Scotland has long contended with the problem of violence. For generations the country, and Glasgow in particular, was renowned for its violence problem.  Scotland was called ‘the most violent country in the developed world’, Glasgow ‘the murder capital of Europe’.  These are titles nobody wants to win, they were shameful and painted a bleak picture of our beautiful country.

The issue had always been one that the police had grappled with.  When things became ‘out of control’ massive enforcement campaigns were launched.  I worked through ‘Operation Blade’ and the ‘Spotlight Initiative’, each different in their own way but with one particular aim, controlling violence through enforcement.  But they didn’t work!  Yes, in the short term violence had decreased, however, once the campaigns ended the violence erupted again.  The policing activity had merely suppressed the problem, it had not gone away.

In 2005, the year the violence reduction unit was formed there were 137 murders in Scotland, about 50% of these were in Glasgow.  This was costly in policing terms, investigating and reporting, it had wider cost for health, the courts and prison systems and many more.  The greatest cost though was to the families through lives lost, both victim and offender, and the tragic consequences that befell them.

The introduction of the Violence Reduction Unit by Strathclyde Police was based on a realisation that we needed to ‘do something different’.  This move coincided with the publication of a report by the World Health Organisation that identified violence as a ‘public health issue’.  In other words, the responsibility for tackling violence is not merely the domain of the police or the criminal justice system but rather numerous organisations have a part to play.

Thus the VRU embarked on a series of projects aimed at identifying the underlying causes of violence rather than dealing with the aftermath, the manner in which violence presents.  We used academic research and scientific studies to identify these causes of violence.  High amongst these was the study of childhood trauma, adverse childhood experience, which showed that a person’s path could be dictated to them before birth and that issues that arose in a family home could be passed from generation to generation.  Our aim was to break that cycle and offer hope and opportunity.

Looking across the world we identified the ‘Homeboy Industries’ as a fine example of what can be achieved if you provide hope.  Based in Los Angeles, Homeboy took former gang members and gave them employment.  Many had never had employment in their lives, the only status they had known was in the gang to which they had belonged…..there was a ‘lethal absence of hope in their lives’.  Homeboy changed that.  They found a direction, a status, a belief in themselves.  They earned a wage and supported their families, they no longer lived a life of crime and fear.  Thus the slogan emerged ‘Nothing Stops a Bullet Like a Job’.

We took this idea and developed it for the Scottish situation.  We created Braveheart Industries and through its commercial outlet ‘Street and Arrow’ we employed former gang members and people with experience of violence from our own neighbourhoods.  We followed a similar ethos to Homeboy and saw the benefit of that approach as young people, previously bereft of hope, embarked on a different path and grew belief in themselves and what they could achieve.

We have had many projects overt the 16 years since we were launched.  Now funded by the Scottish Government, our reach covers the whole of Scotland.  Last year we had 64 murders, a considerable drop from the 137 of 2005.

Whilst recognising our improvement, we also recognise that Scotland retains a problem of violence.  64 victims and the trauma that inflicts pays testimony to that fact.  There is much work still to be done.  Yet, violence is not our only problem!  We have many more and I believe they all have a connection.

Let’s examine for a moment Scotland’s recent history of drug deaths.  This is another problem that we have contended with for years.  Currently the debate is about safe consumption facilities, clean needles and rehabilitation.  All are doubtlessly important as we address this problem.  But the question I ask is why do people become addicted to drugs in the first place?  What do we do to prevent that?  These were questions asked about violence in 2005 and they are equally valid questions to be asked today in respect of drug addiction.  You can even add to that other problems such as alcohol or gambling addiction.

Indeed, if we were to examine any of the serious issues we contend with a society in 2021 we will find that the people who live in our poorer areas, the areas we class as our communities of ‘multiple depravation’, have the worst outcomes.  We have covered violence, alcohol, drugs and gambling but to these we can also add health and educational outcomes, the list goes on.

These statistics underline the fact that poverty and inequality are uppermost amongst the major causes of the problems we currently face, if not the key driver.  Despite this, I believe that we tend to look at limiting the damage caused or suppressing the problem rather than taking preventative measures to deal with the issues at their root.

There is an urgent need for greater investment in our poorer communities and a willingness to lift people out of poverty.  The provision of hope and aspiration to the next generation is likely to deliver far fewer addicts, better health and educational outcomes and a further reduction in violence.

For that reason I fully support TIGERS and the ‘Paradigm Project’ that they have introduced. Its aims are similar to Homeboy and Street and Arrow, the provision of hope, opportunity and aspiration.  The ability to earn money and support a family.  The removal of the need to turn to alcohol, drugs or gambling to blunt the reality of daily life.  The provision of status and recognition.  The provision of employment…..I wish you every success.