A while back, The Guardian had a series of articles on Glasgow Gangs and the response on twitter was interesting to say the least. From a laypersons observations, as an outsider moving to North Glasgow as a young teen, I thought I’d describe my understanding of it all. In my understanding, it operates quite differently to other gangs in the UK. I personally believe it’s a cultural issue passed from father to son for generations. There are reports that suggest much the same (that I’m too lazy to search for and link to).
A report from 2008 highlighted that Glasgow had the same number of teenage gangs as London who has over 6 times the population. Obviously gang culture has developed in Glasgow like any other gang culture around the world. Mostly location-based gangs formed and it was like a right of passage for the teenage boy to be in the local gang, it was a form of protection but it also met a human tribal needs. Although taking drugs were a large part of recreational gang behaviour, of the people I knew, it was never about being a drug gang or dealing in hard drugs. Someone always knew a guy who knew a guy who sold jellies (a now banned form of Tamazepam). In those days ecstasy and cocaine were expensive, Acid for hippies and heroin only for junkies.
The dealing and organisation of drugs gangs was the domain of the “grown ups”. This is a huge organised crime which revolves around drugs and territoriality and is the reason for almost all shootings in the area. The gangs are more often family based with the names of such being household names in some parts of Glasgow. The battle between the Daniels and the Lyons is the most recent highlighted gang feud but names such as the Thompsons were notorious for generations with my grandparents knowing of the family in their youth.
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I remember being astonished upon starting high school how many friends would organise fights among themselves. As soon as the home bell went, friends became enemies and in the evening the gangs from rival areas would meet in the field next to my house to fight. This wasn’t about drugs or vendettas, it was entertainment pure and simple. They didn’t meet to kill each other or do serious damage just give each other a good “doin”.
There would be about 100 kids, 50 on either side of a valley who would charge down a hill at each other brandishing weapons, boulders, wooden bats, tree branches etc. The so-called “posh kids” and the “scheme kids”. Various schemes would arrange to meet the “posh kids” for a fight, mostly at weekend but a midweek battering wasnt unheard of. The gangs had names, some inventive others just representing the area young team. The ones I remember most were the Auchinairn Bison and Balornock Young Team as they were the most common opponents to whatever the “posh kids” gang was called. Wikipedia has provided a hysterical (yet handy) list of gang names in Glasgow. Reading it I remember quite a few of them and the chants each Young Team would holler wherever they went. The next day at school they were all the best of friends again.
Violence for them was a form of entertainment. I cannot get my head round this concept to this day. Having moved from the leafy suburbs of wealthy Hertfordshire into what felt like a warzone was a massive culture shock for me. It was quite possibly worse for my brother as there was a huge pressure on males to conform and get involved in this violence. Boys had to prove themselves from an early age and even in adulthood this behaviour continues. Violence is normalised, it’s accepted and promoted among societies as a means of status and proving oneself. It’s about honour. This theme of violence and honour has existed for thousands of years and the violence of the Scots has been noted as far back as Roman times when the majority of the country lay beyond the boundary of the Roman Empire. Even today, Scots talk with pride about “stopping the romans”, despite archaeological evidence suggesting the two cultures lived reasonably harmoniously alongside one another.
Now I know this violence as entertainment isn’t a practice restricted to Glasgow, or indeed Scotland, but I have never come across a people so proud of their violent heritage. It is incomprehensible to me why violence is celebrated in such a widespread manner, but it would be remiss of me to ignore this as a reality in favour my pacifist’s utopia. Yup if you’re reading my blog for the first time, I am and always have been a pacifist. I have taken punches and not so much as returned a slap. Violence solves nothing. Knowing this doesn’t stop the rest of the society I live in having a violent code of honour. In their eyes makes me a freak. I am fine with that.
Today MP for Falkirk, Eric Joyce spoke openly about his troubles with violence and crime in his life during a Channel 4 interview. Undoubtedly, he would have experienced the peer pressure to conform and get involved in violent behaviour. He would have likely understood and experienced the entertainment aspect. He even openly said it was fun. For many this may have been their first introduction to the normalisation of violence within Scotland and their shock is understandable. It shouldn’t be this way but it is, and it would take massive cultural shift over many generations to even begin to touch on this mindset. And while I have concentrated mainly on male cultural violence in this post, my biggest personal shock was seeing that it existed with as much prevalence, in teenage years at least, among females too.
There was considerable comment online about Joyce’s unacceptable behaviour and how his condoning violence made him unfit to represent the people of Falkirk in parliament. Most of the outrage appeared to come from those living in the South East of England and with all due respect, they are unlikely to understand the importance and prevalence of Scottish violent culture to such a large swathe of Scottish, mostly working class, men. To say as such is not to agree with or support such violence but it is an acceptance that it does exist and is, for whatever unfathomable reason, important to many people.