Ian Dunn: Glasgow, no more mean city

Commonspace columnist Ian Dunn says the collapse in violent crime in Glasgow should be a source of pride and hope

EVERYONE knows what Glaswegians are like. Friendly, hard drinking, fond of black humour and sentimentality. And violent.

Even the softest weegie can be sure of a touch of respect, even fear in Edinburgh and London. Glasgow's a hard place. Frightening. All the statistics prove it. For decades there's been enough violent crime in Scotland's biggest city to match anywhere in Western Europe.

But not any more.

From 2001-2005, Glasgow recorded 80 violent crimes per 10,000 of the population. Ten years on it's fallen to 30 per 10,000. That is staggering.

A new report last week found that violence in Glasgow has dropped astonishingly in the last decade. From 2001-2005, Glasgow recorded 80 violent crimes per 10,000 of the population. Ten years on it's fallen to 30 per 10,000.

That is staggering. And if you live here you can feel it. That itch on the back of the neck, that angry hum through the city on a Saturday night or after an Old Firm game, it's not there any more.

Violent crime has been falling across Western Europe and America for decades, but a drop as sharp and sudden as this is unprecedented.

Money is one reason. Although the city remains blighted by areas of staggering poverty, it's far wealthier than it was 20 years ago. Much of it thrives. On a rare sunny day, you can look around at the trendy bars and hipster occupants and see a cosmopolitan northern European cultural powerhouse with the decaying post-industrial hub just a faint disappearing memory.

Poverty breeds violence, and there hasn't been this much wealth on the Clyde since slavery was abolished. The lack of the Old Firm games in the last four years or so hasn't hurt either. Without being forced to embrace the legacy of anger at 150 years of troubled Irish assimilation five times a season, a lot of bile has quietly drained into the Clyde.

Violent crime has been falling across Western Europe and America for decades, but a drop as sharp and sudden as this is unprecedented.

But this isn't just a happy collision of long time trends and happy accidents. Glasgow was steered away from violence. There are people responsible. That 10-year decline overlaps almost perfectly with the work of the Violence Reduction Unit, founded by the old Strathclyde Police.

Others have told the remarkable story of its magnificent work far better than I could. I urge you to read about it. Simply, it was brain child of two people, police analyst Karyn McCluskey and detective chief superintendent John Carnochan, who decided the police had to focus on prevention rather than reaction when dealing with gang violence.

"We demonstrated with young men there is something else we can do here, we don't need to lock you up, we will if we need to, but we don't want to do that, we can find something else for you to do, c'mon let's get on with it," Carnochan has said.

"They did and that made the difference. It has probably restored my faith in human nature and that, no matter how bad somebody is, if you give them the chance, they'll do it."

That 10-year decline overlaps almost perfectly with the work of the Violence Reduction Unit, founded by the old Strathclyde Police.

They should build statues of Carnochan and McCluskey in George Square. That's the debt Glasgow owes them. Not because of their role in reducing violent crime in Glasgow, although they deserve it for that, but because they showed that cities and people don't have to be defined by their worst mistakes and the darkest opinions of others.

No matter how grim the situation, you can change it. With imagination, compassion and hard, hard work things get better.

Picture courtesy of Robert Brown