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Postcards from Scotland

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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 31/03/2006

A woman who was on secondment to the Scottish Executive from California told me recently that one of the things that struck her about Scotland is how good some of our initiatives are yet we give them very little attention, let alone praise. She particularly singled out our breast feeding policy which she said was streets ahead of anything happening in her area. She also said we had taken giant steps forward in school meals. I’m regularly told what good work is being done in the National Programme for Mental Health and Well-Being and how we are leading the world. That being said one of the initiatives that I feel most positive and excited about is the Violence Reduction Unit. Originally set up inside Strathclyde Police to try to tackle escalating levels of violence – particularly knife crime – its remit has now been broadened to cover the whole of Scotland.

As someone who worked with teams for years I do not need to be convinced of the importance of team working and how collectively people can achieve much more together than they can apart – that the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. But I also know that teams are only as good as the individuals who make them up and for great work to take place it often has to be energised by the charisma and determination of one individual. In this case the individual in question is John Carnochan.

What is exciting about the work John Carnochan’s team is doing is that they are not just trying to get Scotland’s violence figures down a bit by arranging knife amnesties or taking the glass out of Glasgow’s pubs. No they also want to understand a fundamental question – what makes people violent and why has violence been such a prevalent feature of Scottish culture for the past forty years? So at a conference on Monday to discuss the new unit and its work much of the time on the agenda was given over to people like Public Health expert Professor Phil Hanlon – well-known for his radical views – and a man called George Hosking of an English based organisation called the WAVE Trust. Hosking presented research from various quarters which shows that violent people lack empathy and empathy is formed in the first two years of life as a result of interaction with the mother or other care-giver. In short, lack of physical affection and love in a baby’s life predisposes that child to violence in later years. So Scotland’s rise in violence will in part be the result of inadequate mothering. These mothers, often teenage girls and single parents, are themselves victims of inadequate mothering. Girls who often need much more help and support than the current system allows.

John Carnochan is no pussy cat. In many ways he has the hard edge of a man who has been in the police force for decades so it’s somewhat ironical that he is the main man in Scotland attempting to build an alliance of people and organisations prepared to embrace an early intervention agenda and inject more love into babies’ lives. Such an injection can thus be seen as ‘an inoculation’ against violence.

If this initiative were to win the support of politicians it would mean a major restructuring of public spending. In other words, money would have to be taken from other projects and sectors to pay for it. The most obvious sector to lose out would be higher education since research shows that money spent earlier in a child’s life reaps far more benefits than money spent later on. Such restructuring will not happen without major arguments. However, since it is human lives which are at stake it is just possible that a determined policeman is exactly the right person to get organisations and individuals to pledge their support to tackling Scotland’s shameful culture of violence.

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