REMEMBER when we all clapped for the NHS and told ourselves that after the pandemic we’d emerge blinking into the dawn of a new utopia? Covid, so our self-convincing story went, would reveal our better natures; we’d come together; build a fairer, more just society.

What complete and utter deluded nonsense. Post-Covid, the world is much harsher and more chaotic than before. It was always going to be thus. History proves it.

Chaos, war and financial ruin follow pandemics as sure as the Four Horsemen ride together. The most immediate after-effect of the Black Death was rampant inflation. With so many dead, labour was in desperately short supply. Prices skyrocketed. Demands for higher wages eventually led to the Peasants’ Revolt in England, resulting in looting, rioting, murder and the subsequent bloody suppression of serfs. The Black Death started in the early stages of the Hundred Years War between England and France. Rather than bringing the nations together after the plague, the war intensified. Post-plague there was mass civil unrest and persecution of minorities, namely Jews. Many folk simply went mad. The flagellants – religious zealots – marched the countryside whipping themselves bloody in order to stave off God’s wrath returning.

How’s today shaping up? War. Tick. Inflation. Tick. Crazies everywhere. Tick. Hatred of minorities. Tick. As for social unrest, you can feel the early stages of that symptom biting already.

Yesterday morning, the Daily Record carried a startling front page. "Wild West", the headline read. It told of gang warfare on the streets of Lanarkshire. “Videos reveal machete attacks, guns, baseball bats and a disturbing clip of a truck deliberately smashing into a home with children cowering inside,” the paper said.

Sure, the criminality got the tabloid treatment, but the paper was doing Scotland a service. We’ve taken our eye off just how bad social disorder is getting in this country. The Lanarkshire incidents are far from isolated events.

Lets peruse some recent headlines. Here’s one from November 6: “Bonfire Night: Police and firefighters attacked with petrol bombs.” Two officers in Edinburgh were hospitalised for head injuries after bricks were thrown at their car. A mob of 100 youths threw fireworks at the public and cars in the city. A motorbike gang was filmed racing through Edinburgh terrorising people. Across Scotland there were five attacks on firefighters.

Here’s another from a week earlier: “Riot police called as youths rampage in Dundee.” Disorder meant drivers had to turn back from fires blockading the road. A police helicopter was dispatched. Vehicles were bricked and attacked. A school vandalised.

These events are not isolated to Scotland. On Bonfire Night, for instance, police across Britain had to deal with violent, antisocial behaviour. A mob pelted police in Leeds. In West Yorkshire, a police vehicle was attacked. Fire crews were targeted in Manchester.

A few hours after Remembrance Sunday, Edinburgh’s war memorial – ringed with wreaths – was torched. Nicola Sturgeon referred to the arson attack as “utterly beyond comprehension”. The First Minister is right in her disgust, but wrong in her belief that the crime cannot be understood.

We aren’t just living with the psycho-social aftermath of pandemic. We’re also living through a time of deep and damaging poverty, as well as intense political dislocation. These factors cause crime to rise. If society shows it doesn’t give a damn about you, some may chose to lash out.

Statistics are stark. Violent and sexual crime in Scotland rose dramatically between 2018 and 2022. The time frame neatly bridges the pandemic. Similar is happening in England and Wales, where the number of recorded crimes has hit an all-time high, with a big increase in violent and sexual offences.

A few recent conversations I’ve had are worth noting given what we’re seeing. Niven Rennie, a former chief superintendent, runs Scotland’s acclaimed Violence Reduction Unit. His travels around the country have left him – genuinely – in tears at the poverty he witnesses. He feels our society has become cruel and cold. We allow poverty to fester. Poverty breeds crime. To tackle violent crime we must tackle poverty, Rennie believes. “Lifting people out of poverty will deal with a lot of society’s issues,” he told me.

Not so long ago, I spoke to the well-known Scottish criminologist Professor David Wilson. He told me a startling fact: during Covid, violent crime became increasingly violent. “I’ve never seen so much mutilation of people. Victims were being overkilled. I felt that was definitely a societal reaction … When I started in this work I came across one man who’d committed a beheading. I encounter that much more regularly, and certainly during Covid, victims were being mutilated in ways that were unprecedented.”

It’s not a wild flight of fancy to wonder if the darkest aspects of Vladimir Putin’s character were fed by pandemic. We know Putin was terrified of Covid.

Just last week I spoke to Dr Gavin Francis, the Scottish GP who’s an international bestselling author. He told me that during Covid, his mental health caseload rose from a third of his appointments to two-thirds. Lockdown, while a medical necessity, put appalling psychological strain not just on individuals but on our entire society.

Of course, none of this is helped by police numbers in Scotland falling to a record low. The police cannot solve everything. They won’t heal the wounds of poverty or pandemic, but we need more of them to protect the streets and pick up the pieces.

The world has become a harsher, crueller place. Scotland and the rest of the UK are part of that world. Matters are only going to get worse. We face a new wave of austerity which will deepen poverty, and increase the psychological pressures on huge numbers of people. Yet £38 million is being cut from Scotland’s mental health services.

It would be nice to end on an optimistic note, but that’s impossible. More poverty is coming, so social unrest will only deepen. Simply locking people up isn’t good enough. Crime must be dealt with before it happens – and that means providing the best life for as many people as possible. We don’t live in a society which prioritises that, however, so we must live in a society where disorder becomes the norm.

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