Of Scotland, The Riots and England

  Richard Lutz is in Scotland- land of vicious football violence, demented sectarianism and an escalating murder rate. But no riots. He finds out why.

North of the border then for a Scottish break. And as I pass Carlisle, things change.

The air is sweeter, the accent sharper, the weather…well, the weather gets, shall we say, more weather-ish.

Here, I find that the riots are treated almost as foreign news. It is something that happened ‘elsewhere’ in another place or simply ‘down in England.’ Not here.

Scotland’s political boss, Alex Salmond, actually went so far as to say Scotland is ‘a different society.’ He was quickly criticised for being small minded and parochial. But to be fair to him, he made the BBC re-define the city disturbances as English riots rather than UK riots.

So, why no troubles north of the border?

From reading the papers and talking to people, I find the reasons differ widely: from pride in Scottish society, to differing social policies to dubious racial comments to incisive analysis.

Here goes:

In Edinburgh, Scotland Sunday newspaper columnist Dani Garavelli points to what she terms peripheralisation, a posh word meaning a lot of the poor, especially in Glasgow, live in outlying run down estates rather than in inner city neighbourhoods such as Tottenham in London or Ladywood in Birmingham. ‘Thus,’ she writes, ‘most residents in Scottish cities wanting to riot and loot would have had to have taken a bus into town, then have carried their bounty a long way home.’

Mark, who is a debt advisor, adds to this thinking. Glasgow is a small place. ‘I would think Hackney central is around a quarter of the size of Glasgow, so a mob is much more easily formed. In addition, you do not find JB Sports or conglomerations of Asian shops selling mobile phones on High Streets in Glasgow resulting in a spontaneous action. The outer circle gangs do not head into the centre of towns.’

John Knox, political columnist for the Scottish website Caledonian Mercury underlines the importance of education if Scotland is to avoid problems encountered by its southern cousins. Schools and colleges must be properly resourced, he warns. ‘Otherwise,’ he writes, ‘we risk creating a feral generation as… in the English cities.’

Others point out to the Scots temperment. Pete, who runs a café south of Glasgow, explained to me: ‘The hooligan knows that they would be dealt with by the local community. Scotland wouldn’t stand for their behaviour.’

And pointing to a Clydeside type of vigilante-ism, he said: ‘Scots don’t mess about. And the Scots know who they are, unlike in England, and they want to keep things OK where they live.’

Some point to the world of gangs and self styled gangters. Tony is a retired local government officer from the South of Scotland. He points to the difference in gang culture north and south of the border.

‘It’s important to understand the nature of the Scottish ‘gang’. Here, things are much more territorial and less linked to organised crime which seems to sit in a quite distinct box north of the border.

‘You are more likely to see maurauding crowds around the issues of sectarianism or football related hatred than anti-establishment/anti-police action.’

Reflecting on what the Edinburgh newspaper writer said, Tony agreed that the so called sink estates are outside the inner city areas in places such as Dundee, Glasgow and other cities. And, he added: ‘Many of the retail outlets prized by the English riots are, in Scotland, centred out of town in fairly inaccessible retail parks.’

For Aimee, a Glasgow textile designer, the role of the police is crucial. City forces in Scotland have dealt with the rough house of sectarian violence, especially on the west coast in Glasgow and the north of Ayrshire. Officers are more ready to quell trouble. Potential rioters know this.

Also, she says. bling culture is less active: there is less drive to trash a store and make off with status items.

Tony, the former council official, chips in: ‘The relationship between the Scottish Police and local communities is somewhat different- less fractious, less tinged with vitriol.’

Back to newspaper reporter Dani Garavelli. In her thoughtful column, she quotes Jon Bannister from the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research. He says there is little logic in linking race and riots. In general, he believes there are simply better ‘community relations’ in Scotland than in England. Also, and tellingly, he points out that budget cuts north of the border are a year behind Westminster’s reductions.

The Herald newspaper, based on Glasgow, turns its editorial guns to the riots and its aftermath. It says that David Cameron needs to dig deeper if he is to follow the Strathclyde Police model of working with gangs. ’Tough sounding rhetoric sprinkled with a few buzz words is no substitute for properly thought-out…initiatives that tackle deep seated problems.’ it thunders.

And finally, there’s Colin, a freelance photographer, summing up the Scots’ sense of schadenfreude– that sense of glee watching others’ face misfortune. A Scots lad has no trouble having a few pints at home, he says, turning on the tv and watching London burn. It’d bring a sly smile to many a Scot, he feels.