NIVEN Rennie has a new word: syndemic.

It is scrawled in red on the whiteboard of his corner office in central Glasgow. “I learned it this week,” the former senior police officer says with a self-deprecating laugh. “Syndemic means there are symptoms that are appearing and that there are a number of things that are causing them.”

The term is medical. It usually refers to health problems; to the epidemics of heart disease, or poor mental health, or cancers which cluster in poor neighbourhoods.

Mr Rennie is director of the Violence Reduction Unit or VRU. So he is talking about his country’s homicide syndemic. Because in Scotland violence – murder – is regarded as a health problem. Or so we like to claim.

Scotland has made international headlines for reducing violence. And the VRU, the police and government joint venture at the centre of that effort, is where visiting dignitaries, politicians, journalists and academics go to find out how.

For Mr Rennie, however, that is an old story. Because violent crime is not falling any more. The decline, he says, has “stalled”.

Let’s look at the easiest violence to count: homicides. Mr Rennie watches that number closely. “What have we learned from 15 years of the VRU?,” he said. “There were 137 homicides in 2005. There were 60 last year. Potentially 65 next year.

“We have been hovering around 60 homicides for about eight years.

“If you look at it dispassionately the homicide drop has happened in the west of Scotland and it has been tackling the gangs which have largely disappeared.

“When you look where violence is now it is not marauding kids running through the streets with knives, its is not racial as they have in England, it is within homes - not just domestic violence, but alcohol being drunk in homes.

“Pubs and nightlife and culture has changed. People are falling out at home.”

This is where Mr Rennie starts to explain “syndemic”. The symptoms,” he said, “are appearing are alcohol problems, drug problems, homelessness and violence.

“And they are largely living by social factors. When the gap between rich and power is greater, then violence is worse because people are outside society looking in.

“So if we are going to make a further step forward in Scotland to reduce this hard line of homicides - 60 odd - it has got to be social.”

Mr Rennie sees a problem. Scotland on one hand, he says, likes to see itself as very progressive and ready to adopt evidence-based solutions. On the other hand, its jails contain more than 8000 people.

He said: “To me, we have an understanding through 15 years of adverse childhood experiences or ACEs.

“We know through all that work where somebody is born, the circumstances in to which they are born – father in prison for homicide mother is an alcoholic – dictates a lot of their outcomes.

“There is a general acceptance in Scotland that we are a trauma aware nation. Our professionals are getting trained in ACEs.

“It doesn’t matter how much we recognise that and how much we share responsibility for violence, when there is a spike, it is the police who are in the chair.

“It happened to me this year. There was a 10 per cent rise in violence and I was summoned through to the government to answer for it.

“I am really frustrated that we have come a long way and we know the problems and we have an understanding generally. But despite that we still fall back on ‘hang em and flog em’, ‘build more prisons’ and ‘it is the police to blame’.

“I want to change that narrative. I may be mad. How do we move Scotland? Away from a punitive, judgemental attitude which is passed on generation to generation.

“How do we move towards a more caring and compassionate society that we like to think Scotland is? In actual fact, we are not.

“On one hand we are away ahead of other countries in understanding trauma. On the other hand, how do we get judges to be more sympathetic in their sentencing.

“How do we stop putting people in to prison. Why do we spend so much money putting people in jail when we could spend it upfront to stop them going to prison in the first place.

“If we are going to make further progress we need to address the underlying causes and lift people out of poverty. We are tinkering around the edges.”

Mr Rennie cites just one example of where progress could be made: helping people with “records” back in to work.

Employers warn of a shortage of labour after Brexit.

Mr Rennie said:” We actually have a working age population we don’t give a chance to.because they have got a criminal history. Employment is the best way to get stability, recognition. We need to be more open-minded.

Mr Rennie stresses he is not suggesting putting people with child pornography convictions to work in a nursery or thieves in to a bank.

“There is always a ‘what if’,” he said. “But there is nothing to stop somebody who has a previous history of violence answering a phone in a call centre or serving in a shop.”

Politics, he said, keeps reverting to its ‘don’t be soft on crime’ default. So does journalism. So do public attitudes. Mr Rennie is worried about those attitudes.

He said: “The figures have stalled. We have done so much good work it has brought is down to a certain level.

“We have now got a hard core element. We know where they are, we know they are in deprived communities and that it is driven by poverty, and drugs and alcohol.

“In order to make that further drive down, we need to start looking at these factors.

“The message is getting across. The problem I am having is that the message is getting across but nothing is happening.”