John McLellan: We can’t heal if we are divided

The city is divided into haves and have nots. Pic: Malcolm McCurrach
The city is divided into haves and have nots. Pic: Malcolm McCurrach
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Edinburgh is often described as a city of two halves, with the better-off living check-by-jowl with those less fortunate.

In my experience the have and have-nots, rich-and-poor thing applies to most cities to one degree or another, but maybe this city has more of a reputation because of Robert Louis Stevenson and Jekyll and Hyde.

Then there was the gentry of the Old Town finally having enough of living with the squalid underclasses and decamping to the New Town.

If Edinburgh’s social divide is not much different to other places, what is true is that Edinburgh has held on to its city centre as a place to live.

By contrast, places like Glasgow have had to work hard to repopulate the middle to avoid becoming a doughnut in terminal decline like Detroit.

And so we have the main Commonwealth Games centre in Dalmarnock, an industrial wasteland where my father was brought up. At last it has been turned into somewhere where people might want to live after the Games have gone.

I remember it as a place of dark tenement canyons, with back greens where the only greenery was rotting vegetables, and where my grandmother shared a toilet on a split landing with four other single room flats. It was also a place of everyday low level crime, but where people would rather sort out their own problems than call on the police.

The huge social problems of Glasgow’s old East End are being tackled with the bulldozer and millions of pounds of investment, but that can’t happen everywhere at once. Nor is just throwing cash the answer to everything.

We don’t need reminding that Edinburgh has never had the scale of decay experienced in places like Dalmarnock but of course we have social 
challenges which show no sign of going away any time soon.

For people like me fortunate enough to live in what could be described as a “nice area”, reminders of those challenges have been coming thick and fast recently; the kind of stuff which doesn’t make the pages of the Evening News but which is the bread and butter of the neighbourhood watch.

It has also been the subject of much criticism of the way law enforcement is operating here since Strathclyde swallowed up the other forces to become Police Scotland.

Last weekend, a house on our street was broken into while the family, with two young daughters, slept upstairs. The house isn’t directly accessible from the front so a reasonable amount of determination was needed to get in the back. The result is a stolen car and a thoroughly rattled family.

The week before, in broad daylight, the flat next door to them was broken into, the thief having been seen hanging around the street looking much the worse for wear.

The day after, a petty thief tried to make off with a cashbox at the Myreside sports pavilion nearby, only to be accosted by cricketers.

A few weeks before that there was at attempted break-in at our next-door neighbour who had already been raided within the past year. Their neighbour, an elderly widower, has been repeatedly targeted.

This stuff goes on all the time. In the last year there was a total of 4101 such housebreaking incidents in Edinburgh, up 38 per cent from 2956 the previous year which resulted in the police’s disbanded housebreaking unit being reinstated.

I don’t believe there has been a 38 per cent rise in the number of actual incidents but whether it’s down to better reporting isn’t really the point either. The fact remains that too many people are attempting to relieve fellow citizens of their property and there is no sign of it stopping.

As the total national figures showed an increase of just 3.5 per cent, from 21,515 to 22,272, Edinburgh clearly has a problem.

Perhaps not surprisingly, detection rose, even if it was only five per cent from 1025 to 1078 but it’s still a lot of crime going unsolved. But then again, the number of people stopped and searched by police in Edinburgh soared from 21,031 to 29,152 you’d expect an increase in the number of collars being felt.

Raw statistics don’t tell the whole picture. Behind every incident is a complex tale of failure of one sort or another; of parenting, the education system, the justice system or just an individual making the wrong choices.

And no matter how trivial, they don’t record how much they unsettle the targets, especially young ones. It’s amazing just how difficult it can be to get a nine-year-old off to sleep when next door has been turned over.
OK, so social problems in deprived estates pale into insignificance when compared with the misery unfolding across the Middle East, but that is no reason to ignore problems at home.

We know that most of those low-level incidents take place in poorer areas because the opportunities are greater. If you are grafting away in a low-paid job you are unlikely to install an alarm and CCTV system immediately after a break-in, as one of our neighbours has just done.

Homes in our areas are becoming like fortresses. Insurance policies demand five-point locking systems, practically everyone has an alarm, private CCTV is becoming the norm and so too are electric gates with coded entry systems.

It will not be long before we have our first US-style, gated community and as it becomes increasingly difficult to rob bigger houses, criminal activity will intensify in less affluent and therefore less secure areas. That means people who can least afford to take the hit.

I’ve come across one or two of the chaps who come round looking for opportunities and without conducting on-the-spot toxicology tests, I’d be amazed if the common denominator isn’t drugs. Of the 29,152 times people were stopped and searched here, more than 13,000 of them were drug related. Drug offences in Edinburgh rose by a relatively modest 260 to 2491 last year, which we all accept is the tip of a vast iceberg. Draw your own conclusion from the difference between those two statistics.

Our jails are full of drug addicts, especially women’s prisons, and it has been said many times that drugs policy is a failure. But we are no closer to finding an answer and catching and locking up more people will solve nothing.

For now, all people can do is invest in home security and watch as the problem becomes ever more difficult to tackle.

A LITTLE TONGUE IN CHEEK BUT A LOT OF HEART

ALL Glaswegians should have been swelling with pride at Wednesday’s Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.

To be cheeky, self-deprecating but celebratory at the same time isn’t easy at events which can all too easily become cheesy, but they did it and as a statement of confidence it was difficult to beat.

I was brought up not far from the main Games site. Even though I’ve not lived in the city since my teens I found the whole thing strangely and surprisingly emotional.

The Forth Bridge built on Irn Bru cans, Nessie as an old tyre and the now emblematic cone on Wellington’s head gave everyone a laugh. Billy Connolly’s Nelson Mandela recollection, John Barrowman’s kiss and Pumeza’s moving rendition of Freedom Come All Ye gave the whole thing a depth usually absent from such proceedings.

That Celtic Park could resound to the national anthem was another a symbolic moment not lost on most, including curmudgeons like Corrie Ronnie Browne, who refused to sing it.

Poet Hamish Henderson did not want his song to be an official anthem, but it is so much more beautiful and relevant than The Corries’ maudlin dirge that surely it’s time for Flower of Scotland to be left to the pub singers?

As we commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, what could be more appropriate than an anthem whose tune was written during that awful conflict and is called The Bloody Fields of Flanders?

That the music is composed by one John McLellan has nothing to do with it.

LOSE THE KEY

THERE are few more dreadful examples of the collision of two worlds than the recent attack on the 86-year-old lady in Morningside.

Against a background of repeated housebreaking in our area, it is making people feel very vulnerable.

I do not know the family, but I know people who do. She is a kindly old lady who, shortly before the attack, gave a present of some spending money to their daughter who was going off on holiday with friends to celebrate leaving school.

Everyone hopes the lady can recover. What she has gone through doesn’t bear thinking about.

The person responsible has forfeited their freedom for a very long time.