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Postcards from Scotland

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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 17/07/2005

Of all the cities in the world Glasgow is the one I know best. As a child I was brought up in its suburbs; I went to Strathclyde University and then after many years I returned to live and work in the city centre. It was there that my two sons were born. For almost twenty years even when living outside the city, I have looked to Glasgow as a source of socialising, entertainment and work.

Glasgow is a city I know and love and so it gives me no pleasure to say that despite all its good points it has a truly dark heart and deserves the reputation, not as a friendly city, but as a mean city. Last week I spent over two hours with John Carnochan who now heads up Strathlcyde Police’s newly created Violence Reduction Unit. Glasgow, he told me, has the highest levels of violent crime in Europe. Forget us being European City of Culture we have earned the reputation as European City of Violence. In fact Glasgow’s average levels of violence are the same as the average levels of violence for a city in the USA. Violent crime in Glasgow is two and a half times that of the average for England and Wales. And these figures are based on reported violent crime when there is good reason to believe that 70% of those treated by doctors for stab wounds in Glasgow never report the crime to the police.

Knife crime is particularly prevalent in Glasgow. John showed me a video from 1999 with cctv footage shot about 9.30 at night in the city centre. Groups of kids, about 15 years in age (including girls) rampage through the streets and fight one another. A gang of boys kick and punch a young man lying on the ground. One sticks a machete into him seven times. Another boy knives a total stranger as he passes by. The man dies from his injuries.

Now you might be wondering what all this has got to do with me and the newly created Centre for Confidence and Well-Being. The answer is everything. This problem has been around for decades but it is getting worse. It is spreading like a contagious virus. Generations are being brought up to believe that violence is normal; part of everyday life. As John pointed out to me lots of other crimes like house breaking, theft and car crimes are coming down. This is partly the result of increased security. But there is no way to prevent violent crime other than widespread shifts in attitudes and behaviour. And part of the Centre’s role is to fathom out how big changes, at a societal or cultural level, might be achieved.

Secondly for years huge amounts of public money have been spent on areas of ’multiple deprivation’ and on community development. There are more special schemes and initiatives in various poor communities in Glasgow than you can shake a stick at. Many of these initiatives are well-meaning and those involved are often committed and hard-working but the approach taken, for whatever reason, is clearly not yielding good enough results. Many problems are getting worse not better. But there is as yet no real public debate about this. Instead there is a great deal of complacency and keeping your head below the parapet. I spend a lot of my time these days talking to various groups of public sector workers. If I had a pound for every one who told me – always in hushed tones - about how they thought a radical rethink was necessary, I would truly be a rich woman. So if Glasgow’s streets are going to become safer we first need more courage and confidence to face up to our various problems and get them out into the open.

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