IN THE old Govan town hall, you can still see the burgh coat of arms depicting a shipyard with the motto nihil sine labore – “nothing without work”.
In the light of Glasgow’s new title as the British capital of worklessness, it provides a poignant commentary on a troubled city.
Almost one in three households in Glasgow is now without work, and the city has overtaken Liverpool as the worst city in the UK for worklessness.
This is disturbing in a number of ways. It is grim news for the Glasgow economy, and also the wider Scottish economy. It speaks of a vast swathe of the Glaswegian population living a life dependent on benefits, bringing up children on the breadline. And you do not have to be a slave to the Presbyterian work ethic to believe these households are being deprived of the positive benefits of work in terms of purpose, self-worth and self-reliance.
Once again, we are left to ponder the significance of what has become known as “the Glasgow factor”. The fact is that there are many cities across western Europe and North America with a similar industrial and social legacy as Glasgow, but few with the same extent of ill-health and worklessness.
Various academic studies and think-tank reports have offered explanations – most recently one suggesting that a factor was the poor quality of the social bonds in the city, somewhat undermining Glasgow’s sense of itself as a place of strong community spirit and solidarity. Others have blamed traits in Glaswegian masculinity that owe much to the lost culture of the heavy engineering workplace.
Glasgow made its name in the world as a place where men built ships, trains and heavy machinery. This was what Glaswegians knew as work. Much of that industry is now gone. But some people seem to regard the employment that has replaced it – particularly jobs in the service industries – as not “proper” work.
This is a dangerous mindset and we must challenge it. Coming to a better understanding of why this problem exists is essential because without a good analysis, it is hard to come up with ways of addressing the problem. And yet address the problem we must.
The devolution settlement of 1999 left benefits and welfare in the hands of Westminster, and this has contributed to a sense that welfare dependency is solely a UK government problem. Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms of the UK benefit system were inspired by his visits to Glasgow housing schemes, but his plans are for the UK as a whole.
It is time that all the politicians with a locus – the city council, the Scottish Government and the UK government – stopped passing the buck and the blame to each other.
All three need to accept that they do not need to be culpable to be responsible. To get Glasgow back to work, they have to work together without rancour, and with purpose.
Ministers must heed police plea
Should police have the right to arrest you for your own good? It is an intriguing question thrown up by senior officers in the light of new criminal justice legislation.
The plan to repeal the part of statute that allows common law arrests is causing concern. The Association of Scottish Police Superintendents says it would prevent them from intervening in cases when someone is putting themselves – and others – at risk through their behaviour.
This may seem a curious point in the abstract, but the examples senior officers give make sense. If someone is walking along the top of a high wall, risking injury to themselves and the people below, shouldn’t the police have the power to intervene?
This falls into that grey area of policing that addresses behaviour that is not, per se, breaking any laws, but which is at best unwise and at worst dangerous. Without these powers, police would be able to make an arrest only if a crime had been committed – not to prevent a crime.
The core of the police argument is that these powers give them a degree of flexibility in how they can act in any given situation. Without this
flexibility, they would be faced with the choice of turning a blind eye or making an arrest under criminal law for, say, breach of the peace.
The association appears to have a point. Police are there to do more than fight crime. They are also there to protect public order and public safety.
The Scottish Government, in progressing its new criminal justice legislation, should take this on board and examine whether the scrapping of these powers of arrest is indeed necessary or desirable.