THE country’s new single force will be called “the Police Service of Scotland”, ministers have said.
But a senior officer has warned it will take up to five years for the current eight forces to be fully merged into one.
The Police and Fire Reform Bill also includes plans for a Police Investigations and Review Commissioner. Currently, police forces investigate each other.
Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, said he hoped a Scottish Policing Board would be in place and able to appoint a national chief constable by the end of the year, with the single force launched in April 2013, along with a national fire service.
But Deputy Chief Constable Steve Allen of Lothian and Borders Police warned: “We’re looking at a start date of April 2013, but the process will take three to five years to complete.
“There are a range of things, like information technology, infrastructure, and handling calls from the public, which are big projects to move from where we are to where we want to be.”
Mr Allen, who spoke out in support of a single force during the debate, added: “The opportunity we have is to take policing excellence from around the country, such as road policing from Dumfries and Galloway, community policing from Northern, Strathclyde’s approach to violence, and Lothian and Border’s public order, to ensure every community gets the best service possible.”
Mr MacAskill admitted that April 2013 would only be the start of the process. He said: “It’s an evolving process. But we’ve got to have a start date.”
Police forces currently face real-term budget cuts of about 5 per cent, but the Scottish Government has pledged to maintain the 1,000 extra officers it has put on the streets since 2007.
Mr MacAskill said: “The reasons for reform are clear. We need to make a virtue of necessity. Make no mistake – this is the only way to make sure we don’t lose the major improvements made to police and fire and rescue services in recent years.”
The Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland welcomed the proposals as “bold and imaginative, representing a once-in-a-generation opportunity”.
A spokeswoman for the office said: “Giving the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner the power to investigate the most serious complaints represents an important step forward in how we hold the police to account in this country.”
However, the plans were criticised by some of the government’s political opponents.
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: “This bill represents a huge power grab by Kenny MacAskill, and puts our excellent local, responsive policing and our small rural fire stations at risk.”
David McLetchie, justice spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “The accountability arrangements in this bill are totally inadequate.”
However, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, Lewis Macdonald said that the bill “offers huge potential to improve services, and make them more responsive and accountable to local communities”.