Antisocial Behaviour on Buses

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at on 14 December 2023.

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Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I apologise to the Deputy Presiding Officer and members in the chamber, as I will need to leave the debate early because a group of young people is waiting for me. I assure everyone that they are not caught up in any antisocial behaviour; they are very conscientious modern studies pupils.

I thank Graham Simpson for securing the debate and the members who have spoken in it. We have the usual band of suspects calmly and unflinchingly looking at the problem, which is exactly the approach that is required. It does no service to anyone to be histrionic or alarmist about the problem, nor does it do anyone any good if we do not examine in a calm manner what is going on and what we might be able to do about it. I have heard that reflected in the debate so far, which is encouraging.

We need to do a few things. We need to be clear about the problem, think about our options for dealing with it and look at who might be involved. Most importantly, however, elements of the problem are not new, as Ben Macpherson alluded to. I remember there being antisocial behaviour when I was a teenager—people smoking at the back of the bus, swearing and drawing graffiti; those sorts of things. Those are perennial problems and they are not confined only to young people. It strikes me, though, that there is an emerging problem.

Graham Simpson is right: first and foremost, we have to say that free bus travel for young people is, undoubtedly, a good thing and is empowering, but it has also led to the phenomenon of young people travelling far and wide in order to carry out antisocial behaviour. We should be clear that that does not mean that a large proportion of young people are involved; it is a small group of people. When I talk to the police, they say that such groups are measured in the dozens. As Sue Webber pointed out, that leads to consequences that impact everyone, such as bus routes being closed and under-18s being banned from leisure venues such as bowling alleys, which causes real issues in local areas. That is why I have held one meeting with the police and another with local retailers in my constituency about the problem.

It is a complex problem, and we need to look at the options for dealing with it. One issue is how the use of bus passes interacts with social media. I believe that we have to couple rights with responsibilities. It would be interesting to peel that principle apart. It might be possible to address the issue through curfews and the temporary withdrawal of bus passes. I agree that we do not want to make the situation worse by punishing people and tipping them into patterns of behaviour that might exacerbate the problem. Nonetheless, we should think about the consequences separately, because the principle is separate from the practicalities. I recognise that the two are not necessarily the same. It would be interesting to hear the minister’s views on that.

We also need to look at the broader issues. There is the issue of the balance of policing between response officers, community officers and specialist centralised divisions. More broadly, I am keen to look at what we can do to expand the range of non-criminal interventions. I am not a fan of criminalising people, but I am keen to look at what we could do that might deter and inconvenience them, by creating consequences for unacceptable behaviour.

Ben Macpherson made the point that such behaviour is part of a wider societal problem of antisocial behaviour. The problem is not confined to bus travel; retail crime and violence against retail workers are other issues. Antisocial and, at times, violent behaviour is a spiralling issue that we all need to take seriously.

Once again, I thank the Deputy Presiding Officer for his forbearance in allowing me to leave the chamber early.