Leaders: We can’t obsesses over police targets

Scotland's Chief Constable Sir Stephen House. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Scotland's Chief Constable Sir Stephen House. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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THE danger with a target-based system is that you can easily lose sight of what you are aiming for in the first place.

In a vast public sector organisation such as Police Scotland, governance and accountability are fundamental principles which ensure policing work is being carried out thoroughly and appropriately. It is right that those in charge should assess what is being done and make any necessary changes. But the process by which that is achieved cannot rely on targets alone.

The force, no stranger to criticism in recent weeks, has been hauled over the coals by senior officers who believe the motto of Police Scotland, “Semper Vigilo” (Always Vigilant), has given way to an ineffectual game of numerology that places the emphasis on ticking boxes as opposed to its primary duty of protecting the public. The Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS) has accused the force’s management of importing a culture widespread in the Metropolitan Police, where Scotland’s Chief Constable, Sir Stephen House, served.

In its submission to the advisory group on stop and search, the association claims Sir Stephen has introduced a “rigorous ‘metropolitan’ performance management style” where “the challenge to achieve the target became paramount rather than the expressed desire of ‘keeping people safe’.”

For officers to have such misgivings is a major problem for Police Scotland and its controversial use of stop and search. Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson has said that since Police Scotland was established in April 2013, no targets have been set for stop and searches. Yet this does not address the disquiet surrounding other priorities of the force, such as raising the targets for offences such as speeding.

The police, of course, are not alone in pursuing this trend. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland and the Royal College of Nursing Scotland have called for an end to the “unsustainable culture” created by NHS targets, a concern shared by Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who said that doctors and nurses believe the focus of the NHS is on politicians rather than patients. Like the ASPS submission, it is a warning from the frontline we would do well to heed.

Targets are a necessary gauge with which to help identify shortcomings and implement improvements, but over-reliance on them to the exclusion of other approaches can exert a pervasive and misguided influence that distorts strategy and undermines the way in which our most vital resources are allocated and managed. Scotland’s police force and health service are public bodies which must be seen to be accountable, but we must guard against managerialism becoming their driving force.

An anthem that is here to stay

RONNIE Browne has good reason to claim Flower of Scotland will never be usurped as this country’s unofficial national anthem. He has recited its verses for years to appreciative audiences who greet it with rapturous applause and mass singalongs, encountering the kind of reception that would convince anyone that the longevity of a song written in 1965 looks set to carry on for another five decades at least.

The number, penned by Roy Williamson, Mr Browne’s late bandmate in The Corries, is undeniably popular, in part due to the ease with which fairweather vocalists can sing it, provided they don’t start a note or two too high. In sporting arenas in particular, it has enjoyed a special status ever since Billy Steele, a winger turned choirmaster with the British & Irish Lions, convinced his teammates to sing it during their 1974 tour of South Africa. The rendition, Mr Steele later said, made the men feel “ten foot tall.”

From Murrayfield to Hampden, successive generations of athletes and spectators can attest to the same emboldening influence, even though some are understandably uncomfortable with listening to its lyrics, let alone reciting them. But Flower of Scotland’s rousing power is not the sole reason Mr Browne’s prediction will likely prove correct. What was coined as a sentimental folk song will thrive because there is no official alternative.

Despite repeated contests, polls, debates, campaigns and petitions, there has been no consensus for a formal anthem and the advocacy for other entries in the great Scottish songbook - such as Highland Cathedral, Scots Wha Hae and Scotland the Brave - remains piecemeal. Until that changes, Flower of Scotland will continue to bloom.

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