Police Scotland officers' 'work to rule' over pay dispute could become a long-term problem – Kenny MacAskill MP

Recent polls have shown public support for strike action. No wonder, as everyone doing their shopping, paying their bills or filling their fuel tank feels the pressure.

The Scottish Police Federation, which represents frontline officers, has rejected a pay offer amounting to one to two per cent (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
The Scottish Police Federation, which represents frontline officers, has rejected a pay offer amounting to one to two per cent (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

That’s why police representatives have described the Scottish Government’s pay offer as derisory and insulting.

After all, it would hardly cover the increase in a quarterly energy bill for some, and there’s other still many more bills to meet. But the police are precluded by legislation from striking. So that option’s denied them.

Let me say at the outset that I support that position, even if I’m also on record as supporting recent strikes. There are some occupations where the public good and the wider needs of society require it.

Police in Scotland are not only responsible for public safety but are the organisation required to step in if prison officers with draw their labour. South of the Border, it’s the army but I prefer a civil power.

But that restriction requires alternatives to protect and provide for them, and offset that denial of a fundamental right. Hence why there’s a Police Negotiating Board (PNB) to ensure that claims can be dealt with fairly and impartially. There can be robust debate, no doubt, between management and staff, but agreement should be possible.

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Scotland's police officers to 'withdraw goodwill' as pay dispute escalates

Sadly, it appears that the Scottish Government has not been attending, listening or are simply remaining intransigent. That’s unacceptable and is why we’ve ended up with the extraordinary situation of what to all intents and purposes is “a work to rule” by officers.

Policing works on cooperation and goodwill by officers. It’s been standard practice to work on or turn up early unpaid, or to charge phones etc at home and at their own expense; and that’s but the tip of an iceberg.

But that’s been withdrawn, and the government are to blame. If that’s lost and replaced by ill-will, it’ll be a long-term problem, not just far higher costs. For once trust is broken, it’s hard to restore.

Maybe what’s needed now’s a pay authority that’s independent of government and can set what it sees as the appropriate rate. Such institutions exist in other countries, whether judicial or not. But to deny individuals the right to strike requires an alternative that’s fair for them.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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