​City communities are paying a high price for youth alienation - Susan Dalgety

The riots in Niddrie on Bonfire Night made for spectacular footage on social media. Carefully framed images showing ranks of riot police, their shields protecting them from petrol bombs and fireworks, gave the impression of a war zone rather than a working-class housing estate on the south of the city.
Drone footage of the riots in Niddrie. Picture: Press Association.Drone footage of the riots in Niddrie. Picture: Press Association.
Drone footage of the riots in Niddrie. Picture: Press Association.

​The incident has led, understandably, to calls for an outright ban on the sale of fireworks. And perhaps it is now time to consider outlawing what are effectively powerful explosives.

Like almost everything, fireworks have evolved since I was a child, when a Catherine Wheel pinned to a fence post in our garden was considered thrilling.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A quick glance online shows weapons-grade explosives for sale, with names like Sucker Punch, Fireball and Double Barrelled Shotgun suggesting today’s fireworks are intended to make a far bigger impact than a few sparklers did back in the day.

However, easily available fireworks are not the root cause of the Niddrie riot.

Police Scotland have already pointed out that there were more sinister forces at play – adult criminals who co-ordinated the attacks, supplying daft laddies with fireworks and other weapons to attack the police.

But even these criminal elements are not the core issue at play here. Alienation is what drives teenage boys to attack the police in this way.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Despite valiant attempts over decades by a succession of politicians, charities and others to close the gap between our city’s marginalised communities and wealthier neighbourhoods, Edinburgh remains divided.

A teenage boy growing up in comfort in Corstorphine has more opportunities and can look forward to a healthier, richer adult life than his peer in Craigmillar.

He is, generally, not going to risk his future on the fleeting thrill of taking part in a riot. He is far more likely to stay at home and play Grand Theft Auto V.

A lad growing up in Niddrie often has nothing to lose. Failing at school, facing a future of insecure, poorly paid employment, already caricatured by society as a “schemie”, he lacks hope and often ambition.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Little wonder, then, that he is easy prey to career criminals looking for apprentices or is seduced by the momentary power of beating back the police by lobbing a petrol bomb or two.

This is not in any way an attempt to justify the actions of a mob, who threatened not only the lives of police officers, but damaged the very neighbourhood in which they and their families live.

Those responsible should be caught and properly punished.

But as a city, we need to ask ourselves why some of our young people are so alienated that they are prepared to take to the streets to express their frustration.

Those teenagers knew what they were doing was wrong. They knew they were risking arrest. That a stray firework could have severely injured a police officer or a passer-by.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But they did not care. Not because they are hardened criminals or because they are irredeemably bad, but because they know, deep down, that since birth, the majority in their city do not give their future a second thought.

They are invisible. Until they riot.