Knives are the weapons of choice for killers and are used in more than half of all slayings in Scotland, according to the latest figures. While the number of homicides is down overall, the proportion carried out using knives or other bladed weapons is at a record high at 58 per cent.
There was renewed concern yesterday that in 41 per cent of homicides the perpetrators were high on drink or drugs.
"These figures provide further depressing evidence of the toll that Scotland's drinking culture is taking on this country," said Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary. "Indeed, given that the perpetrator is not always apprehended immediately, the real figure for the number of killers who were drunk when they committed the crime is likely to be higher." He added: "While fewer people were killed last year than in previous years, that is of no consolation to the families of victims."
The minister was convinced that there would be a significant reduction in violent deaths if effective action could be taken against Scotland's drinking culture. He promised "tough action" on those who carry and use knives in conjunction with efforts to reduce alcohol abuse.
Figures released yesterday by Scotland's chief statistician showed that there were 99 homicides in 2008-9 compared to 115 the previous year when knives were used 48 per cent of the time. It was the second year in a row that the total fell. In 2008-9 57 people were killed with bladed weapons, compared to 55 the previous year, 54 in 2006-7 and 34 in 2005-6.
Labour and the Conservatives said the figure highlighted the need for minimum sentences to be introduced for people caught carrying knives. Richard Baker, Labour's justice spokesman in Scotland, said: "It is deeply worrying that for the third year in a row we have seen an increase in the number of people being killed with knives. It is high time Kenny MacAskill backed Scottish Labour's plans to get tough on knife crime and supported the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences for knife carriers."