Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority

– in the Scottish Parliament on 6th December 2017.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I will move on very quickly, because there is absolutely no time in hand for the debate. If speakers take interventions, I am afraid that that will come out of their time. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-09378, in the name of Liam McArthur, on justice.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I welcome the chance to open the debate on policing on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, in what is something of a double-header for me this afternoon.

As members in the chamber will be aware, my party did not support the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 that created the single national police force. Over the past five years, we have also been at the forefront of holding the Scottish National Party Government to account over its botched centralisation of policing in Scotland. We make no apology for that. On stop and search, armed policing, failings within centralised control rooms and other issues, Liberal Democrats have been right to speak up and to challenge.

Let me be clear, though: police officers and staff carry out difficult and often dangerous jobs on our behalf, day in and day, out across Scotland. We owe them a debt of gratitude—as we do all those in our emergency services—and we have every confidence in them. I firmly believe, however, that passing the 2012 act has done them no favours at all.

My colleague Alison McInnes predicted during the passage of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill that police officers and staff would be left to make

“the best of a bad job".—[

Official Report

, 27 June 2012; c 10671.]

She was right, and they have been doing so ever since.

The root of the problems can be traced back very directly to the legislation that was driven through Parliament by the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill—a man who was quite happy to do the wrong thing for the right reason. Attempts by Opposition parties to amend the legislation to take account of the concerns that were felt, not just by the public about the loss of local accountability, but by officers and staff themselves, fell on deaf ears. Ministers, in the opinion of ministers, know best. To compound matters, Mr MacAskill chose Sir Stephen House to head up the new national force—someone who was even less inclined to build consensus or listen to others than the man who appointed him.

Added to that was a single police authority—the body tasked with overseeing the new force—that appeared to be unclear about its responsibilities, and to be largely dysfunctional and prone to a culture of secrecy. Is it any wonder that we have seen the problems that we have seen over the past five years?

Initially, there was a turf war between Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority, which forced Parliament to establish a the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, effectively to carry out the role that the SPA was failing to perform. Those who are critical of what they see as the politicisation of the police and policing should bear that in mind. It is the legislation, and the flaws within it, that have determined the level of political scrutiny.

Confidence has hardly been enhanced by a succession of resignations, suspensions and early retirements at the top of Police Scotland and the SPA. I accept, of course, that the leading protagonists have changed. I know that Michael Matheson is more consensual than his predecessor. Indeed, his primary role in his first couple of years in office appeared to be to put out all the fires that Mr MacAskill had wilfully ignited in his scorched-earth policy. I also have the utmost respect for the acting chief constable and the new chair of the SPA, Susan Deacon, whose appointment I very much welcome.

However, we have been here before and we have heard the promises about resetting relationships. Fundamentally, as the motion suggests, until we get the structure right and address the flaws that were hardwired into the system by the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, we will be setting up those who take on those senior roles to fail. Meanwhile, rank-and-file officers and staff are left having to make the best of a bad job.

Funding is key. I welcome the recent decision on VAT, but the mess was of the Government’s own making: it was warned in advance and throughout. In the meantime, as Audit Scotland has highlighted repeatedly, the vaunted efficiencies that Mr MacAskill and the SNP heralded as justification for centralisation have simply not materialised. We are left with an organisation in financial distress operating in a structure that is not fit for purpose. That structure has eroded genuine local accountability, as Liberal Democrats warned from the outset, and has replaced it with a top-down, target-driven approach to policing.

Areas of specialist expertise are absolutely essential, but that is not in itself a reason for taking a sledgehammer to the way in which policing is delivered in communities across Scotland. I offer this example by way of illustration. Only last month a member of the environment, protective services and community safety committee in Fife Council had her request for Police Scotland to provide a report on a local murder turned down by the SNP chair. In his opinion, she could just get the information from watching First Minister’s questions on the BBC iPlayer. So much for local accountability.

At the same time, unprecedented power has been invested in a small handful of individuals. Taking the “All hail to the chief” approach carries risks, and not only when the chiefs are Kenny MacAskill and Stephen House. The checks and balances have not worked. Concerns were brushed aside, at least initially, with the high-handed arrogance that comes from a lack of proper accountability.

When reports emerged of industrial levels of unregulated use of stop and search, including of small children, ministers insisted that that was an operational matter for police chiefs. Public concerns about armed police on routine duties were dismissed by the Government as scaremongering—so, too, were warnings about overstretched staff following the closure of police control rooms. The deaths of Lamara Bell and John Yuill in the crash on the M9 brought home the sobering reality.

It is an article of faith for Liberals that power is most safely exercised when it is shared. Our current structure of policing cuts against the very grain of that principle. We do not have confidence in that structure and we need change. Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see a comprehensive, properly funded policing plan for each local authority area that is developed and agreed by communities and councillors and is the responsibility of a senior police officer; SPA members appointed by this Parliament on a two-thirds majority to ensure a balanced and representative authority and, sensibly, to dilute the control of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice; and the powers of the chief constable defined in statute, reflecting the need for new democratic checks and balances. The aim is to inject democracy back into our policing.

Those are our proposals, but a broader consensus must be built, which is why we propose an independent commission.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

Does the member accept that when I was a councillor in Glasgow, I had no influence or involvement whatever with Strathclyde Police, apart from at local level?

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I cannot speak to the specifics of John Mason’s experience as a councillor. The message that I am getting from councillors to whom I have spoken the length and breadth of the country is that they have seen a dilution of the accountability that they previously had. The illustration that I gave from Fife points directly to that.

Commissions can provide mature, thoughtful, expert responses. They have been game changers in the past. They have got this Government out of holes in the past. We need only think what would have happened had SNP ministers rejected our call to press pause on plans to abolish corroboration and allow Lord Bonomy’s commission do its work. Without the commission that John Scott led, the police would still be deploying extensive, unregulated stop and search. That is the kind of reset that Police Scotland needs.

We have every confidence in our police officers and staff. We have no confidence, though, in the structures in which they are being asked to operate. We need change. I urge the Parliament to support the motion in my name.

I move,

That the Parliament does not have confidence in the structure of both Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority to deliver resilient and accountable policing at a strategic level; believes that the Scottish Government should take responsibility for this; considers that the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 has proven to be defective and requiring repair, and calls on the Scottish Government to establish an independent commission with a view to this presenting proposals for change to the Parliament by summer 2018.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Last week, I outlined the significant journey that policing in Scotland has been on to implement one of the most significant public sector reforms since devolution.

The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill, which Parliament agreed and which established Police Scotland, was supported by the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. Let us remind ourselves that reform was delivered in the context of real-terms cuts to the Scottish budget by the United Kingdom Government—a process that was started by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition.

Of course, the cuts were amplified by the intransigence on the part of the UK Government when it came to the VAT treatment of our emergency services. In government, the Lib Dems were happy to deliver a Treasury windfall of £125 million at the expense of Scotland’s police service. Members will recall that the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, now Sir Danny Alexander, declined all our requests to reclaim the VAT and even refused to engage with the Scottish Police Federation on the issue. When the Lib Dems talk about pressures on our police service, they should take a good look at themselves, given the financial pressures that they helped to create when in government.

The choice that we faced in creating Police Scotland was between transforming, to protect the front line, or allowing the front line to wither, due to austerity. I remain in no doubt that we have chosen the right course. Our communities continue to be served by committed local officers, while the single service has opened up access to a set of national specialist capabilities that allow us to respond more effectively to some of the most difficult societal problems that we face, whether we are talking about terrorism, child protection, major investigations into complex crime, human trafficking or extremism.

The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, which this Parliament passed, also established the Scottish Police Authority and the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, to provide a level of scrutiny that simply did not exist previously. It is my belief that policing is more transparent and accountable than it has ever been.

I recognise that major reform always brings challenges. Nevertheless, policing in Scotland continues to perform well against a host of measures. Whether we are talking about recorded crime or public confidence, it is clear that policing remains strong—a point that Detective Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, the Scottish Police Federation and Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary have recognised in recent weeks.

Of course, policing is a complex service, which supports a large number of vulnerable people, many of whom are in crisis situations. The people who are dealing with those situations are our police officers and staff, and they do a remarkable job. In that context, it is important that we are able to move on to a more mature and honest debate about the realities of policing and the risks that it carries, however it is structured. As many policing experts with long experience have said, there were many challenges and difficulties under the legacy arrangements—a point that some people choose to ignore.

That is not to say that there are not things that we can learn or things that we can improve. I accept, for example, the importance of strengthening the community focus of our police service, recognising that one size does not fit all. That is why that is a key theme of the strategic policing priorities that were implemented last year and is core to “Policing 2026: Our 10 year strategy for policing in Scotland”, which we published in June this year. That strategy sets a clear direction for policing and I am committed to supporting DCC Iain Livingstone and his team with its implementation.

Progress has been made to improve governance and transparency at the SPA, following a review by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland earlier this year. The review of the authority’s executive function is in its final stages. It will deliver a new model for how the board can be supported more effectively.

Kenneth Hogg has taken up his post as the new chief officer, and Susan Deacon has taken up her role as chair of the authority this week, with this Parliament having played a direct role in her appointment. The new chair has made it clear that she intends to make the authority much more engaged and engaging when it comes to the public debate around policing in Scotland and to take a more inclusive approach to governance matters.

I believe that our collective focus should be on supporting Police Scotland and its executive team, the SPA board and the wider policing family in Scotland to assist them in driving forward further improvement and to make sure that we build on the progress that has been made to date. I believe that that approach will deliver real benefits quickly, rather than the uncertainty that would be created by another review of policing structures in Scotland.

I move amendment S5M-09378.4, to leave out from “does not” to end and insert:

“acknowledges that the creation of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) were among the most significant public sector reforms undertaken by the Parliament; notes that the reform has helped to protect frontline policing during a period of restricted budgets; recognises that, despite current challenges, an effective and resilient police service is being provided in communities by dedicated police officers and staff; believes that the scrutiny of policing is stronger than it has ever been; supports the work of the review currently being undertaken by Nicola Marchant and Malcolm Burr to improve the support that is being provided to the SPA board; recognises that there is scope for improvement in the way that the current accountability model works, particularly with regard to engaging local interests in national governance; welcomes the appointment of Susan Deacon as Chair of the SPA and her commitment to an inclusive model of governance, and calls on all stakeholders to work with her to put her new agenda into action."

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Liam Kerr to speak to and move amendment S5M-09378.1. Mr Kerr, you have five minutes.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

The Scottish Conservatives will support the Liberal Democrat motion at decision time, but we have also lodged an amendment in my name.

At the outset, let me make it clear that, when we support the motion’s reference to “structure”, we are referring to the 2012 act and why it should be reviewed. I am interested in the structure and historical shape of policing in Scotland and not operational challenges that may have arisen recently.

Things could always be better, and it is important that we look constructively towards the future. The governance structure that is referred to in the motion is a function of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, which established a Scottish Police Authority to maintain policing, to promote policing principles and the continuous improvement of policing and to hold the chief constable to account. The SPA was conceived of as an apolitical arm’s-length body sitting between policing and central Government that would provide national strategic oversight and accountability of the single police force. Board members would be appointed on the basis of their specific skills to create an epistocracy.

Yet it is that act and certain decisions that have followed it that have, in effect, hardwired flaws into the structure. Specifically, the only explicit reference to “accountability” in the 2012 act is framed as a duty to hold the chief constable to account. The act does not go on to specify how and it is not prescriptive, which means that the SPA has struggled to establish a performance framework or a set of criteria against which to achieve that endgame. That, in itself, is a function of certain vagueness and ambiguities that were inherent in the previous system, which it borrowed from.

What has developed is, according to research, a board that lacks the confidence to raise or address issues of public concern. It was described by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland in terms of “dysfunction” and “fundamental weakness”.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I will not, given the time, I am afraid.

The SPA was criticised for conducting financial scrutiny in private, in contrast to the transparency and accountability that are required. Transparency and accountability are hindered by the 2012 act, which confers considerable power on the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. It is that postholder who, from time to time, appoints the chair of the SPA and influences the final composition of the SPA board, and it is that act that gives Scottish ministers formal powers to give certain directions to the SPA.

Among some people, there is a perception that the SPA is an extension of the Scottish Government. In answer to John Mason’s point, whether or not that belief is accurate it is an unhealthy perception. Policing operates by collective public consent, and the public must know that those in whom they trust are operating free from political influence.

Specifically, in April 2017, it was reported that SPA board member Brian Barbour had quit over “Government interference”. He

“also said the Government received SPA board documents before they were published in a bid to ‘control the agenda’ and ensure difficult issues ‘never made the light of the day’.”

Senior SPA figures complained that the Government is too involved, and one individual claimed:

“Every time we try to bite, the government removes a tooth ... I have been shocked ... at the level of government interaction.”

The former chair stated that the SPA is not a watchdog as it has no powers of sanction. That has meant that other stakeholders, such as the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, the media and the public have been seeking to deliver accountability.

The motion proposes a solution: the establishment of an independent commission with a view to presenting proposals for change by the summer of 2018. That seems sensible, as such decisions and considerations should be driven not by politics and politicians but by independent, evidence-led reviews. With that commitment absent from the SNP amendment, we will find it difficult to support it. I invite the cabinet secretary to address that matter in his closing speech and thereby make it easier for us to support the Government’s amendment.

I turn to the Conservative amendment. The public like more locally accountable policing. Too many people believe that policing decisions are dictated from above rather than decided in their own communities, so let us ask the experts how to restore local accountability in the current financial and resource climate and with the changing nature of crimes.

The final part of our amendment acknowledges that the force is in the midst of what DCC Livingstone calls “difficult days”. Whatever the reasons, this will be a disruptive and challenging time for front-line officers and staff. It is vital that we, in this Parliament, show that we are 100 per cent behind our police and that we are proud of our dedicated officers and staff.

The excellence of police officers and staff on the ground is no excuse for the clear structural failing, which needs fixing. I urge the justice secretary not to use their professionalism as a shield against legitimate criticism of the structure of the force that his Government created. We all have a common interest in getting the matter sorted and getting it right. We owe it to the public, and we owe it to the police.

I move amendment S5M-09378.1, to insert at end:

“condemns the loss of local accountability, and notes and expresses its gratitude for the hard work of frontline officers and staff.”

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

I am pleased to take part in today’s debate. As I have a short time in which to speak, I will not address all the amendments, but I will set out the reasons for Labour’s amendment.

We appreciate the work of all officers and staff in Police Scotland. Although we scrutinise—and sometimes criticise—and hold the Government to account over the legitimate concerns that there have been over policing in recent years, including on call handling, stop and search and front-desk closures, the officers and staff, often working in difficult circumstances, should be recognised for their commitment and their public service.

There is no denying that this has been a bad year for leadership in Police Scotland and at the SPA. We have seen resignations, early exits and now suspensions. Although the Scottish Government and the leadership of Police Scotland and the SPA must answer for the difficulties that we have seen in recent months, we must ask whether there are more fundamental issues to be addressed.

Scottish Labour supported the creation of the single police force. We recognise the benefit to communities across Scotland in having a national force that provides specialised officers and support wherever those are needed. That must be balanced by a commitment to local policing, which too many people consider is being compromised. However, recognising the benefits of a single force does not—and should not—restrain us from raising legitimate concerns about how police reform has developed and the problems that have arisen.

I see some merit in the motion’s call for an independent commission, although I have concerns about the timing and its remit. Although I do not question the integrity of a single force, there are areas concerning governance, accountability and autonomy that must be addressed. The scrutiny of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill was rushed, and concerns were raised at the time about democratic accountability, local oversight and the appointment process. I accept that the bill was passed—I voted for it—but the experience of living with the legislation for five years indicates a need for revisiting those areas.

Audit Scotland, HMICS and two parliamentary committees have identified weaknesses in leadership and management. In the previous parliamentary session, as Labour’s justice spokesperson, Graeme Pearson published a review into policing, building on some of the growing concerns about local accountability and leadership. The review made a number of recommendations that are relevant two years later. Those include greater parliamentary oversight, better local accountability and a stronger, more robust SPA. In that light, I welcome Susan Deacon’s appointment as the SPA chair. Her interview on Sunday was encouraging, and I do not doubt her intention to lead a more transparent organisation, but she is hamstrung by structures that she cannot change.

Although no one doubts the ability and experience of Kenneth Hogg, he is a civil servant on secondment for a year, which is an arrangement that does little to diminish claims of Government interference and overreached influence, which were factors highlighted in Dr Ali Malik’s recent research.

The SPA needs to regain the public’s confidence and demonstrate that it is robustly autonomous from Government and robust in its scrutiny of Police Scotland. It has an important role to play but, in recent months, it has become the story instead of doing its job effectively. It can be argued that part of the problem is the question of to whom it is accountable.

Susan Deacon’s appointment was the first with some limited parliamentary involvement, and I recognise the cabinet secretary’s willingness to compromise on that. The First Minister also said that she was not unsympathetic to the argument for that. With the new appointee in place, we must now look at the legislation and consider how Parliament can play a full role in future appointments.

Deputy Presiding Officer, I thought that you were indicating for me to finish, but I understood that I had five minutes—I would like to clarify that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You have five minutes. That was my fault. Keep going.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

The current arrangements concentrate power for policing in the Scottish Government, which appoints the SPA chair, who, in turn, appoints the chief constable. The Government has the capacity to influence the final composition of the board but it also gives direction to the board, sets the strategic priorities for the police and approves the SPA’s strategic police plan. It should come as no surprise, then, if we hold the cabinet secretary responsible for any problems relating to Police Scotland.

The SPA needs to recognise its role as a public body and to exert itself in its responsibilities. The controversies that resulted in the exits of Andrew Flanagan and John Foley must not be repeated. Although I welcome the reintroduction of public committee meetings, there are still concerns about closed working groups that do not publish their membership, minutes, papers or agendas. That may suit the SPA—it may even suit the Scottish Government and the justice secretary—but the lack of transparency does not benefit the SPA or Police Scotland. Our amendment recognises the weaknesses both in the way that governance, accountability and leadership have developed and the way that they are stipulated in the legislation.

A commission could be the way to go, but it would need a level of agreement about its purpose and, judging by the number of amendments that we are discussing today, we are not there yet. Nevertheless, I ask members to reflect on the issues that require legislative change. We should not be timid in addressing them.

I move amendment S5M-09378.3, to leave out from “does not” to end and insert:

“believes that there is a need for the leadership of Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) to regain the full confidence of the Parliament and the public; notes the findings of the review by Graeme Pearson, which recommended greater parliamentary oversight and local accountability, and believes that there is an urgent need to strengthen accountability, transparency and autonomy in Police Scotland and the SPA and that the governance arrangements of each would benefit from post-legislative scrutiny, including the power to approve the appointment of the chair of the SPA being transferred to the Parliament.”

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

I pose a question to colleagues: do they remember the times before Police Scotland, when everything was good and there were no issues with policing? If their answer to that question is “Yes”, their memories have failed them, they do not know or they are misrepresenting. Policing is a core element of any liberal democracy, and I was proud to serve as a police officer for 30 years. I therefore take grave exception to some passages—not to everything—in the Liberal Democrats’ motion, which is an overt attack on Police Scotland. The motion says that

“the Parliament does not have confidence in the structure of ... Police Scotland ... to deliver resilient ... policing at a strategic level”.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

If you do not, that is extremely disappointing. You have to understand—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Members should not speak to each other across the chamber; they should make a formal intervention.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

I beg your pardon, Presiding Officer.

People are entitled to their opinion, but I find it peculiar that the Liberal Democrats focused on—of all aspects of policing—the strategic level.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

No, I will not.

Organised crime, human trafficking and terrorism are issues that individual forces are unable to deal with and that require to be dealt with collectively. Our amendment argues that the strategic element of Police Scotland is sound.

Nevertheless, most people’s experience of policing is local. I have been critical of many aspects of policing, not least of which was the stop and search debacle, which has been referred to by many members, and the role that Stephen House played in that. He was the right man to drive everything forward initially, but, when he looked on the rest of Scotland as a larger version of Strathclyde and adopted policies that were applicable to urban areas in rural areas, frankly, he had lost it. There has been progress on local policing methods but, as our amendment alludes, the frailty in the deployment of armed officers was another failing. It was cynical opportunism by the police at the time, but I am confident that it will not happen again, because we learn from our mistakes. I am reassured in that regard by the consultation that is required to take place between Police Scotland and the SPA about significant community impacts. All along, people said that there should have been a community impact assessment of the implications of the roll-out.

Errors have been sorted out along the way, but we have some way to go. One of the biggest errors latterly was the obsession with an arbitrary figure—17,234—which was a burden on Police Scotland. It meant that many valuable police staff were lost, with the posts being backfilled.

The romantic notion that everything before was good is completely wrong. There was, frankly, an inability to scrutinise things. We heard what John Mason had to say on that matter, and that was the experience in other places. It happened not because people were unwilling to scrutinise but because, through no fault of their own, people at certain strategic levels of the police force did not have the necessary clearance. Complaints processes involving chief officers in the former forces were an absolute joke—I speak from personal experience of that—and decisions were taken outwith committee on matters that could have led to junior officers being the subject of a report to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

Mention has been made of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, which has played a pivotal role in addressing some of the issues. However, there is still some way to go. I hope to address that in my summing up.

I move amendment S5M-09378.2, to leave out from “does not” to end and insert:

“recognises that Police Scotland can address strategic issues such as organised crime, human trafficking and terrorism but that, while some progress has been made in facilitating more local policing methods, the more routine deployment of armed officers has shown a frailty in local consultation and accountability; calls on Police Scotland to adopt greater openness and transparency in all its work; calls on the Scottish Police Authority to start meeting its legislative requirements to scrutinise Police Scotland and to liaise with local committees, and calls for the early and comprehensive devolution of resources, including finance, and autonomy to deliver genuine local policing reflecting community needs, which can be robustly scrutinised by democratically elected committees.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to the open debate, and I call for tight, four-minute speeches.

Photo of Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

The centralisation of Police Scotland was opposed by the Liberal Democrats almost in isolation, and we stand vindicated in that opposition, what with the litany of failures and missteps by the high command of Police Scotland that have undermined policing in this country since the merger, the subterranean morale of our hard-working front-line police officers, and the decimation of back-room support staff, which has led to 999 calls going unheeded and beat cops repeatedly being taken off their task to perform back-room functions. The recent high-profile shambolic travails in the upper echelons of the unified force are just the latest in a long list of disasters to have rocked policing in this country.

I see the social cost of the flawed legislation underpinning Police Scotland in the casework in my constituency surgeries, in my meetings with local police chiefs, and even in how we lock up our house at night. Despite the Government’s insistence that community-level policing would remain unchanged, we immediately, from 2013 onwards, felt the irresistible gravitational pull of Strathclyde policing culture on Edinburgh beats: straight out of the traps, there was a major shift in policing on the streets of our nation's capital. Dedicated house-breaking teams were broken up and re-tasked with focusing on responding to the spectre of knife crime that had never actually taken hold in the city. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that decision led to an epidemic of house burglaries and car thefts. That uptick has endured to this day, with a rash of break-ins in my community of Blackhall just this past week.

Policing of the sex industry was also brought into question, with the soft regulation of tolerance zones and licensed saunas in Edinburgh and the focus on keeping workers safe being challenged by Police Scotland’s zero-tolerance approach. That could have driven the industry back into the shadows and removed the protections that were being offered by the city to sex workers. They were Glasgow solutions to Edinburgh problems.

S ymptomatic of the reality was that, for Police Scotland, its new-found size came with an inflated sense of power. Liam McArthur has already described the worst excesses of that, in respect of the chief constable’s refusal to recognise the will of Highland Council in its opposition to armed officers routinely patrolling Highland communities. That attitude has undermined the principle of policing by consent in this country, and has fundamentally damaged the social contract that had existed between the police and our communities for 100 years and more.

Four years on, the Government is still trying to get it right. I like and am impressed by Susan Deacon, but her appointment represents just another roll of the dice in the SNP’s efforts to fix flawed legislation and organisational structure by introducing a personality. As long as the precepts underpinning centralisation remain unchallenged, the culture and flawed structures will continue to blight that founding vision.

I am therefore proud to stand with my colleagues today and call for reform. It is certainly needed, because we need to get to a space in which local communities and councils can once again determine and set the objectives and priorities of local policing, where the Police Authority is democratically appointed by Parliament, and where the police constable’s powers are anchored in statute. That would simultaneously restore to this country, and guarantee, that most Liberal principle—policing by consent.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

The Lib Dems have been consistent in being against the formation of Police Scotland. We all understand their position and their continual questioning of aspects of Police Scotland, some of which is in their motion. However, the absolute negativity that they regularly espouse does not highlight the positives of delivery by our police officers across the country. The constant attacks do not help morale. If an organisation is continually told that it is failing, that it is not working and that it is not delivering, it is no surprise when people in the organisation believe that they are not valued. John Finnie spoke a few moments ago of some of the positive aspects of the formation of Police Scotland. I encourage the Liberal Democrats to look in the

Official Report later at some of John Finnie’s comments.

I value our police officers and everyone who is involved in Police Scotland. Are there challenges? Yes, absolutely there are—but there were challenges in the previous forces as well. There are challenges in every organisation. The creation of Police Scotland was always going to be challenging: such a huge public sector reform was going to highlight issues. Some of the things that have happened are being investigated, as we know, so I will not go into those. However, it is clear that the creation of Police Scotland has been more successful than some people in the chamber want the country to believe.

I thought that the Twitter post this morning from Calum Steele of the Scottish Police Federation provided clarity and a complete dismantling of the Lib Dems’ position today.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

I am sorry, but I have only four minutes.

In addition, David Hamilton, the vice-chair of the Scottish Police Federation, criticised the Lib Dems for their motion, which links two unrelated misconduct matters with a structure that was necessitated by the austerity that was introduced when the Liberal Democrats were in Government.

The Scottish Government is going to put an extra £100 million into the policing budget by 2021, despite the huge cuts to its budget from the UK Government under the previous Conservative-Liberal Democrat Administration and under the current Conservative UK Government. Even more could have been put into the policing budget if the Lib Dems, when they were in a coalition Government with the Tories, had done something about scrapping VAT being charged to Police Scotland. [

Interruption

.]

What was that remark from a sedentary position?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I have already said that I will have no exchanges across the chamber like that. Members must speak through the chair with interventions.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

Okay, Presiding Officer.

The Liberal Democrats have been carping from the sidelines. However, when they were in power in Westminster, they could have done something about the VAT issue, which would have meant more money going into Police Scotland. If the Lib Dems were so concerned about the finances of Police Scotland, why did they not do something about it?

There have been successes through the formation of Police Scotland. Recorded crime is at its lowest level in 43 years, with 230,651 crimes recorded in 2016-17—the lowest number since 1974. Crime risk is lower in Scotland than it is in England and Wales, at 14.5 per cent compared with 15.9 per cent. In addition, since 2008-9, cashback for communities moneys of £75 million have gone to organisations to help young people across the country. That money is delivering nearly 2 million activities and opportunities across Scotland.

My main frustration with Police Scotland is that we keep losing our divisional commanders in Inverclyde, but that happened under Strathclyde Police, as well. The Liberal Democrats’ motion is therefore absolute and utter nonsense. They should support Police Scotland and support our police officers, because it is the Liberal Democrats who are reducing their morale.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

It is important that the public have full confidence in their police force at all levels, from the local officer doing the rounds on the streets to the very top levels of management in the police force. For them to have that confidence in their police force, the public need to know that a structure and framework is in place that will give the police force the best chance to succeed. That is also the very least that our hard-working front-line officers and staff deserve.

Liam McArthur’s motion notes that the current system is clearly not working and that we need to look at it again. That is why the call for the establishment of an independent commission to look into the system is a welcome suggestion, and why I shall join my Conservative colleagues in supporting both the motion and Liam Kerr’s amendment. The reason for Liam Kerr’s amendment is the important principle that decisions need to be made local to those whom they affect. That is why, in my opinion, an important part of a commission’s work would be to tell us how we can put local communities back at the heart of policing in Scotland. Putting local accountability at the heart of everything that Police Scotland does should be central to its future core structure and governance.

Far too many people in Scotland feel that policing decisions are dictated from above by a centralised bureaucracy that does not care for their opinions or thoughts, rather than being decided in their local communities. That is because the public has seen thousands of officers taken off the streets to become part of national or regional resources. Figures show that some police divisions have lost up to 30 per cent of their officers. In turn, that has led to a reduction in the ability of local officers to be adaptable to local needs and to focus on key local priorities.

The public heard Calum Steele of the Scottish Police Federation say that the police force “risks being seen as” walking away

“from certain elements of the communities” while we talk

“about chasing other parts of it”.—[

Official Report

,

Justice Sub-Committee on Policing

, 20 April 2017; c 23.]

The public sees that crime most affects the people in our society who have least. The risk of being a victim of crime in the 15 per cent most-deprived areas in Scotland remained unchanged between 2012-13 and 2014-15. It is estimated that about 4.4 per cent of adults experience 58 per cent of all crime in Scotland.

It is important that we make policing accountable again. The Scottish Conservatives have offered solutions on how to do that, including Margaret Mitchell’s suggestion about changing how the chair of the SPA is selected. Making policing accountable is particularly important while we have a Government that will not accept any responsibility for the failures in a system that it created. The Government and those who manage the police, as do all public sector organisations, need to be answerable to those whom they serve. It is vital that we bring local accountability back to policing in Scotland, so that the public can rebuild their trust in the management of their police force.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

It is true that when Parliament passed the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act in 2012 concerns were raised about implementation, even by people who supported the principle of reform. Two chief constables later, two chairs of the Scottish Police Authority have gone, one chief executive has taken early retirement and there have been a number of high-profile suspensions. It appears now to be an organisation that is in turmoil.

We should make no mistake: that situation is having an impact throughout the police force. Local policemen and policewomen in our communities are demoralised. They are on the front line, keeping us safe and protecting us from crime, but we keep asking them to do even more with even fewer resources. That simply cannot continue, because they need and deserve our support.

Ultimately, the situation is the Scottish Government’s responsibility. I will say a word about so-called political interference. It is undoubtedly the case that there is more scrutiny of the police. It is not a bad thing that there is more accountability; it should be embraced. However, the Scottish Police Authority, which was supposed to oversee Police Scotland and ensure that it was accountable, has been disappointing, to say the least. Its own lack of accountability and its poor governance structures have been exposed in the recent Audit Scotland report: secret meetings, little transparency, inappropriate targeting of board members for disloyalty when they simply asked questions—and the list goes on. When they were before the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee of this Parliament, the chair and chief executive displayed extraordinary levels of arrogance and complacency.

The Scottish Police Authority was set up to be the arms-length body between Police Scotland and the Scottish Government in order to ensure its accountability and the independence of the police from Government. Instead, we hear that it has been bypassed by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and that members of the board have reported that the board is useless, “toothless” and a waste of time, and that it is perceived that there is a threat that if board members upset the chief constable, the cabinet secretary would intervene to stop them. The PAPLS Committee heard directly about interference by civil servants on behalf of the cabinet secretary. It sounds as if the cabinet secretary is hands on when he should not be; however, sometimes when it matters he is described as posted missing.

It is true that Police Scotland has not had its problems to seek. Recent reports about mistakes in call handling and the lack of speed in responses have, of course, caused concern.

All that said, I am not in favour of a commission. That would be a distraction from getting on with the job now. We have a new chair of the SPASusan Deacon, who is known to many of us because she is a former MSP—and we have an acting chief constable. I have absolute confidence in both of them. Derek Penman of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary in Scotland made significant recommendations about what needs to change at the SPA, so we should implement those recommendations. There is at least one review under way on support for the SPA board, and my former colleague Graeme Pearson, who was a senior ranking police officer, also conducted a review in 2015. Not surprisingly, his review recommended strengthening accountability, transparency and autonomy. The issues that he raised then are issues that we face now.

We have a Justice Sub-Committee on Policing: I would be interested to know whether it would consider undertaking post-legislative scrutiny. I have enormous respect for the police in what they do, as we all do, especially those in L division in my area. The issue is how we support and resource them. To be frank, we need to do much better at that.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

It is disappointing that the Liberal Democrats are using the current situation to attack the entire police force. I agree with John Finnie saying that the motion is an attack. I feel that the motion is beneath someone such as Liam McArthur, who is usually constructive in committee. To use the alleged and, as yet, unproven actions of a handful of senior officers to try to tar the entire force is shameful and it is beneath the Liberal Democrats.

I completely agree with the new chair of the SPA, Susan Deacon, who said on Sunday that she takes issue

“with the notion that our police service itself is in crisis.”

I also agree with DCC Livingstone, who asked for the service to be “apolitical” and not to be part of, or pushed around in, the political debate. It is incredibly unhelpful for anybody to jump on the issue and to make it political. It damages the reputation of the police force and it has a direct impact on front-line officers, who put their lives on the line for us every day.

As members have said, there are challenges in bringing eight forces together, but the stats speak for themselves. Crime is at a 43-year low and people feel safer now than ever before, and the risk of being a victim of crime is 14.5 per cent, which is down from 20.4 per cent in 2009. The single force allows the amalgamation of railway policing into the force, allowing a faster response to incidents on our railways. Those are just some of the positives that the Liberal Democrats seek to ignore in their motion.

I have some sympathy with John Finnie’s amendment with regard to armed officers and the concern in our communities at seeing armed officers patrolling. Having said that, in a recent survey a majority of people stated that they would prefer serving officers to be armed. I am not for a minute suggesting that that is the right route to take—I have my own views on that—but the issue needs more discussion and it is worth reflecting on John Finnie’s amendment.

The Liberal Democrats talk about localised policing. They do not have any representation in Lanarkshire, so I will give them a little bit of info about what is going on in my area. I am also all about local policing and what is best, which is accountability and local decision making.

The divisional commander, Chief Superintendent Roddy Irvine, has set up local problem-solving teams throughout Lanarkshire, which is good old-fashioned community policing. Each team is led by an inspector with the support of a sergeant, and two constables are assigned to each local authority ward area. In my constituency, an extra two constables are assigned to the town centre. Early indications are that the teams are having a positive impact locally, and I suggest that the Liberals spend some time finding out what is happening on the ground, rather than just picking up stats. Those officers engage with MSPs, councillors and a wide range of stakeholders.

I am in contact with a lot of local councillors, so when Liam McArthur was speaking, I decided to quickly contact one of my WhatsApp groups to ask what their thoughts were on the policing service. Almost right away, I got responses. Councillor Kirsten Larson said:

“Very good at working with us and fostering a good relationship between councillors, police and the community”.

Councillor Tracy Carragher said:

“Local police in Coatbridge South are very accessible and I am currently working with them towards a joint surgery”.

Real-life councillors gave that indication just minutes ago of how policing is working locally. I ask everybody to get behind their local police.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

It has been an interesting debate, as many would have predicted. I do not doubt for one second the sincerity of my Liberal Democrat colleagues in wanting to make things better, but not everything is about structure. I accept the position that they adopted, but I would like them to join with everyone else in playing their part and not questioning the operational effectiveness of Police Scotland, because everything suggests that the police are effective.

The criticism of the Scottish Police Authority is well documented and entirely merited. That said, Ms Deacon is taking over and I wish her very well. Like others, I am due to meet her in the coming weeks. We know that the first chair was ineffective, disengaged from the real issues and too concerned with an irrelevant bun fight about functions. Quite evidently, the Scottish Police Authority played catch-up on the issues of stop and search and armed policing. In fact, its own report on its role in armed policing and stop and search was very unhelpful.

The second chair became ineffective, and was certainly inappropriate with a fellow board member, which is entirely unacceptable. He has also been involved in facilitating gardening leave for the chief constable, who, in my view, should be suspended. That failure in itself has caused disaffection, because people want fairness and equity, and that has not always been provided. I alluded to the historic position in regard to allegations of misconduct—which, if committed by officers in the junior ranks, would have been construed as inferring criminality—and how they were set aside in the past.

There has been a frailty in consultation, and I urge Police Scotland to understand where those frailties are. They are in openness and transparency. That can be no more graphically shown than in relation to a matter that is the subject of on-going consideration by the Justice Sub-committee on Policing, which is the counter-corruption. Three other forces are now involved in that issue and the investigation is being strung out. The public quite rightly ask, “If that’s how they treat their own, how are they likely to treat us?” We need to draw a line under that.

We need to recognise that there are elements of policing that are best dealt with at a strategic level, such as counter-terrorism, organised crime, fire arms issues and human trafficking. That has to be informed by local policing, and one of the good bits in the legislation that reformed the police service was the local policing plans. I want a situation—accepting that there is a strategic level, not just in Scotland but in the islands of the United Kingdom and beyond—where the local policing plans are seen as crucial.

I have repeatedly asked about devolving resources, and that does not simply mean money. The bulk of resources is for salaries, but I am talking about devolving decision making, which can mean devolving decision making about some of the resources, because there has been a centralisation of the supervisory structure in some of the specialist units. We need a situation that applied in Northern Constabulary where—bizarrely, some people might think—the two police officers who policed the island of Barra were responsible for their own overtime budget. Who is better placed to say, “We require to work longer tonight, because there are a couple of dances on.”? We may be well short of such a situation, but we need appropriate policing to take place at an appropriate level and be monitored appropriately.

There is no point in scrutinising if there is nothing to scrutinise, which has led to some disengagement from local bodies. That should be the bedrock. We should be doing it the other way. What we should be talking about is how effective local policing is in delivering those good results. I do not think that the model itself is wrong, but we need to push decision making down and have genuine local policing.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

This has been a wide-ranging debate, and there has arguably been far too much to consider in the time available to us. There have been comments that there is a romantic notion that everything was good in the past. I recognise that we now have more consistent procedures in place, and that we have national measures and more scrutiny, but with that comes greater responsibility. Jackie Baillie, as acting convener of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, highlighted the well-documented weaknesses that we are seeking to address.

Although today’s debate is focused on structure, we have all recognised the hard work of officers. We would do well to acknowledge the recent evaluation of police and fire reform, which found that morale among officers is low, with many no longer considering it a job for life. Although Police Scotland’s budget has been protected in real terms, the survey also found that Scotland’s police officers have become less visible to the public, and we have all heard complaints about response times from the 101 number. Although a debate about governance and scrutiny is valuable and relevant, that is what is really important.

There have been some persistent issues around increasing local responsibility. It has been argued that the centralisation of policing has been to the detriment of local policing. The Government’s amendment talks about the

“scope for improvement in the way that the current accountability model works, particularly with regard to engaging local interests in national governance”, but it does not detail how that will be progressed or developed. Local accountability is identified as a weakness by members around the chamber, so how do we address it? How can we increase scrutiny and accountability at that level?

I can see that the Government can argue that the scrutiny of policing is stronger than it has ever been, given the existence of the SPA and the fact that we have a parliamentary sub-committee on policing, but there are well-documented weaknesses. It has taken freedom of information requests, investigative journalists and questioning academics to shine a light on a number of issues, including stop and search, the financial arrangements of the British Transport Police merger and the recent suspension of officers. I appreciate much of what the cabinet secretary said in his opening speech, but the protection of front-line officers has led to a significant reduction in support staff, which makes it difficult for officers to do their jobs, so I cannot completely accept his argument about protecting the service.

Although there is much that I agree with in John Finnie’s amendment, it is too prescriptive for us to support.

A number of members mentioned political interference. The Deputy Chief Constable Designate Iain Livingstone is recognised as an experienced, intelligent and highly skilled officer and has our thanks for taking on the acting chief constable’s role. His call at the weekend for less political interference is interpreted as a call for less political debate, but it is not the Opposition parties that have been identified as overly influencing policing or as interfering in the SPA’s role; it is the Government. We need greater clarity over roles and responsibilities.

The Green amendment talks about the need for scrutiny of more controversial decisions. However, if we compare the information on policing that is routinely published with that which is published in England and Wales, we find that much more information is available in the public domain there. I appreciate that there are issues with the legacy forces’ way of collecting information and with old technologies that are incompatible, but we should have a strategy to deal with that. We should have an ambition to be more open and transparent. That approach would help to build confidence in police actions and decisions.

The creation of Police Scotland was a move to increase efficiency, protect public services in difficult financial times, bring consistency to the police response throughout Scotland and strengthen specialist policing to respond to growing challenges such as human trafficking, serious and organised crime and online fraud. However, it brought a different dynamic to policing in Scotland. It brought with it greater political scrutiny, and the intensity of the scrutiny that is placed on the chief constable makes that role a unique job within Scotland’s public sector. The SPA, whose role is to provide checks and balances, is sometimes seen as an alternative power base. Therefore, increasing capacity and devolution in both organisations could be a good thing and we need to consider it seriously.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

Almost five years ago, the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 led to the creation of Police Scotland. At the time, serious concerns were expressed about the fact that no full business case had been produced and about the lack of checks and balances in the act’s provisions as Scotland’s eight regional forces moved to a single force. It is evident that those misgivings—which were swept aside by the then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, in much the same way as the current cabinet secretary has attempted to do—have come home to roost. The estimated efficiency savings that the Scottish Government asserted would be realised have, instead, translated into a deficit.

The SPA has a remit to scrutinise the governance of the new single force and to hold the chief constable to account, so the cabinet secretary is correct that there has been more scrutiny. However, time and again, the SPA has been found to be on the back foot, having become aware of a problem after it has imploded in the public domain. Therefore, I very much welcome the appointment of Susan Deacon as the new SPA chair. However, the fact that she is the third person in less than five years to occupy the post tells its own story.

I wish Susan Deacon well in the post. As she settles into her role, I once again seek an assurance from the cabinet secretary that she and any other holder of the office will not have to rely on the good will of Government ministers to continue in it. In other words, it is now time for the 2012 act—in particular, the appointment process—to be revisited to ensure that the Parliament as a whole selects and, crucially, reappoints the SPA chair.

The creation of Police Scotland has meant that, rather than there being eight police commanders, there is now only one. On the one hand, that puts all the power in the hands of one individual; on the other, it leaves that individual vulnerable to shouldering all the criticism for the failures in the force. Perhaps it is not surprising therefore that, in less than five years, Scotland is seeking a third chief constable. That hardly inspires confidence in the act’s provisions and is, again, a powerful argument for revisiting them.

Regardless of the difficulties that are experienced in Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Federation has done sterling work in bringing to the fore the issues of concern that affect front-line police officers every day. Those officers continue to do an outstanding job as the responders of first and last resort. Despite that, their issues of concern have all too often been ignored by the Government. Those issues involve the loss of localism that has been a feature of the centralised force, examples of which include the introduction of the 101 number, the closure of local police counters and stations and the centralisation of control rooms.

More generally, the demands of front-line officers have not been acknowledged or reflected in the Government’s crime statistics, given that only one in five incidents that are attended by the police results in a crime being recorded.

I support the amendment in the name of Liam Kerr and call on the cabinet secretary to take responsibility for addressing the problems that the provisions of the legislation have produced.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I have listened closely to a range of the comments that have been made this afternoon and I will deal with some of the points that have been raised by members, although I will not be able to touch on all the issues in the limited time that is available.

In his opening speech, Liam McArthur raised a number of issues, including armed policing, stop and search powers, call handling and local police plans, and I want to pick up on several of them.

There is no doubt that concerns have been raised about how Police Scotland deployed its armed police officers in the early stages of its existence. That issue was raised on an on-going basis by John Finnie. However, I am sure that members will also recognise that Police Scotland has dealt with issues relating to armed policing differently in recent times. It has recognised that it needs to engage much earlier in the consideration of such issues and to ensure that it hears the views of local elected members before making any final decisions. I am sure that members welcome the way in which Police Scotland has taken the matter forward.

Liam McArthur will recognise that I have addressed the issue of the stop and search policy through the expert group that I appointed under John Scott, which considered the matter. We are now in a much more robust and effective position than previously as a result of the work that I instructed to look at how Police Scotland should conduct itself in these matters.

There is no doubt that there have been a number of significant issues relating to call handling. However, Liam McArthur will also recognise that my instruction to HMICS to conduct a deep review of call handling in Police Scotland resulted in 30 recommendations being produced, which have been taken forward by Police Scotland in a consistent and methodical way. Some 27 of those recommendations have been discharged and good progress is being made on the remaining three.

It is important to highlight the fact that, when Police Scotland is making improvements in a system that deals with almost 4 million calls a year, it is not helpful for it to find itself being attacked for collating information relating to notable incidents, which was one of the recommendations that were made by HMICS in the interest of ensuring that, where mistakes are made, they are learned from. It is simply not helpful for Police Scotland to find itself being attacked for the very improvements that it is making to ensure that mistakes are learned from. That sort of politicisation of policing does not support police officers or the organisation as they try to drive through these reforms.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I have no time; I must make progress.

I say to Liam McArthur that local policing plans for each local authority area that allow for engagement through the local scrutiny panels are already being taken forward.

I turn to Liam Kerr’s point about policing structures. The Tories are not in a strong place when it comes to policing structures, especially given the mess that they have made in England and Wales. Liam Kerr’s was a speech of contradiction. He talked about how we need to make sure that policing is apolitical, but not a day goes past when he does not tell me that I should roll up my sleeves, get in there and start running the police service. If the member is committed to being 100 per cent behind police officers in the job that they are doing, supporting a motion of no confidence in Police Scotland is a bizarre way of going about it. I suspect that the member will come to regret that in due course.

Claire Baker commented on Susan Deacon. Susan Deacon will bring significant leadership to the role of the SPA chair. Although she might feel as though she is hamstrung by some of the provisions within which she has to operate, we will wait to see how she gets on as chair. If she raises specific issues with me, I will give them due consideration. I also assure Alex Cole-Hamilton that the appointment of Susan Deacon is about more than just appointing a personality. Susan Deacon was appointed because of her ability and I believe that she has the ability to do the job.

Claire Baker also raised the issue of the strategic policing plan and ministers being accountable for it. I think that the member might be referring to the strategic policing priorities, which are set down by Government. They are arrived at through a public consultation exercise that takes place over a number of months, and they are agreed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. Along with COSLA, we set out what the priorities should be—localism and protecting local communities—and it is for the police service and the SPA, operationally, to make sure that that is translated into action on the ground. The approach that we took when I redrafted the policing priorities was welcomed by COSLA as showing more commitment to joint working with local authorities on these issues.

John Finnie’s contribution this afternoon gave us a dose of reality. The strength of the police service here in Scotland lies in the people—the individual police officers and the staff. I see their dedication to our local communities every day, and I am confident in the strength of the leadership of Police Scotland.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

This morning, I saw that the First Minister took the trouble to draw attention to an extended Twitter thread from Calum Steele of the Scottish Police Federation. Perhaps our debate has touched a raw nerve with the First Minister, and I do understand that Calum Steele was a strong supporter of the centralisation of Police Scotland and has found it difficult to come to terms with the failings of that reform.

The Scottish Government is responsible for the budget of Police Scotland. Lord Smith did not merge the British Transport Police with Police Scotland. Ministers knew what they were doing when they centralised the police. They knew that they would be required to pay VAT, so there is no point in drawing attention to any other weaknesses elsewhere when the weaknesses are squarely with the Scottish Government.

We have repeatedly been told to pipe down, not to ask questions, and to get behind the Government. The acting chief constable tried it at the weekend.

Let us look at all the chaos of the past four years—the M9 crash response; armed police on routine duties; the loss of experienced civilian staff; the imposition of an alien target culture; stop and search; and the closure of call centres. I am glad that we warned about all this. I am glad that we spoke up and were not cowed into silence by the SNP.

I was amused by Fulton MacGregor’s contribution. A poll of SNP members on WhatsApp has found that the SNP Government is doing rather well on the police.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Not just now. Liam McArthur referred to another attempt to silence us last week. It involved the tragic death of Elizabeth Bowe in St Andrews. Liberal Democrat councillor Margaret Kennedy asked for Fife Council to receive a report on the case so that it could be debated after the PIRC found major errors in the handling of Elizabeth’s call. That request for a report was denied by the SNP councillor responsible. He referred Councillor Kennedy to the BBC iplayer and First Minister’s question time, which is no substitute for proper local accountability, and that shows what kind of sham we have with the 2012 act.

Police Scotland has a budget of more than £1 billion a year. It is responsible for keeping us safe. I pay tribute to the officers and the work that they do to keep us safe. Police Scotland deserves proper scrutiny, but this Government has not given up any of its Government chamber time to debate the state of Police Scotland. It is again up to us, as a party that has led the scrutiny of Police Scotland, and as the only party that voted against centralisation, to carve out the time for the state of Police Scotland to be debated.

I have been a long-time critic of the centralisation of the police, but even I did not believe that it would get to this stage. I did not think that the troubles of Police Scotland would endure for the whole four years since it was created, with the devastating consequences since. We must conclude that we have no confidence in the structure of Police Scotland.

Others have quite rightly dwelled on the problems with Police Scotland over that time, including Maurice Corry, Alex Cole-Hamilton, Jackie Baillie—who made a really good contribution—and Margaret Mitchell. They have identified the failings of Police Scotland, so I will not dwell on that aspect. However, I found John Finnie’s defence of the current police structure extraordinary, especially as his two colleagues in the previous parliamentary session voted against the 2012 act.

We have our preferred model—a comprehensive, adequately funded policing plan for each local authority area in Police Scotland, which is developed and agreed by communities and councillors, and is the responsibility of a local senior police officer. The membership of the Scottish Police Authority should be appointed by the Scottish Parliament by a vote of two thirds of the Parliament—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Rennie is in his last minute.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

—in a similar way to other commissioners, to ensure a balanced and representative authority and to remove the role of the justice secretary in making appointments.

The powers of the chief constable should be defined in statute to reflect the fact that the historical tripartite structure has been changed and that new democratic checks and balances need to be created. The aim is to inject democracy back into our policing.

These are our proposals, but we need to build a broader consensus, which is why we proposed an independent commission. I am pleased that some members in the chamber indicated support for that today. This is the kind of reset that Police Scotland needs. We have no confidence in the current structures and therefore the time has come for a change.

The reason for such a change is clear. Members will recall the turf war between Stephen House and Vic Emery over who was in charge. That was a direct result of flawed legislation. Members will also recall the decision by Stephen House to put armed officers on routine duties without proper scrutiny. There was the decision by the chief constable to impose detailed targets in a one-size-fits-all, Strathclyde-writ-large approach to policing in Scotland. There was also the Audit Scotland report, which highlighted weak financial leadership in Police Scotland.

We are told that the police are accountable to local communities but we just have to look at the Highlands, where they voted against armed police on routine duties yet were overruled by the chief constable, to see that local accountability is a sham.

That is why we need change for Police Scotland. We need change to the structures. That is the best way to back our police and to get back confidence in our police too.