Former First Minister Alex Salmond has raised concerns that new curbs on the police’s use of stop and search could undermine attempts to tackle the “social evil” of knife crime.
Justice secretary Michael Matheson confirmed in September that Police Scotland would stop the controversial practice of non-statutory stop and searches of adults and children.
It followed a report by an advisory group led by John Scott QC which said ending non-statutory, or “consensual” stop and search would not lead to “significant gaps” in the police’s powers.
But speaking during the debate in Holyrood today, Mr Salmond said stop and search had been “extremely influential” in stopping young men carrying blades.
Mr Salmond said: “I’m particularly concerned about knife crime. In the early years of being first minister, there was an epidemic of knife crime in Scotland and far, far too many young people ended up as victims to that epidemic.
“My concern is that there’s a very strong correlation in my mind between the decline in knife crime in Scotland and therefore casualties and deaths from knife crime and the use of stop and search powers by the police.
“I would have liked to have seen far more analysis by the advisory group of the impact on knife crime of the use of stop and search. “When it comes to stop and search, what I’m really concerned about is whether stop and search powers have been effective in reducing knife crime and therefore deaths of young people in Scotland.”
He added: “What I want the minister to address is whether he is absolutely satisfied that nothing in this change of powers is going to change the downward trajectory of knife crime in Scotland.”
Mr Matheson said: “I fully endorse the view about the need to make sure the police have the necessary statutory powers to be to undertake action to reduce issues such as knife crime.
“Since 2006/7 there has been a very dramatic reduction in the level of knife crime in Scotland overall, particularly in the west coast of Scotland, which of course has a correlation into significant reduction in the number of homicides.
“Over the last few years, there been a significant reduction in the amount of stop and search which has been undertaken on consensual basis by Police Scotland. The statistics show that - there has been a significant drop off.
“I’m confident that given the code of pratice and the consideration given to the issue by the advisory group, they will have the necessary powers to continue that work and continue to drive down knife crime and the issues associated with it.”