Margo MacDonald: We will protest without rioting

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If a week’s a long time in politics, then Holyrood’s recess represents infinity. Two months ago, there was a muted ding-dong between financial commentators who hope the Chancellor has got his recovery plan right, and those who are sceptical at the wishful thinking presented as economic analysis by Labour’s Ed Balls, and sometimes, by even the SNP’s John Swinney.

But now the background noise of politicians disagreeing is all but drowned out by the thundering hooves of the Apocalypse horses bearing down on our society. Exaggerated hysteria? Maybe I’ve been listening to too many decent blokes who haven’t a clue about how to deal with the anti-social behaviour, thuggery, greed and contempt for the rights of fellow citizens, not forgetting neglected, badly brought up children who rioted in some English cities.

Note, only some. The absence of such a breakdown of order, and decency, in Newcastle and the Yorkshire cities might be explained by their being more cohesive and more aware of being part of a community. The Scots and Welsh did not riot, along with the practised troublemakers from Northern Ireland, although many share the same grievances and fears as poorer, marginalised people living in England.

Alex Salmond was right to point out that Scotland was sitting this one out. It was a statement of fact that, yes, reflected well on Scots, our police, and our society.

We may not completely understand why we should be different, but we should not be apologetic, or crow about it. Because in some of the behaviour exhibited in London etc, the difference may be slighter than we’d like to believe. Many of our young people may share the same misshapen morality as one young TV interviewee, who unself-consciously expressed the logic of the consumerist atmosphere in which she was born and brought up.

During a riot, she explained, everyone helps themselves to things they want, particularly if they don’t cost much to produce. It was only natural, she told viewers confidently. She was wrong, but who will accept the responsibility for explaining to her why?

Her parents were seduced by the loadsamoney philosophy, and cheered Michael Douglas’ Gordon Geeko’s declaration that “Greed is good”. The suggestion that teaching philosophy in schools is maybe not so far-fetched after all. Certainly, for many of the people who helped themselves opportunistically after the out-of-control hoodies had kicked in shop windows, having too little money for their needs, never mind their hearts’ desires, describes their standard of living. As the present economic depression is likely to last until the decade’s end, maybe it would be a good idea to also teach personal finance management in schools.

But how do we teach that everyone must treat others as they would wish to be treated? Disproportionate panic-driven sentencing of stupid young men with a PC but no social responsibility would be out. If they’d been given a sentence that included social re-education, plus an inducement to reform their attitudes, such as a shorter sentence or a place on a training course, a custodial sentence could have been justified.

But very likely they’ll win their appeal against their sentences and, just as likely, they’ll have learned contempt, not respect, for the justice system.

Young muddleheads require different handling from the destructive people seen on CCTV. It’s completely unacceptable to put lives at risk, and cause the despair of seeing a lifetime’s work smashed to pieces. These offenders, and those who shoot at police, should have the book thrown at them and no apology made for the deterrent nature of their punishment.

And the lengthy period of empty pockets and angry frustration ahead also points to the need for public money to be saved, where possible, and spent where it can be proved to have achieved the desired outcome.

The police service can point to declining crime rates and no difficulty in recruiting, so why is the Scottish Government strongly tipped to ignore the weight of opposition to its multi-million pound plan for a single force?

But if the Scots are a bit different, why am I sounding off on something the English can figure out for themselves? Because, although I disagree with the galoot of a university lecturer, who claims our riots have still to happen, sizable numbers could protest about the hardships that will result from service cuts.

But we will still be different: demonstrations will have political aims, and be properly policed and stewarded by trade unions. Our locally based police force are unlikely to hesitate as did the Met. The social destroyers might try to bandwagon jump but, in dealing with them, let’s not take our lead from south of the Border.