There are a number of reasons behind the riots, says TOM HARRIS. Geography is not one of them


It is a fact that (so far, touch wood) the riots that have wreaked so much devastation have been confined to English cities.

The First Minister said as much on the wireless this morning, and he was right. But was he right to point out that the riots are an “English, not UK” phenomenon?

Obviously not.

Compare and contrast to the outpouring of solidarity from all quarters when a madman murdered nearly 100 people in and near Oslo, Norway, a few weeks ago. “We’re all Norwegian now!” was the unanimous – and correct – response.

At various times we’ve appropriated the nationalities of many countries and nations where calamity has befallen – “We’re all Norwegian, Palestinian, New Zealanders, Japanese, etc now”…

Alas, our First Minister’s (and presumably his party’s) empathetic abilities don’t stretch as far as Manchester, let alone London. Yes, it’s true that so far Scottish cities have been mercifully free from the anarchy that has afflicted English cities.

But why say so?

Most of us accept that there are underlying issues that result in the riots. Not that those causing the damage aren’t thugs and thieves – they certainly are – and there may well be reasons, reaching generations back, that make it likelier that some people are more inclined to such behaviour. Maybe they feel they have no stake in society, maybe they resent the affluence they see all around them and can’t share in, maybe they see no end to the generational cycle to unemployment, benefit dependency and strangling at birth of aspiration.

And maybe those on the right wing are right – maybe these are just bad people who do bad things for no reason.

That’s a debate we should be having, and that includes those of us in Scotland. Because if any of the above “reasons” (note: not excuses) are at all valid, then they’re relevant to our own cities as well.

Instead of trying to score a petty, pathetic, Saltire-waving point against our southern neighbours, Salmond should instead have remembered that he is supposed to act like a statesman at least some of the time. He should have shown some solidarity, entered into the debate about what causes such violence and acknowleged that Scotland, like the rest of the UK, has major issues of poverty and disenfranchisement to be addressed.

That would have been welcome. And if I’m perfectly honest, I think his contribution would have been worth listening to. He is, after all, an intelligent man.

Which is why his “wha’s like us?” approach is so disappointing and so far less than what Scotland deserves.

Tom Harris is the Labour MP for Glasgow South. Follow him on Twitter at @TomHarrisMP.