NOTE: I started writing this a good few days ago, before my recent site outage, so apologies if any of this is now out of date. Also, apologies for profanity. I need to make up four days of web stats somehow.
Oh, Alex Salmond. You make it so easy for your haters, you do, waddling around like some enormous wind-up penguin with your flippers flapping stammering Shcott-land, Shcott-land with every second word. You’re obviously a very intelligent man and sometimes you make very good points, but the trouble is you bury them in nationalist rhetoric and make them sound like cheap political point-scoring.
Like what you said the other day, about how these are English not UK riots and couldn’t happen here. This is damaging tourism, you said, could lead to copycat incidents. And you’re right. They’ve already had to arrest two idiots for setting up Facebook events trying to start riots in Glasgow and Dundee. But did you have to sound like such a cunt when you were saying it? Could you not have expressed a bit of sympathy for the authorities in those English cities, struggling to cope, like you would have done had this happened somewhere, anywhere else but our own back yard?
As I often do in these situations, I turned to my own Englishman in residence for his take on the riots a couple of days ago. “Why hasn’t it happened here?” I wondered aloud. There are parts of Glasgow where poverty and unemployment are as rife as they are in the London and Birmingham estates where the trouble exploded. Our low life expectancy is routinely mocked, and as for acts of wanton violence and criminality – we’ve got two football teams who aren’t allowed to play each other any other time bar noon on a Sunday. “True,” he said. “But there isn’t the same anger up here.”
And I chewed on that for a while. I wanted to disagree. We’re just as angry about the cuts, we’re just as angry about what they’re doing to our universities. We took to the streets in our time, and we managed to do so without smashing windows and nicking trainers and flat-screen TVs and mango-scented Body Shop body butter (that stuff’s amazing by the way and will do wonders for post-riot skin dryness).
But then I read this piece by Simon Jenkins, and I started to see what he meant. In his column, Jenkins suggests that had we seen these riots happen anywhere else charge would have been taken in each city by powerful mayors or police figures or local government, not national politicians trying to be everywhere at once. Theresa May or David Cameron can’t control what’s going on in Birmingham or Manchester. They can’t possibly. Of course London has Boris Johnson, a mayor elected on the television personality ticket who can pose as a good goof for the papers while holding a broom, but who’s looking out for Nottingham? Can you name another regional UK political figure with that same level of clout? Of course you can’t. But you know who Michael Bloomberg is, right?
One of the most striking interviews I remember seeing on the news last week was with one of the kids who had been involved in the rioting. When asked why he did it, he shrugged his shoulders. “Because we can,” he said. Now, better minds than mine have written about the extent to which this lawlessness may or may not be rooted in social and economic problems. Beyond pointing out that what began in Tottenham last weekend started out as a legitimate response to an act of police brutality before the world went up in flames it’s not something I want to address. But surely because we can isn’t that far from because nobody cares, because nobody is watching us – and yes, I’ll say it: because nobody is looking out for us?
Now I’m not saying that Scottish society is perfect. I’m not saying that our police are not without their faults, that the devolved Scottish Parliament doesn’t speak for everybody and certainly doesn’t always get it right. But the police, our devolved government, is there. As the Englishman in residence frequently points out, population-wise the Midlands is the size of Scotland, yet the people who are supposed to be looking out for their interests are somewhere along the M1 having an ’emergency debate’ about phone hacking. And yes, thats an important issue and absolutely has its place and needed doing but is hardly having an effect on mass unemployment and college dropouts, gang culture and drug abuse.
I’m not for a second allowing myself to be complacent. I never saw the Facebook pages in question but I think it’s telling that, from the quotes I read, the authors were wee bams who will be dealt with accordingly. As the nation breathes a sigh of relief and tries to get back to some semblance of normality, perhaps we do have something to be thankful for – up here, we’re not completely abandoned.
Elsewhere: Jennie Kermode links the riots to a lack of civic pride. While I don’t necessarily agree, it’s an interesting read.