Leaders: Police long way off reflecting diversity

ONE of the key features of last year’s independence debate was economic growth which, according to the Yes side, would be boosted by increased migration. Scotland would welcome an influx of migrants, in contrast to the rest of the UK where there were calls for tighter controls.

Police have a lot to do to reflect ethnic diversity. Picture: TSPL
Police have a lot to do to reflect ethnic diversity. Picture: TSPL

Judging by figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats on the tiny representation of ethnic minorities in the police force, Scotland has a long road to travel before such an open-arms policy would lead to the required integration. Just 1 per cent of the staff at Police Scotland, and only two of the 446 most senior officers, identify as black, Asian or minority ethnic. For a public sector organisation serving a population with 4 per cent from ethnic minority groups, these figures are an embarrassment, if not a complete surprise. With only 175 black, Asian or ethnic minority officers in Scotland, very few of us will ever have set eyes on one.

One of the hoary old chestnuts about recruitment in the police – and the armed forces – has always been that ethnic minorities did not want to be associated with organisations which represent state authority. In 2015, no-one can still believe in this tired old excuse. It is more likely that the continued impression of the police as an unreconstructed relic of the 1970s and 80s owes its existence to the failure of the force’s recruitment policy. If suitable candidates are not coming to the police, the police have to go out and find them. Without a strong pro-active approach on this front, the imbalance will perpetuate.

Police Scotland has a duty to reflect the make-up of society in its ranks if it is to have any hope of earning the essential trust of all communities. Suspicions of prejudice and exclusion, which have troubled all forces historically, are difficult to dismiss effectively if the police are going to stand accused of failing to be an equal opportunities employer. In addition, the chances of dealing successfully with any law and order issues arising within that community are diminished if the minority feels no connection or relationship with the authorities.

It must be said that Police Scotland is not alone on the issue of under-representation, with many English forces faring no better. But that offers no consolation, particularly for those who want to believe that Scotland is “different”.

For their part, Police Scotland say that ethnic minority groups are one of five key areas being targeted in a current recruitment campaign. If that’s true, then we should see a clear improvement on these figures by next year. But if, as has been suggested, this is no more than “lip service”, the Scottish Government will have to step in and enforce change. Not for the first time this year, the call is for Police Scotland to get its house in order.

There’s no threat of relegation

Hooray for Kath Mainland, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. According to Ms Mainland, the Fringe should not become obsessed over the need to stay ahead of rival festivals or risk relegation from the “premier division”.

Consultants were brought in to assess the festivals’ future prospects, and reached the conclusion that work had to be done if Edinburgh was not to be left behind by other festivals. To be frank, it would have been more of a surprise – indeed a world first – if a hired consultancy had examined its subject and said “all’s well”.

As these columns have stated before, the Fringe is entitled to look forward with confidence rather than look over its shoulder with trepidation. The global reputation of Edinburgh’s festivals was not built overnight, and those who would like a piece of the action know it is about more than signing up a clutch of headline acts.

This is not complacency; it is recognition that the festivals – especially the Fringe– have continued to build on their success annually. The Fringe confounds financial logic, with very few of the 3,000-plus shows breaking even, but they still want to be in Edinburgh in August, when the city oozes atmosphere. Almost every year, the Fringe is bigger than before, and box office records fall. And like clockwork, the story goes that it is too big and accommodation is too expensive. Rivals would happily bemoan such problems.

Yes, Fringe organisers should have an eye on the competition, but keep the focus on strengthening and celebrating Edinburgh’s own unique appeal. It ain’t broken.