Perhaps we’ve been so busy working towards a safer Scotland that we haven’t looked to see how far we've come

Written by Niven Rennie, VRU on 20 September 2018 in Comment

Niven Rennie, director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, writes for Holyrood ahead of a Scottish Parliament debate on reducing violent crime

Street & Arrow is a social enterprise run by the SVRU and offers a year's paid employment and mentoring to people from an offending background

Stop and think for a moment about the Scotland of 2004.

137 people were murdered in a year. The streets of Glasgow had become a battleground for gangs with the death toll in the city alone standing at 41 lives lost. The World Health Organisation declared Glasgow the most violent city in Europe. The United Nations took it a step further and branded Scotland the most violent country in the developed world.

Now think about the Scotland of today. Over the last ten years there has been a 60 per cent decrease in homicides in Glasgow, a 47 per cent decrease in homicides across Scotland, a 64 per cent reduction in offensive weapon carrying and NHS emergency assault admissions are down 55 per cent. These are not just figures, they are lives. And countries around the world, many now struggling with increasing violence rates, are looking to Scotland for solutions.

When the World Economic Forum highlighted Scotland’s achievements recently it seemed to come as a surprise to some. Perhaps we’ve all been so busy working to create a safer Scotland that we haven’t looked up to see how far we have come.

So let’s raise our gaze for just the briefest of moments as the Scottish Parliament reflects on the progress the country has made, while refocusing on the journey we still have to travel.

To do so is not to boast. It is to pay tribute to the police officers, the social workers, the teachers, our health service and the communities who have made this happen. Their efforts on the front line of violence prevention must be recognised. Their acts of bravery and kindness, big and small, don’t make headlines, but for more than a decade now they have worked tirelessly looking for any way they can to stop the vicious cycle of violence. Today is an opportunity for us as a nation to stop and say thank you.

To do so is not complacent. Every single life lost is a tragedy of immeasurable proportions. We know the job isn’t done, and, let’s be honest, reducing violence further will be even tougher. It’s unrealistic to think violence figures will continue to neatly and steadily decline. Violence is a disease and at any moment it can flare up again and new treatments will need to be found. We have always been clear that recorded violence figures aren’t the full picture, with Crime and Justice Survey data consistently showing over the last decade around 43 per cent of violent crimes are reported to police. This is just a feature of violence that is replicated around the world, it doesn’t mean reported crime figures are wrong or the police aren’t doing enough to encourage victims to speak to them. The truth is we just don’t know what the true level of violence is in Scotland, or anywhere else in the world, and the SVRU wouldn’t attempt to put a figure on it.

What we do know is that violence is preventable. We, as a nation, have proven that. We have shown that it is possible for communities to reclaim their streets and to live free from the fear of violence. However to achieve this we need to work as one. Police, health, education, politicians and communities standing side-by-side and saying enough. Enough lives blighted. Enough lives lost.

This week London announced they are to create their own Violence Reduction Unit. The SVRU have provided guidance in the setting up of their unit and we will continue to offer assistance whenever it is requested. The truth is there is no blueprint to success, every area must find the solutions that work for them, but what is crucial is long-term support, because change does not happen overnight.

The SVRU has been fortunate to receive the unwavering backing of both Police Scotland and successive governments in Scotland. We were formed into a national unit in 2006 by the then Labour-Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive and that support has remained and developed under successive SNP governments. Locally we have worked closely with politicians from every party. Without such support the SVRU wouldn’t have been able to carry out the work we have in schools, workplaces, prisons and communities right across the country.

I took the helm as director of the SVRU just a few weeks ago and I know I have big shoes to fill. In so many ways the unit’s founders Karyn McCluskey and John Carnochan were ahead of their time. They are individuals who had the courage to walk to the beat of their own drum, but knew that the only way you really achieve change is if you walk side-by-side with friends who hold the same vision for a safer Scotland as you do. The SVRU will continue that march and we won’t stop until Scotland is the safest country in the world, because that’s the country our children deserve.

Niven Rennie is director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit

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