All over Scotland last weekend families enjoyed watching the fireworks. The spectacle of fire and colour brought happiness to many – young and old. The same was true in Edinburgh. All over the city – and especially at Meadowbank – majestic displays thrilled the crowds.
But in a few parts of the city a tiny minority set out to cause havoc and intimidate local people. In a few places in north and east Edinburgh a small number used fireworks and fire not to entertain but to terrify. Local people imprisoned themselves in their homes for fear of going out. Cars were set alight and fireworks thrown at emergency services workers trying to protect the public. We’re lucky there weren’t even more serious injuries.
Some of the reaction has been unhelpful. For the local Tory councillor to claim Craigentinny resembles Belfast during the Troubles is as foolish as it is insulting. I was brought up in Northern Ireland in the 70s so believe me I know there’s no comparison.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a serious problem. We do. This behaviour is unacceptable and we’ve all got you do our bit to make sure there is no repeat. Some of the people involved in the firework attacks are the very same who’ve been creating mayhem in nearby areas at other times.
Many are known to the police and social services. Together with other local politicians I’ll be working with the police, the council and other agencies to co-ordinate efforts to deal with the problem. That might be talking to the young people involved and trying to find them something else to do – and it might mean getting them into court and facing punishment.
But in this particular instance it also means doing something about the means of this virulent anti-social behaviour as well as the perpetrators. It’s time to think again about controlling fireworks and access to them.
After all, we are talking here about low grade explosives. Isn’t it a little odd that they are so readily available – sold as toys by both corner shop and supermarket chain.
I believe that it is time that the use of all fireworks requires a license. The vast majority of fireworks used in this country are already at properly organised displays where safety is paramount. And let’s face it the fireworks you see in your mate’s garden are a bit of damp squib compared to a proper municipal display.
This isn’t to say that only the council can set off fireworks – far from it. You could still arrange a private family display for a special occasion and companies could use fireworks at events. But, and it’s a huge but, you would have to get a license to do so. Which means there would be hoops to jump through to prove that you’re doing the thing properly and safely – and to ensure the teenager next door doesn’t run off with a box of rockets.
More importantly it would make it crystal clear that anyone chucking a firework on the street most certainly doesn’t have a license and allow the police to intervene much faster and more effectively.
I have written to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to demand a review of the law in this area. And I’ve also written to David Mundell to ask him to support moves to devolve authority in this area to the Scottish Government. It does seem crazy that the Scottish Government can legislate for so much and license practically everything but not fireworks.
That would mean we could move faster. It would also mean that if the rest of the UK doesn’t think further restrictions on fireworks is necessary - although I think they might - they don’t have to have them.
Column written for the Edinburgh Evening News - Thursday 11th November 2017