Moving on from [other people’s] yob dogs to [other people’s] yob teenagers – as politicians discuss nuisance, consent, public safety, good neighbours, etc….

I approach all these issues with a degree of questioning cynicism. When I was Chair of Governors in a local secondary school in Northern Ireland, It was the witholding of consent by a small group of parents which made the management of the school, at times, unacceptably difficult. We also had a youth club in the parish – good, well-run, aspirational in terms of Duke of Edinburgh Award, etc., for young people from the housing estate where the club was. Young people needed it and supported it. The church supported it. The education authority supported it although funding was always under threat. In a vague sort of way, the community supported it – although the neighbours would ring me up to complain and, now and again, parents would storm in and disrupt it. It was almost impossibly difficult to get people to make a commitment to helping as leaders.

I heard somebody this morning speaking of the ‘waning influence of the church’ as part of what has led to these signs of disintegration in society. The church is interested in helping to build viable and healthy communities – not in being a paternalistic or maternalistic presence in society. The church also should have a gospel commitment to the outcast – these may be yobs but they are also people and, often, people who are serverely disadvantaged.

But almost anything is better than prison. Dostoevsky once remarked that he measured the quality of a society by the quality of its prisons. I am sure Perth Prison is excellent in terms of quality – I am still astounded by its size.