ONE of my favourite poems – indeed one of this nation's favourites, according to a BBC poll in 2006 – was The Coming of the Wee Malkies by Stephen Mulrine. I can still recite the first verse by heart
"Whit'll ye dae when the wee Malkies come,
If they dreep doon affy the wash-hoose dyke,
An' pit the hems oan the sterrheid light,
An' play wee heidies oan the clean close wa',
Missis, whit'll ye dae? "
It's a poem celebrating Glaswegian children's almost innocent antisocial antics in a city then populated by tenement dwellers. Nowadays the Wee Malkies would be into drink, under-age sex, casual violence and intimidation.
This city has a youth gang culture, and our share of Malkies. Teenage and pre-teen nihilists, I would call them, packs of feral children to whom an ASBO is a joke.
You see them all over the city, groups of boys and girls who congregate on street corners, around shopping centres, in commercial or residential car parks, and who run, scream, shout and fight before scragging a car or ripping up a garden hedge, or worse. Some have access to cheap booze or drugs, some are just high on the adrenalin rush of potential violence.
You see them in the peripheral estates and in Princes Street alike, small and sometimes not-so-small gangs of youngsters – for sake of argument, let's put the age group at 11-16 inclusive – whose attitude to the social norms is simply to ignore them.
You can't ask them to be quiet, you daren't say "leave the cars alone" and you certainly cannot reason with them – the mob mentality has taken over, and all sense has disappeared by the time you reach that stage. As for joyriders – and those blasted quad bikes – how do they get their hands on such things? Look what happened at Jack Kane Centre last week: we the council taxpayers now face a bill of 3,550 to install bollards to keep the joyriders away.
Resistance is useless. Touch them and it is you who goes to jail. That's unless they've beaten you up. Call the police and the pack might run away, but they'll be back, knowing that their presence is an open taunt of defiance.
Lothian and Borders Police's youth strategy, Community Safety panels, Neighbourhood Watch schemes – they are all well and good, and undoubtedly have made the city a safer place, but there is still a sizeable number of children who think they are above the law and act like it.
Let's get things in proportion. The great vast majority of children in this city are decent, well brought up, stick in at school, and are a credit to their parents and communities. That goes right across the board in a city of disparate wealth.
Yet the minority in the gang culture is large enough to cause real concern, particularly to the elderly and those who live alone. It is as if the feral pack has some sort of instinct for weakness and the stories of individual householders being targeted for "the treatment" are not exaggerated.
Ask any social worker or teacher and they will tell you that a growing problem in society is not a vast increase in abuse of children but the upward spiral of abuse by children. Some are simply uncontrollable by reason of a total lack of parental and other discipline in their lives. Some come from families where one or other parent or both is addicted to drink and drugs. Some are just unlucky to be born without family worthy of the name.
The "me me" generation of the 60s and 70s has changed the pattern of society so that there are very many fewer extended families. Grandpas, grannies, aunts and uncles are in increasingly short supply, and children do not have the role models to look up to.
But these are reasons, not excuses, and the courts, social workers and teachers are fed up mollycoddling the worst cases. The imposing of area or individual curfews is the way they would prefer to deal with the gang culture. It is an idea that has merits and should be looked at across the Lothians.
An increasing source of aggravation in many communities is that the worst offenders are able to hide behind a cloak of anonymity, as was the case with the two 14-year-old girls and 13-year-old boy detained last November for a total of 12 years for the Omni Centre car park torture case.
This newspaper, in common with all others in Scotland, is simply not allowed to name any offender under the age of 16. The fear is that named youngsters will not get the chance and time to reform, or their families will get vigilante justice.
Their human rights will be traduced if we name and shame these teeny criminals, we are told. But what about the human rights of the victims? What about the rights of people to live in peace?
It is time to stop giving protection to violent brats in particular. The Scottish Government should copy the UK Government's intention and tell the courts that any child aged 13 or over who is convicted of a crime of violent or anti-social nature should be named.
Our society needs protection from bad people, whatever their age, and we have the right to know who they are.