Leaders: Police Scotland has to learn its lesson

The idea of an armed response team looking for an excuse to get involved is not a comforting thought. Picture: John Devlin
The idea of an armed response team looking for an excuse to get involved is not a comforting thought. Picture: John Devlin
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A PATTERN of behaviour is now becoming apparent at Police Scotland, and it is one that does not reflect at all well on Chief Constable Sir Stephen House.

In the recent saga over police use of stop-and-search powers, it was revealed there was only a tenuous link between commitments given by the force to MSPs at Holyrood and the actual practicalities of policing on the ground.

Sir Stephen was carpeted by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon over this, and was left in no doubt that when Scotland’s parliament was given a commitment, MSPs and ministers expected that to be followed through.

Now the same disconnect in Police Scotland thinking has been revealed in another aspect of policing – the rather more dramatic issue of armed police officers getting involved in routine police business.

This was the issue that first started alarm bells ringing over a lack of accountability and openness in Police Scotland, and the lack of democratic scrutiny of force policy.

As with stop-and-search, once the extent of the force’s practices came to light, political pressure was exerted and commitments were given to MSPs and ministers that operational guidance would change.

What now seems clear, however, is that this operational guidance was being ignored when armed officers on patrol spotted something that they thought gave grounds for a reasonable suspicion that a criminal act was taking place.

Now, it may well be the case that armed officers were justified in taking action in such circumstances – there would rightly be outrage if it was discovered these officers had held back and allowed criminality to take place, just because they happened to armed at the time.

But was it really unavoidable for armed officers to get involved in many hundreds of incidents, most of them little more than routine policing? Was there really no unarmed officers who could have been called to the scene instead?

The idea of an armed response team actively looking for an excuse to get involved in some routine police work, with holsters on hips, is not a comforting thought. In fact it goes to the heart of the concerns originally raised about armed officers last year.

More pertinently, Police Scotland has once again been shown to have given assurances to parliament which have turned out to be unreliable, at best.

At worst, it could be said that Police Scotland seems to have a cavalier attitude to the assurances it gives MSPs and ministers, in the knowledge that individual police officers will be quite at liberty to ignore these strictures if and when they see fit.

Sir Stephen needs to realise this is not how politics works. Nor is it how a police force works in a democratic society. Once again we say to Sir Stephen: improve your force’s accountability, or be brought to account.

Getting better by design

There is cynicism in Scotland when it comes to cost overruns at major construction projects at the cutting edge of architecture and design: the Scottish Parliament building still casts a long shadow. And when it was made public that the cost of the new V&A museum of design in Dundee had risen from £45 million to £80m, coupled with the delayed projected completion from 2014 to 2017 there were many groans of “here we go again”.

But we should not let that colour our views of what is happening in Dundee. It is a fantastic building and will be of global significance, even with the design changes that have now brought it fully on to land. Work finally getting under way on the site is to be welcomed. Architect Kengo Kuma is to be congratulated.

Dundee faced major problems with the drastic reduction in traditional manufacturing industries in the 1980s but has transformed itself in to a forward-looking modern city. Biomedical and technological industries have really taken off and recognition last year by the United Nations as the UK’s first Unesco City of Design was absolutely fitting. It has proved itself to be a modern centre for Scottish arts and culture.

It is a city with a rich history, and plays a major part in the history of the country as a whole, and the ambitious waterfront project will see a great coming together of the proud traditions of the past as well as cement the city’s position as a forward-looking fast-changing modern city.

The amazing design of the new museum is a dramatic symbol of that transformation, as well as being an innovation that will attract many more people to the city and to Scotland with the economic benefits that brings.

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