It was shocking to hear in recent days that over 30 cars were vandalised by ‘rampaging youths’ in North Edinburgh during the school break. Such instances of mindless criminality instinctively make us feel angry and dismayed. We empathise with the people who have suffered as victims and think about how we’d feel if it had happened to us – what if it was our property that was damaged or our lives that were affected. This paper was right to state that “it is vital that the attackers are identified and there are penalties sufficiently heavy to deter them and others from these criminal actions.”
Anti-social criminal behaviour in North Edinburgh and around the city is something we should all be determined to tackle. That’s why, along with other city politicians, I have been pro-actively working on this issue for several months. We have written to the Lord Advocate about the matter and several multi-agency community meetings have taken place recently. These have been focused on how to tackle the problem of youth crime generally and particularly in regard to the theft and subsequent dangerous and anti-social joyriding of motorcycles.
The most recent of these meetings took place last week with representatives in attendance from local community groups, Police Scotland, youth work organisations, the council, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and, most importantly, local residents.
As a result of correspondence with the Lord Advocate, the COPFS advised the meeting that more action was being taken at their level to tackle the issue. This was, of course, welcomed and will increase the likelihood of convictions. Police Scotland also updated residents that arrests are being made and emphasised that the more intelligence they can acquire the bigger difference the police can make – even if reports are made anonymously through Crimestoppers (0800 555 111).
Policing is, of course, a vital part of tackling this issue and that’s why I’m glad the SNP Scottish Government’s budget is providing an additional £25 million to Police Scotland. It would also help if the UK government abolished the unnecessary, unjustified and unprecedented £35m VAT cost faced by Scottish police and fire services every year. The Tories should stop charging this VAT now.
After discussing the policing aspects, last week’s meeting then focused on considering what more could be done positively to prevent youngsters falling into criminal activity. Because, while the justice system must, of course, be punitive and responsive, it is more effective for all if we can prevent the next generation getting involved in crime in the first place. Deterrence must be as much of a focus as condemnation if we’re going to make a lasting difference.
Furthermore, it’s important for us all to remember that the vast majority of young people in North Edinburgh and elsewhere in our city are well-behaved and achieving great things: a tiny minority of troublemakers must not be allowed to discredit a generation. From the Spartans Community Football Academy in North Edinburgh to other initiatives across the city, there is a tremendous amount to be positive about and celebrate around the way young people are engaging in and contributing to their communities.
In that spirit, I was proud to welcome Young Scot to the Scottish Parliament this month to launch nominations for the Young Scot Awards. The Young Scot Awards are Scotland’s biggest celebration of young people and they shine the spotlight on the difference young people make to the lives of others. Nominations close on February 27 and I would encourage readers to nominate any young people that they believe deserve to be recognised and rewarded: www.youngscotawards.com. Let’s celebrate the positive contributions the majority of young people make to our city and not be overly distracted from that by a small number of misguided and corrupt individuals who let their generation down.
Ben Macpherson is SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith