FORMER justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has accused UK government ministers of being “grossly hypocritical” during the row over armed policing.
Mr MacAskill, who was removed from his post in First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s November reshuffle, said the police had been used as a “political football”.
Giving his first interview after seven years in the post, the former minister told the Police Oracle website that opposition to armed policing was “manufactured political outrage”, which did not previously exist.
Earlier this year, Police Scotland reversed a decision that saw armed officers deployed to routine incidents after opponents objected to them being sent to low-level disturbances.
A report by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), the police watchdog, on how the issue was dealt with will be published next week. But Mr MacAskill said much of the opposition was stoked by UK ministers who benefit from armed protection.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, Liberal Democrat MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, was among those who challenged the policy.
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“The standing firearms authority was an operational decision, but it was one I fully supported,” Mr MacAskill said.
“A lot of this was simply manufactured political outrage that didn’t exist before, never mind the gross hypocrisy of those ministers south of the Border who go around with armed protection complaining about officers protecting communities that they represent.”
He added: “I very much regret that politicians sought to make the police a political football when the reality was that there were less officers carrying firearms than there had been previously. Regrettably, armed officers are needed to protect us in the world in which we live.”
A spokesman for Mr Alexander said: “There’s nothing hypocritical about standing up for communities you represent. MPs represent the views of their constituents as their number one priority, and the majority were against the Standing Firearms Authority which was brought in, in secret, by the minister before he was sacked.”
The original decision, taken by Chief Constable Sir Stephen House when the new single police force came into being last year, went largely unnoticed until members of the public spotted armed officers on the streets of Inverness. Previously, police had to collect weapons from a locked safe in an Armed Response Vehicle under the authorisation of a senior officer. The SPA was criticised when it emerged the watchdog had not been consulted on the decision to grant the Standing Firearms Authority.
While Mr MacAskill had been consulted, he said the issue was an “operational matter” for the police.
Forty-two of the 43 police forces in England and Wales have similar standing firearm authorities.
A review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland, published in October, found the operational need for the standing authority was justified by national intelligence and threat levels.
The report said the creation of Scotland’s single police force in 2013 had led to “more equitable access” to an armed policing response and the number of trained firearms officers nationally had actually reduced overall.
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