JUSTICE secretary Kenny MacAskill has been accused of “washing his hands” over armed police on Scotland’s streets after claims that he dodged calls to discuss the matter in parliament.
Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, Graeme Pearson, said Mr MacAskill was “apathetic” to an issue which had caused huge public concern.
Last week, pictures emerged of armed officers attending a routine incident at a McDonald’s in Inverness, while a motorist in Aberdeen claimed he was questioned by four armed officers over an alleged traffic offence.
Mr Pearson, a former police officer and director general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said Mr MacAskill appeared to be “entirely disinterested” after he received a letter from him which said the matter was one for Sir Stephen House, chief constable of Police Scotland.
Mr Pearson said: “Kenny MacAskill has completely washed his hands of all responsibility and appears to be entirely disinterested in an issue which has sparked significant public concern and calls for improved accountability at a local and national level.
“The operational independence afforded to Police Scotland should not extend to fundamentally changing the nature of policing. Policing by consent has long been one of the central tenets of law enforcement in Scotland, but this can only be delivered when consultation with the democratic processes are delivered before action, not simply in hindsight.”
Mr Pearson called on Mr MacAskill to appear before Holyrood instead of “passing the buck” to Police Scotland.
In a written response to Mr Pearson’s request that he address parliament on the issue, the justice minister pointed to an incident on Edinburgh’s Princes Street earlier this month in which a man was shot with a Taser gun after allegedly brandishing a knife at police.
Mr MacAskill wrote: “The practice of giving a small number of specialist officers, including supervisory officers, standing authority to carry handguns is entirely an operational decision for the chief constable which allows officers to be deployed quickly in the event of any emergencies. These officers are available 24 hours a day to respond immediately to any threats.”
He continued: “On issues of operational independence, effective governance and scrutiny, the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 clearly establishes that the chief constable is responsible and must account to the Scottish Police Authority for the policing of Scotland.”