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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Gibson MSP

Scotland Leads by Example in Knife Crime Prevention

While knife crime in other parts of the UK is increasing, Scotland’s approach to tackling it is being heralded as a role model for others to follow.

A decade ago, knife crime in Scotland had doubled under Labour and the Lib Dems. However, since 2007, under the SNP Government, the number of people carrying knives has plummeted by 69%, from 10,110 to 3,111. In North Ayrshire, the fall is a heartening 77%.

Of the 39 children and teenagers in the UK killed with knives last year, not one was in Scotland. By contrast, in England and Wales, 2017 became the worst year for deaths of young people by knives for nearly a decade. However, Scotland’s dramatic improvement didn’t happen overnight.

A 2005 United Nations (UN) report found Scotland to be the most dangerous country in the developed world, with gang violence particularly prevalent in Glasgow, which had one of the highest murder rates in Europe. Based on interviews with crime victims, the UN found that excluding murder, Scots were almost three times as likely to be assaulted as Americans and 30 times more likely than the Japanese. Not surprising then, that Scotland’s largest city was dubbed the ‘stabbing capital of Europe’ in the early 2000’s.

This shocking revelation kick-started a ground-breaking change in both attitude and approach. Considerable effort at an all-Scotland level has gone towards cutting violent crime; such that while 40 children and teenagers were killed in homicides involving a knife in Scotland between 2006 and 2011, this figure fell to 8 between 2011 and 2016. Meanwhile, the average sentence for carrying a knife in Scotland has tripled, from four months in 2005-06 to 13 months in 2014-15.

The Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) became the first anywhere to adopt a public health approach to violence. Treating it like a disease, the police sought to diagnose the problem, analyse the causes, examine what works and for whom and develop solutions. The VRU, is directly funded by the SNP Government and has adopted an approach whereby the police work with the health, education and social work sectors to address violence, with remarkable success.

Since 2008, £9 million has been invested in the VRU and £3.4 million in the hugely successful No Knives, Better Lives (NKBL) project, founded in 2009.

Delivered by Youth Link Scotland on behalf of the SNP Government, this project trains 300 teachers, youth workers and peer educators to deliver knife crime prevention courses in Scottish schools each year. Since its inception, NKBL has reached tens of thousands of pupils and the results are representative of a significant cultural change; testament to the well-designed approach delivered by dedicated individuals.

Scotland’s public health approach is a collaborative one; with NKBL, the Violence Reduction Unit and Medics Against Violence all playing their part in tackling knife crime. It has been praised by campaigners across the UK and further afield, increasingly so as England and Wales face a similar knife crime epidemic to what Scotland once endured.

After two men were stabbed to death within hours of each other in Camden last month, bringing the number of people killed with knives in London to 15 in 2018 already, Metropolitan Police Chief, Cressida Dick, will visit Glasgow to discuss replicating Scotland’s approach to knife crime in England.

While areas of the UK are not universally comparable, the collective responsibility to tackle knife crime in Scotland a model that ought to be closely considered elsewhere.

The evidence suggests that, while knife crime cannot be totally eradicated, a shift in understanding of its root causes has helped find a durable solution to tackling it.


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