, my family get the benefits, my community get the benefits, I’m no longer a drain on the NHS or in prison. Everyone at the SVRU has helped me get to a place I never thought was possible where I have peace in my life”.