Is the threat of longer sentences in Scotland responsible for reductions in knife crime?


When, in 2012, the maximum sentence for carrying knives in a Scottish urban centre was raised from 1 to 4 years in jail, the trend in knife crime was already in steep decline. Nevertheless, the decision was popular and apparently envied in England:


With knife crime still falling fast at the end of 2018, Scotland’s Tory politicians showed their customary disregard for statistics and a continuing preference for Old Testament thinking on crime and punishment:


From the Daily Record:

‘Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “The maximum sentence for carrying a knife was increased to five [sic] years to tackle the issue of knife crime. If these figures are anything to go by, this tactic has failed. For only one criminal to have received the maximum sentence shows just how toothless the sentence guideline is. The SNP talk a good game on knife-crime, but it is clearly nothing more than hot air.”’

We have to assume Kerr hadn’t seen or has disregarded, this evidence that success, rather than failure seems to be the logical response:


Mind you, Kerr may be correct in that the actual imposition of the maximum sentence hasn’t reduced knife crime on its own, if at all. Perhaps the threat of it does carry some weight but, I feel sure that most serious knife crime, beyond simple possession, is like most serious violence, commonly impulsive. As it plummets in Scotland, we already know that homicide is not reduced by the death penalty.

No one knows the full explanation for the fall in knife crime in Scotland, over the last ten years, but it will include, along with some unknowns:

  • The community work of the Violence Reduction Unit not seen in UK
  • The health rather than crime emphasis unlike that in UK
  • Fewer young males living in areas of former knife crime problems
  • Maintained youth and other support systems unlike in the UK
  • Fewer ethnic divisions
  • Reduced atmospheric pollution
  • Increased home-based, online entertainment and social activity
  • Higher car ownership and easier access to city centres
  • SG moderation of Tory austerity







7 thoughts on “Is the threat of longer sentences in Scotland responsible for reductions in knife crime?

  1. Alasdair Macdonald March 6, 2019 / 10:29 am

    I can remember during the 1950s in the years following the publication of ‘No Mean City’ with its character ‘The Razor King’, the image of Glasgow as a ‘razor slashing’ city was established. It was a trope which the media deployed as a FACT. Although, the papers were packed with reports of such attacks, they were also lauding how ‘heavy sentences’, were controlling it – despite the fact that the papers were continually reporting razor crime. A hero of the media was the judge, Lord Carmont, who was invariably described, apropos of nothing related to crime and sentencing, that he was Scotland’s only Roman Catholic judge’.

    It has always been an axiom of ‘the Law’n’order’ brigade, that crime was out of control and that increasingly harder sentences (including ‘birch them!’) was the answer. Despite the fact that a lot of heavy sentences were being handed out, violent crime – reportedly – was still flourishing. So, rather than question the heavy sentencing concept, the answer was that sentences were still not heavy enough and that prisons were like rest homes..

    A similar example is ‘The War on Drugs’, initiated by President Nixon, and emulated across the World. Despite trillions of ponds/dollars, etc being spent on it over the decades, apparently there are more drugs being used than ever. Indeed, earlier this week, the Scottish Daily Mail announced TRIUMPHANTLY that ‘Scotland has lost the drugs war’. The War on Drugs was and is a classic moral panic which provides some powerful groups with the pretext of involving themselves in the affairs and economies of other countries and of curtailing the human rights so that they can be harassed by drugs squads. There is a few very wealthy individuals and groups who are doing particularly well out of ‘The War on Drugs’ and have no intention of ever declaring it ‘won’.

    It is a strategy of what President Eisenhower warned against – the military-industrial complex. The ‘industrial’ part has widened to be principally about finance, but they continue to run the increasingly privatised military (and policing).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bugger (the Panda) March 6, 2019 / 10:44 am

    Hope and employment

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Legerwood March 6, 2019 / 10:54 am

    Perhaps another possible reason to add to your list would be – fewer school exclusions? Based on the principle that the Devil makes work for idle hands.
    Also perhaps the greater chance of a positive destination post- school eg apprenticeships?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alasdair Macdonald March 6, 2019 / 1:05 pm

      Legerwood, I think this is, indeed, a pretty strong factor. In Scotland for several years it has become increasingly difficult to exclude a child from school, or, to be more accurate, from ‘education’. While Head Teachers still have the right – as they must have – to exclude children from school, if their conduct is having a seriously detrimental effect on the education and safety of others, they have to ensure that the young person is not denied education and that within a few days some provision is being made. Increasingly, this is within units within the schools (or on the same campus), which ensures that the child remains within the school ‘ethos’ and, if possible can be returned to the normal provision as soon as possible. Thus, very few children ‘get lost from the system’, because even when the child is removed from the roll – a big step – there is a clear transfer to an alternative provision.

      In England, because of the fact that school education is now outwith local authority control and oversight and most schools are, in effect, privatised, many children, when excluded from their particular school often end up out of education altogether because there is very little framework for identifying them and ensuring that they return to education (the kind of job which ‘attendance officers’ used to do.) The last data which I say indicated that it was estimated that there were tens of thousands of such young people in England and by being out of education and school were missing out on the socialisation effects which schools have and were also not gaining qualifications. Often, they are prey for criminal groups who, obviously set bad examples. Many have mental and emotional problems and, when under pressure can often lash out, and, if this is with a knife or sharp instrument then the consequences can be fatal. Schools actually train children – formally and informally – in conflict resolution, and, by missing out on school, they miss out on this aspect and immediate vicious attacks are the response of many.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alasdair Macdonald March 7, 2019 / 5:26 pm

        I see that today some authoritative commentators in England are identifying that exclusion from education and the lack of checking procedures is a significant factor. They speak of a phenomenon called ‘off-tolling’, which means that the school simply does not record an exclusion but makes it clear to the child and parent/carer that the child is not wanted at the school. Probably, it is implied to the family that if the child just goes ‘it won’t be reported to the police or other authorities.’ Since none of the official bodies is aware that the child is not in education, no one is pressuring the family to have the child enrol in another school.


  4. Alasdair Macdonald March 6, 2019 / 4:31 pm

    If anyone wishes to support the work of the Violence Reduction Unit’s ‘Navigator’ programme, he or she can join in the cycle ride from Glasgow Royal Infirmary to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on 30, May, 2019 or make a donation. The ride follows the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals.

    Funds raised go to Navigator’s ‘Running on Empty’ Fund.

    I will post details when they are announced.

    Liked by 2 people

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