Chris Marshall: Kenny MacAskill’s future in doubt

Kenny MacAskill may go even before a possible reshuffle from incoming First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Neil Hanna
Kenny MacAskill may go even before a possible reshuffle from incoming First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Neil Hanna
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JUSTICE secretary MacAskill most at risk from a Nicola Sturgeon-led clear-out, writes Chris Marshall.

When justice secretary Kenny MacAskill looked at the week ahead in his diary, he probably foresaw passage of the contentious Courts Reform Bill as the real pinch point.

But the passing of the legislation yesterday now looks like a mere formality compared with the debate expected to take place today on the minister’s political future.

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Among many people’s favourites to be demoted in a Nicola Sturgeon reshuffle, Mr MacAskill may not even survive that long after Labour lodged a motion calling for him to resign.

The party cited recent anger over armed police on Scotland’s streets and widespread concerns over the use of stop and search. Opposition parties also say crime figures have been “manipulated” by imposing tough new targets for minor offences such as speeding, to boost overall conviction rates.

Labour is not the first to call for the minister’s head in recent months.

Former solicitor-general and High Court judge Lord McCluskey, one of Mr MacAskill’s fiercest critics, has been particularly outspoken on the centuries-old principle of corroboration, describing plans to scrap it as “bizarre”.

In August, Lord McCluskey stepped up his attack on the minister, calling for him to resign over his “secretive” arming of the police.

Last week Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, urged Alex Salmond to “take Kenny MacAskill with him” when he steps down as First Minister.

Labour will use today’s debate to claim Mr MacAskill has lurched from “crisis to crisis” and should go. His handling of the row over armed police has been particularly poor: repeatedly using the defence that the issue was an “operational matter” for the police.

Last week the police said armed officers would now only be deployed to incidents involving firearms or where there was a “threat to life”.

The decision was described as a “U-turn” and came amid protests from opposition MSPs and members of the public. The justice secretary, however, was nowhere to be seen on the issue.

Nor was he particularly high profile on the campaign trail in the run-up to the independence referendum last month.

Indeed, the SNP’s seeming reluctance to put Mr MacAskill on the frontline in the countdown to 18 September does not bode well for his longevity.

The justice secretary won the debate on court reform in the parliament yesterday. The SNP majority means he is likely to survive today’s vote of no confidence. However, with growing calls from political opponents and those in the legal fraternity for him to go, his days may be numbered.