Tommy Sheppard: Time to license fireworks to stop yobs running riot on Bonfire Night

The burnt-out remains of a car torched by youths on Bonfire Night in Craigentinny. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The burnt-out remains of a car torched by youths on Bonfire Night in Craigentinny. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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The use of fireworks must now be licensed to prevent these low-grade explosives from being used as weapons like they were in Edinburgh on Bonfire Night.

All over Scotland last weekend families enjoyed watching the fireworks. The spectacle of fire and colour brought happiness to many. The same was true in Edinburgh. All over the city – and especially at Meadowbank – majestic displays thrilled the crowds.

Tommy Sheppard is SNP MP for Edinburgh East

Tommy Sheppard is SNP MP for Edinburgh East

But in a few parts of the city, a tiny minority set out to cause havoc and intimidate local people. In a few places in north and east Edinburgh, a small number used fireworks not to entertain but to terrify. Local people imprisoned themselves in their homes for fear of going out. Cars were set alight and fireworks thrown at emergency services workers trying to protect the public. We’re lucky there weren’t even more serious injuries. Some of the reaction has been unhelpful. For the local Tory councillor to claim Craigentinny resembles Belfast during the Troubles is as foolish as it is insulting.

I was brought up in Northern Ireland in the 70s so believe me I know there’s no comparison. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a serious problem. We do. This behaviour is unacceptable and we’ve all got to do our bit to make sure there is no repeat. Some of the people involved in the firework attacks are the very same who’ve been creating mayhem at other times.

Many are known to the police and social services. Together with other local politicians I’ll be working with the police, the council and other agencies to co-ordinate efforts to deal with the problem. That might be talking to the young people involved and trying to find them something else to do – and it might mean getting them into court and facing punishment.

But it also means doing something about the means used in this virulent anti-social behaviour. It’s time to think again about controlling fireworks and access to them.

After all, we are talking here about low-grade explosives. Isn’t it a little odd they are so readily available – sold as toys by corner shops and supermarkets.

I believe it is time for the use of all fireworks to require a license. The vast majority of fireworks used in this country are already at properly organised displays where safety is paramount. And, let’s face it, the fireworks in your mate’s garden are a bit of damp squib compared to a proper municipal display.

This isn’t to say that only the council should set off fireworks – far from it. You could still arrange a private family display for a special occasion and companies could use fireworks at events. But, and it’s a huge but, you would have to get a license, which means there would be hoops to jump through to prove that you’re doing the thing properly and safely – and to ensure a teenager doesn’t run off with a box of rockets.

It would make it crystal clear that anyone chucking a firework on the street most certainly doesn’t have a license and allow the police to intervene faster and more effectively.

I have written to Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, to demand a review of the law in this area and to Scottish Secretary David Mundell to ask him to support moves to devolve authority in this area to the Scottish Government. It does seem crazy that Holyrood can legislate for so much and license practically everything but not fireworks. It would mean that if the rest of the UK doesn’t think further restrictions on fireworks is necessary, although I think they might, they don’t have to have them.