Scotland had 115 killings in 2007/8, 58 in 2015/2016 and 61 in 2016/2017. The BBC described the three extra deaths in 2017 as a ‘spike’. A 5% increase in one year cannot of course be seen as a significant indicator of a worsening trend. Most victims were men and most perpetrators were men. Female victims were most often killed by a partner or ex-partner.
This means that the Scottish rate of 11 per 1 million is slightly below the England and Wales figure of 12 per 1 million. According to Professor McVie of Edinburgh Law School, in 2016, ‘rates of homicide have fallen more sharply in Scotland than in many other countries.’
Interestingly, Professor McVie says:
‘At the global level, the international fall in violence has been linked to a number of factors, including smarter policing practices, increased use of imprisonment, changes in drug markets and reductions in lead in petrol.’
Readers might remember that research has shown that exposure to lead during pregnancy reduces the head circumference of infants. In children and adults, it causes headaches, inhibits IQ and can lead to aggressive or dysfunctional behaviour. Lead in petrol has been banned in Scotland since 2000. For more see:
As major global cities like London struggle with pollution, levels in Scotland have dropped by more than 66% since 1990. Has this contributed to falling crime levels too?
A factor rarely mentioned is the strong correlation between homicide rates and inequality:
‘Specifically, there is evidence that income inequality strongly influences rates of violent crime, including homicide.’
See also this diagram:
While inequality remains a problem in Scotland it’s worth considering these achievements of the SNP adminstration:
‘There is much that the Scottish Government is doing to reduce the impact of poverty and inequality and there is much in Scotland that can be celebrated and learned from.’
‘New experimental statistics have been published today showing the proportion of people living in persistent poverty in Scotland between 2010 and 2015. We know that spending brief periods with a low income can be less damaging than living in poverty over a number of years. The persistent poverty figures show the number of individuals living in poverty for 3 or more of the last 4 years. Scotland generally had lower persistent poverty rates when compared with England, Northern Ireland and Wales, especially after housing costs. After housing costs the the Scottish persistent poverty rate (9 per cent) was below that of England (12 per cent), Northern Ireland (12 per cent) and Wales (12 per cent).’
Professor McVie’s comments are nuanced and very useful in dealing with the issue of violence, if we as a society wish to continue to improve safety. The Violence Reduction Unit has, since its days as a branch of Strathclyde Police, had a significant impact, not just on the levels of violence, but also on how crime and violence is perceived. It has made it more acceptable to look at things like poverty, inequality, diet, child rearing, pollution as factors which appear to have an impact of whether someone becomes violent or not.
Despite the complaint that many of us have about the mainstream media seeking ‘bad news’ stories and particularly ones which show Scotland in a comparatively poor light, it is interesting that Professor McVie’s article appears on the BBC website, although on the equivalent of an inside ‘inside page’. And, here we have this dichotomy between ‘front page’ news and current affairs journalism/broadcasting and some of the more ‘specialised’ journalism. Having spoken on several occasions to personnel within the VRU, on the whole they feel that they have good relations with the media and get a pretty fair coverage.
Sadly, with journalist numbers employed being significantly reduced, the ‘specialist’ reporter has pretty much become a rare creature. Newsrooms are now staffed by ‘generalist’ individuals, who are having to do the work of what once were much larger teams. They tend to trawl the internet for ‘interesting’ stories but, without substantial insight tend to extract some eye-catching data and present it out of context. Knowledge of statistical significance seems to have by-passed them. Thus, a fluctuation in the number of homicides becomes a ‘spike’. And, of course, there is the sad fact that so much of newspapers and broadcasting has become overtly politicised. They are always looking to set stories within their context.
To return to the reduction in crime incidence, I think that our education system should be given a great deal of credit for the change, particularly since the abolition of corporal punishment in 1982. Children are no longer facing ‘justified violence’ by some teachers. There was ample evidence that most children whose conduct was very good and were never corporally punished were often disturbed by witnessing teachers dealing violently with children who had misbehaved. Since abolition, most children are not learning that violence is the proper way which ‘educated people’ i.e. teachers, deal with misconduct. Of course, overwhelmingly, most teachers were decent fair minded people who had sincere concerns for the welfare of their children and did not or only rarely used corporal punishment. This attitude was more common in the nursery and primary sectors where most of the staff are female and, often, mothers themselves. There were exceptions. In the secondary sector, corporal punishment was more widely used. Partly this is ‘explainable’ by issues relating to adolescence, particularly amongst young males. The secondary sector also has more male teachers, although they do not constitute the majority. Again, most of these male teachers were decent, compassionate individuals. However, conflicts between young males and older men are not uncommon – ask my father! There were also ‘expectations’ of males. Often, parents groups, mainly mothers, would seek to promote men to senior positions because they can ‘keep order’. Happily such things have changed and even west of Scotland men, like I am, have permission to display my softer (female?) side! So, schools are happier places and many male teachers are relieved that the kind of ‘toughness’ expected of them are substantially gone. Of course, the teachers unions, particularly the SSTA, still put out the myth that schools are like Dante’s Inferno. Whenever, there is any pressure to change conditions of service and introduce more accountability, the shroud of ‘DISCIPLINE’ is waved. Schools have devoted more resources to pupil welfare and it is a concern that when budgets are squeezed that such welfare roles are often reduced or squeezed out.
The Scottish Government’s focus on early years via things like the baby boxes, increased childcare allowances, poverty ‘amelioration’, free meals with fresh fruit and veg to the youngest years, should be hailed.
Let us also grasp the nettle of dealing with private cars!
Alasdair, what a very interesting and informative contribution to the debate here! I hadn’t thought about corporal punishment in schools. Maybe because I was such a quiet child, I was only belted once when the struggling French teacher was belting the whole class. Tougher kids rejoined the queue for a second go because she ‘couldnae draw the belt.’ I suspect as I think you are suggesting that if you improve society as a whole you can get change for the better in areas where a targeted campaign might not work. As in the Spirit Level book.
Life is complex and many factors affect how things turn out. However, some things are more influential than others and education is one of these. The ‘ruling class’ would not spend so much on education if it did not produce benefits for them. I had a tutor at university, an outstandingly humane man from a long Labour background, who was an adviser to Mrs Thatcher. His views on education were far more progressive than anything she was ever going to put in p,ace and they were certainly more radical than anything Blair and Co were to institute. The people he continually referred to were figures like Raymond Williams, Lawrence Stenhouse, Tim Brighouse. He always stated unequivocally that the reason governments invested in education was for ‘social control’.
I think he was entirely correct in that. Look at how much imperial myth we were presented with. The compulsoriness of religious studies/observation/knowledge, the school uniforms, training for work, DISCIPLINE!!! The beating of children was part of the control. It let people know there was a big stick. And, if the hot polloi kick shit out of each other they are not attacking the patricians.
However, education cannot be constrained to such a narrow purpose. It is liberating. It helps people think and many teachers are unassuming liberators. One of the strong principles in education is the ‘objectives model of learning’. It entails describing the behaviour that the learner should master and devising ways of assisting the person to learn. It is a pretty good model and one which every teacher must employ for much of her or his practice. However, it is not the only model. Other things cannot be defined in such precise behavioural terms. They are creative, speculative and, by their very nature, transformative. They are unpredictable. Such things include the study of literature, of history, of society, of religion. The learners themselves continually recreate their understanding of the world and, if they are savvy, their teachers learn from their students. It is this kind of education which frightens those with power, which is why the media continually attack ‘progressive’ education. It is what ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ is or was really about, before the establishment try to neuter it. Things like PISA are about a narrow selection of objectives – easily measurable, discrete, compliant, non-threatening. They are used to browbeat the imaginative teachers and to provide a sterile curriculum in schools.
John Carnochan of the VRU grasped that education from the womb onwards was the key to the more harmonious society. He saw his role as educational, facilitating, health promoting, liberating. He often contrasted his views with those of his earlier self, who would wade into a barney at Brigton Cross to restore order.
I hope this helps.
Thanks again, Alasdair. I was in teacher education for 20 years and the control theme was brought by the students to the College already well-embedded in their mindsets. When I tried to suggest something more idealistic to them I got bad evaluations!
As for PISA, did you see report I did which led to Kezia Dugdale’s dad following me on Twitter?
I had not seen your report, because at that time I did not know that you had returned to blogging after your illness. I ken noo.
Sorry, hit the return button before I had finished!
I recall an informal conversation during the early 1990s with a senior member of Her Majesty’s Inspectors, in which he said that some ‘indicators’ by which HMI were to report on schools were specifically designed by Mr Michael Forsyth so that half or more of Scottish schools could never and would never attain them. The aim was to provide ‘evidence’ to encourage parents in the ‘better’ schools to opt out of local authority control. However, Scottish parents were much more savvy. The big target was Paisley Grammar School, alma mater of Mr Andrew Neill, who mounted a massive propaganda campaign in his papers specifically directed at Paisley parents. In the vote, an absolute majority of parents voted for the school to remain in local authority control. Opting out became a dead duck in Scotland.
The Colonel would like to revive it and the BBC from time to time still tries to fly kites, such as “Call Kaye”‘s attempt to test the water with ‘isn’t it time to get more private money and expertise into our schools?’ an argument which Mr Jim MacColl, on the programme, kicked to death!
LikeLiked by 1 person