JUSTICE secretary Kenny MacAskill is under pressure to quit after an opposition motion was lodged at Holyrood demanding his resignation. MSPs are now set to debate his political future at the Scottish Parliament tomorrow.
The move follows 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 will use the debate to claim Mr MacAskill has lurched from “crisis to crisis” and should go. But the move was last night branded a “pathetic stunt” by a spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond. He said crime in Scotland has fallen to a 40-year low, while police numbers are at a record high.
The justice secretary has been under pressure since Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie called for him to stand down at First Minister’s Questions last Thursday.
That came the day after Police Scotland agreed to end the practice of armed police joining officers on the beat around the country, amid widespread public concerns. The decision was down to Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, but Mr MacAskill was aware of the move.
Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson said: “Kenny MacAskill has stumbled from crisis to crisis as justice secretary and is becoming a serious embarrassment for this government.
“There have been fundamental policy decisions taken on arming of police on routine duties, stop and searches and target-setting without proper debate and consultation.
“Police Scotland must allow policing by consent to secure public confidence and in order to ensure this happens we must have a strong justice secretary that is willing to hold them to account … The Cabinet secretary should do the honourable thing and resign.”.
But a spokesman for the First Minister said: “This is a pathetic stunt from Labour who seem to be going out of their way to criticise the single police force which they fully supported the creation of.
“This justice secretary has presided over a near 40-year low in recorded crime across Scotland, as well as police recruitment which has taken the number of officers in Scotland to record high levels.
“These are the benchmarks which the public care about.”
Mr Rennie called for Mr Salmond to take Mr MacAskill with him when he stands down next month. The Lib Dems are expected to support Labour’s motion, but may lodge their own amendment, it has emerged.
“We’ve always said Kenny MacAskill should go,” a Lib Dem spokeswoman said last night. “We don’t think he should be afforded the luxury of a reshuffle given the important issues of armed police and stop and search.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont also suggested that Mr MacAskill faces the axe if, as expected, Ms Sturgeon takes over from Mr Salmond as SNP leader and First Minister next month.
Mr Lamont said: “Kenny MacAskill is the No 1 target in Nicola Sturgeon’s upcoming reshuffle – everyone knows that, including him.
“He’s messed up a number of crucial matters, not least corroboration, court closures and the issue of armed police.
“He’s extremely fortunate that Alex Salmond had the generosity to keep him on for this long.”
The motion to be debated at Holyrood notes that Mr Mac-Askill told parliament in June 2012 that the Scottish Police Authority’s ability to hold the chief constable to account for the policing of Scotland is “wide ranging and allows the authority to scrutinise and challenge the chief constable on all of his or her functions and roles and on all aspects of policing”.
The motion adds: “In light of the Cabinet secretary’s failure to provide effective governance of Police Scotland in delivering public accountability, [the parliament] calls on him to resign from his post.”
In recent years, Mr MacAskill has faced criticism over a number of controversial reforms. Lawyers baulked at the prospect of the principle of corroboration being ditched from Scots Law, amid concerns it would lead to miscarriages of justice. A raft of court closures to save cash also prompted anger, with figures yesterday suggesting they have resulted delays in the justice system.
But the decision to scrap Scotland’s eight regional police forces and create one national force has been at the root of widespread concerns.
Fears have been raised that hardline stop and search directives were in operation, making Scotland the most prevalent part of the UK for the practice, while complaints emerged among officers that a strict target-driven culture was being imposed for offences such as speeding or urinating in public.
Most recently, there was widespread public anger when it emerged that armed officers were being deployed on beat patrols across the country.