Police Scotland reform was long overdue

Kenny MacAskill MSP
Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The establishment of Police Scotland was a virtue born from necessity. The virtue was that at long last specialist services could be provided and similar standards delivered across the country. A National Rape Investigation Unit and an Anti-Human Trafficking Unit have been created, amongst other specialist units. No more does the police response to domestic violence depend upon the area in which you reside.

Vital issues are now provided with the resources necessary and are available across all Scotland, not just in the urban areas. Events that the country is proud to host like the Commonwealth Games are far easier to organise. Officers are kept locally but are able to be deployed nationally. Vital technological change is being implemented. All this is only possible under a single service.

The M9 tragedy, which resulted in one victim – Lamara Bell – left injured in a crashed car for three days before she was eventually discovered, has placed Police Scotland in the public eye. Investigations are rightly taking place. The level of scrutiny is significant, as is to be expected. Initial suggestions are of human error. Not only the service but the individual involved will be devastated.

If there is any systemic failure it must be addressed. But change there had to be in control rooms. They were neither interoperable nor sighted across historic boundaries. They possessed a multiplicity of IT systems which would challenge a country let alone a police service.

Change against the backdrop of austerity

Change is never easy and certainly not against the backdrop of austerity. However, despite recent controversy, two things remain clear. Firstly, that Police Scotland was not only necessary but long overdue. Secondly, that the service given is in the main outstanding.

The necessity was financial cutbacks, which were such that duplication could no longer be afforded and often artificial boundaries could not be justified. Had change not been made, the situation being played out south of the border would have afflicted Scotland. In England and Wales almost as many officers as serve in Scotland have been lost. In some forces, significant issues that affect communities routinely are no longer classified as police matters. Privatisation may well return to the agenda.

‘In England and Wales almost as many officers
as serve in Scotland have been lost’

In Scotland, without change, larger forces would have struggled and smaller ones would simply have been unable to deliver both police numbers and service. As we enter a further period of enforced austerity, Police Scotland is in a far better position to cope than the forces in England and Wales. Pressures will still remain.

The largest public sector reform in generations

It hasn’t been easy for Police Scotland. This has been the largest public sector reform in generations and was done to a very tight timescale. Issues were bound to arise, whether through errors made or umbrage at changes inflicted. Moreover, organisations take time to bed down. That applies both to the Police and other agencies such as the Scottish Police Authority.

Errors happen and officers fall from grace but that happens in all walks of life. Police Scotland remains a service, not a business.

Officers police by consent and remain both trusted and respected by the overwhelming majority of the public. Significant changes have been made in gender balance and progress in ethnicity; and in the main officers come from or live in or near the communities they serve. An ethos of public service prevails and standards are high.

It’s right that errors are addressed and actions challenged. But Scottish Policing is rightly admired around the world. Police Scotland remains an outstanding public service.