Jim Duffy: Terror threat asks questions of security outside big cities

Terrorism is not just a problem for people elsewhere, as the attack on Glasgow Airport in 2007 showed. Picture: Jane Barlow
Terrorism is not just a problem for people elsewhere, as the attack on Glasgow Airport in 2007 showed. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Response plan for a terror attack on a big target is well known, but the strategy to defend a smaller town is less clear says Jim Duffy

Just how safe do you feel at the moment? Whether you are at home, on the train, in the office, at a coffee shop, at the airport, at a university or college, teaching in a school, driving a cab or running your small business, just how safe do you feel? And who is responsible for making you feel safe? Who is responsible for keeping you safe? And what about your children or parents? Do they feel safe? Do you worry about their safety? In these times of change, competing ideologies, austerity, fast-paced social media and shock after shock, incident after incident, how safe do you have the right to feel and what would you be prepared to do to make sure you are safe?

Thousands of years ago, we did not have police, counter intelligence agencies and social media. Our cavemen and women ancestors did not have the facility to dial 999 if someone was acting suspiciously outside their property or home. Think about it for a second. Fred Flintsone had his wife and kids, maybe even a boyfriend, but we will never know for sure, and he was responsible for his own safety. Fred Flintsone had to make sure that his family were safe and that they had shelter from the elements and bad people. Oh yes, there were bad people about then also. But, what he didn’t have was a mobile phone that could call the cops, video for evidential purposes or bring his family round from the nearby cave to give him a hand. Nope, his security was down to him and him alone.

Having studied some basic history, I’m pretty sure I know he had flint and could sharpen it to make a weapon. But this Fred Flintsone character would also improvise with tree branches etc to have stuff lying around that he could use if he or his family came under attack. While Wilma was cooking a stew, and the kids were playing in front of the cave, Fred Flintsone had to make sure that no harm came to them. Let call this his caveman instinct. If someone strange appeared on the horizon that he felt was a threat, he would take evasive action and either scare them away or kill them. What other options did he have? He couldn’t exactly call out the community warden to have a word with them could he?

Over the centuries we have surrendered our violence to the state. Any decent criminology degree will discuss this at length, when teaching the subject of – order. As human beings in a “civilized” society we like order. Order makes us feel safe. It warms us. It reassures us. But what happens when the order is disturbed? Unlike Fred Flinstone and Wilma, we can call the cops. But, what happens when the cops can’t turn up? Do we then reserve the right to resort to enough violence to thwart anyone creating disorder in our ordered lives?

I have no doubt that Police Scotland have plans in place for eventualities that could have a significant impact on the order we enjoy and love. I’m sure there will be a mobile armed response unit or “guncar” in every big city. I’m sure that some clever person will have worked out response times within big urban areas should some loser decide to drive a van down Buchanan Street or Princes Street. But what happens if you live in a rural town or a seaside town? What happens if a loser picks a lovely sunny summer night in Largs or North Berwick to ram his van down the seafront then get out and attck people? Each of these seaside town will have tourists swarming to enjoy fish suppers, a pint and a “99”. Kids will be running about and the amusement arcades will be full. What will the response time be? Six minutes? I’m not so optimistic…. And that is no criticism of Police Scotland as they, I am sure, would have every town and city covered if they had the resources.

Should residents of rural areas and seaside towns be granted easier access to firearms licenses? Should we re-frame our thinking to adapt to a more lawless time, when Fred Flinstone had to take responsibility for his own safety? There is no doubt that London is swarming with police and guncars. But what about the little towns that are lucky to see a police car once a day – if that? How do they protect themselves in the event of an incident, while waiting for the cavalry to arrive? If the response time is 20 minutes and we have three mad losers running around, who will stop them? It is a serious issue and Scotland cannot for one minute think this is a London or English problem. That would be folly.

I wonder if we go back to the town sheriff and his deputies, who we know are armed and can access their firearms pretty quickly in the event that their town – your town - comes under attack. MPs, the Royals and even top police officers are well protected, so why should our more remote areas not feel safe?

Perhaps it is time to create a debate on public safety, especially if organisations like Police Scotland and the Met are being tasked with constantly making efficiencies. The question is: would you be willing to step forward when required, and would you pull the trigger?