Scotland – Crime Fact and Crime Fiction – Part 1

Since I live in Scotland, I thought I’d start off by talking a bit about Scottish crime fiction. As well as the king of Tartan Noir himself, Ian Rankin, quite a wide variety of crime fiction writers ply their trade here, including some new faces on the Scottish crime scene (fictionally speaking, of course). Glasgow and Edinburgh, in particular, seem to have more than their fair share. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the River Clyde is chock full of dead bodies, or that there aren’t enough watering holes for the protagonists not to bump into each other at every turn. Well, I can’t vouch for the number of dead bodies in the Clyde, but Glasgow, at least, certainly has enough pubs.

But first, just the facts ma’am. Scotland is home to around 5 million people. Edinburgh, the nation’s capital in the east, has around 450,000 residents in its 264 square kilometres. Glasgow, in the west, is only 175 square kilometres but is Scotland’s most highly populated city with around 600,000 residents. A 50 minute train journey separates the two cities, but they’re separated by a heck of a lot more than that. Glaswegians say that the best thing to come out of Edinburgh is the train to Glasgow. Not surprisingly, the phrase is repeated slightly differently if you’re from Edinburgh.

The rest after the little jumpy thing (I’m definitely getting the hang of this).

Edinburgh is really dramatic and scenic. It’s built on 7 hills and there are some really spectacular views. And it has a castle, lots of tourists, and more than a few blokes in skirts wailing on bagpipes. It’s also the home of Scotland’s new Parliament (personally I think that’s because politicians are too scared to come to Glasgow). The parliament building is due to be officially opened in October. At a cost of £431m it’s 10 times over budget and 3 years behind schedule, but, hey, what’s £390m-odd between friends? House prices are high, major employers are the head offices of banks and building societies (and, presumably, really slow builders).

Glasgow is, and always has been, an industrial city and a centre of trade (originally built up by tobacco merchants who built themselves swanky houses and tried to outdo each other). It was also a major shipbuilding city, before shipbuilding went into decline. It used to be very grimy, with all the buildings covered in centuries of dirt and soot but in the 1980s there was a major city wide clean up and all the buildings were steam cleaned and rejuvenated.

Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have wonderful old buildings in the city centre. A lot of these used to be fancy townhouses, but are now mostly offices. I prefer Glasgow’s buildings – most of the city centre of Edinburgh is made of gray stone, and looks spectacular but cold. Glasgow is known for its blond and red sandstone buildings and it feels altogether warmer.

And it’s not only the buildings. There’s a lot of rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh and a lot of this is due to the perceived differences between its residents. Edinburgh and its people are seen as snooty, middle class, reserved, cold, serious, elegant, more refined. Glasgow and its people are seen as down to earth, working class, humorous, livelier, warm, friendlier.

There’s an old saying amongst people in Glasgow that there’s more fun to be had at a Glasgow stabbing than at an Edinburgh wedding. That tells you a lot about both places. I would like to add that I have been to an Edinburgh wedding and I had a whale of a time. I’m unable to vouch for the fun factor at a Glasgow stabbing. Perhaps my invitation got lost in the post. And I’m not even going to mention the football rivalry.

Glasgow drunks are funnier than Edinburgh drunks. If you get stuck next to one on a Glasgow bus, he’ll be more likely to sing you a Frank Sinatra favourite (My Way is the chosen anthem amongst Glasgow drunks – “Hand na-ow, the hend is ne-ah”) than anything else. An Edinburgh drunk might treat you to an aria from Wagner’s Ring Cycle(oh, I do love this ability to just plonk in random links). Edinburgh likes to see itself as the cultured city, which is why they have a month long festival in August, just to prove it.

There’s a lot to see in Edinburgh. Apart from the castle, there are some really great historic buildings, a Museum of Childhood, the cemetery where bodysnatchers Burke and Hare plied their trade and some underground streets which were supposedly blocked off during the plague and the residents left to die a slow painful death (did I mention that Edinburgh was less friendly than Glasgow?). There’s also the Heart of Midlothian. As well as being a football team, this is a paving slab which is in the centre of Edinburgh, it’s heart shaped, and it’s supposed to be at the heart of Midlothian (the district Edinburgh is in). So, unable to come up with something witty or apt, they called it the Heart of Midlothian. It’s supposed to be good luck if you spit on it and means you will come back (Rome gets a lovely fountain full of coins, Scotland gets a bit of stone covered in spit – lovely – no wonder we had the plague).

I once took a friend through to Edinburgh and told her this story, so she decided to spit on it for good luck. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very good luck for her, as the wind was blowing quite strongly and, well, to be frank, she didn’t check the wind direction very carefully and she ended up with a faceful of spit – only some of which was her own. In Glasgow, we don’t have a special place to spit, people just do it wherever they like. I suppose that’s another cultural divide between the two cities.

Glasgow is not as rich in historical culture, and consequently doesn’t have as many tourist attractions, although it does have some great museums and galleries. It also has better shopping. Much better shopping. Glasgow also has better clubs (although if you go to some of them, you might be able to test out the Glasgow stabbing/ Edinburgh wedding theory). Most of them are not places to go to when you’re sober. And if you do, you’ll hurriedly remedy that in a bid to forget the whole horrendous experience.

So let’s turn to murder – as, indeed, it seems more and more people in Scotland are doing. A report called Homicide In Scotland revealed that for the years 1999-2001 the average number of murders per annum in Scotland per million people was 21.6. This was higher than any other European Union country except two. One of those was Northern Ireland, but which was the most murderous nation? Well, as the Monty Python team said:

You’re so sadly neglected

And often ignored,

A poor second to Belgium,

When going abroad.

Finland, Finland, Finland,

The country where I quite want to be,

Your mountains so lofty,

Your treetops so tall.

Finland, Finland, Finland.

Finland has it all.

Including, it appears, lots of murders, with 28.6 per annum, per million population. Finland? Who would have thought it?

The place to go, it would seem, is Norway, with 9.5 pa. You might want to avoid South Africa (558.6) and Russia (220.5). For the record, England and Wales are 16.1, Australia is 18.7, Canada is 17.7 and USA is 55.6 (although the figures seem to be skewed rather by Washington DC’s impact with 428.7).

Back to Scotland. The wild west is the most dangerous place to live with the murder rate in Glasgow 58.7 per million of population. Edinburgh’s rate was 15.6 per million. To put proper numbers on those rates, in 2002 there were 127 homicides in Scotland. 40 of them were in Glasgow, and a further 41 in the rest of the Strathclyde region. We’re a bloodthirsty lot over here in the west. Almost half of the attackers were drunk (no surprise there then – it seems as though almost half of Glasgow is drunk at any one point in time). Most murders occur at the weekend and involve young males (with over 5 times more men than women being killed), over half of the murders involve stabbings and 78% of the victims knew their killers.

As a 41 year old woman it’s reassuring to note that I’m relatively unlikely to be a murder victim in Glasgow. A thorough analysis of the statistics shows that I can lower my chances still further if I hide the steak-knives, only go out on Tuesdays, and try not to make anyone angry. I’m not convinced, however. Having been mugged three and a half times, I feel as though I may be walking around surrounded by neon lights, only visible to the criminal eye, which spell out ‘Lookee here, a crime waiting for somewhere to happen’.

The traditional view of murder on the east and west coasts is that in Edinburgh the murders are carried out in secret behind the locked doors of elegant Georgian houses, whereas in Glasgow it’s all drugs, razor gangs and Taggart drawling “There’s a boady in thuh riv-uh”. Needless to say, there are plenty of net-curtained suburbs in Glasgow, and the regal Georgian terraces in Edinburgh are just as likely to house brothels and drug dealers as the housing estates are.

Don’t I waffle on? And I haven’t even got to the purpose of this post, which was to talk about Scottish Crime Fiction (Remember? All those paragraphs ago?). I fear this post is already too ginormous, so I will post the fictional stuff later on today.