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Home > Reviews > Scotland’s Gang Members: Life and Crime in Glasgow

Scotland’s Gang Members: Life and Crime in Glasgow

Author Robert McLean and James Densley

ISBN No 978-3-030-47752-3

Review date 15/08/2022

No of pages 188

Publisher Palgrave

Publisher URL

Year of publication 29/09/2020


Our Review


£ 71.50, ebook; also hardback

A major reason for the bringing into being of the Security Industry Authority in the early 2000s was to rid guarding and above all pub doors of ‘rogue’ criminals; and Glasgow was among the cities known to have organised crime doing contract guarding (among other trades; others were taxis, and ice cream sales).

Robert McLean, a graduate of Glasgow as much of criminology, having been a gang offender and victim, has with James Densley made a remarkable book about ‘life and crime’. Young men fight to protect turf; yet also for no apparent reason; ‘just because’. The book is at once a vivid narrative, a collection of life stories about lost innocence (‘Leo was a bomb, primed to explode. His friends could see that he was reaching a point of no return, falling deeper into gang life’); and of how violent lives fit into the urban geography of the central belt of Scotland; and of how little purchase the police or any authorities have on wrong-doers, despite criminal records. If anything, officials can cause crime (such as housing associations placing young men in the same street, who form drug-dealing networks).

While organised crime groups have dealt in drugs for decades, and gangsters have turned into well-off businessmen, and gang life has entered popular culture (the novel and film Trainspotting is mentioned), so many of those in gangs lead chaotic, drug-addicted lives and either mend their ways or die or stagger along. While the crimes and names change - ‘razor gangs’ date from the 1930s - the lack of life alternatives is stark. As the author suggests, this highly readable, eye-opening yet never sensationalist work sits between the usual books about gangs, either by academics (difficult for the non-academic to understand), or memoirs by survivors (while vivid enough, perhaps inevitably one-sided).

You can get a flavour of the book by previewing a couple of pages of each chapter from the Palgrave website.

It's not a book with a happy ending or any prescriptions. The book does prompt the average reader, let alone anyone who knows anything about Glasgow, to hope for something better for the city, still one of the major cities of the British Isles. When even 12-year-olds find their daily lives ‘inevitably penetrated’ by violence, it’s hard to see solutions. That word inevitable recurs, whether children witness random violence in the home, or arm themselves with home-made weapons (easier to dispose of than knives). A pity the book’s so dear.