Police Scotland: Why there are concerns that the force is being politicised – Gina Davidson

Amid the political storm on Monday over whether a vaccination milestone or target had been missed with jags given or offered, it went almost unnoticed that the Covid clouds were gathering while the First Minister was attending an event at Police Scotland's Tulliallan training college.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone believes officers should be guardians rather than warriors (Picture: Police Scotland)

Nicola Sturgeon was in Kincardine for the launch of a new international academy which will see Police Scotland help to develop other forces around the world.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said he wanted Scottish officers to contribute to the debate around “police legitimacy” taking place in many countries and moreover, he said, to spread the message that the role of police was to be "guardians and not warriors”.

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It is hard to avoid concluding that Mr Livingstone was also, in a very subtle way, trying to make a point to the First Minister while he had the opportunity.

For some months, Police Scotland has been front and centre in controversial events which have seen it’s legitimacy questioned; criticised by some as going beyond its powers while at the same time criticised by others who feel it hasn’t gone far enough in its actions.

Since the first Covid regulations were passed in Holyrood to deal with the pandemic, the police have found themselves in a position which absolutely places them in spaces and places rather more grey than black or white.

They have been asked to enter people’s homes and gardens to break up parties and get-togethers, to police public health in a way never done before – though Mr Livingstone drew the line at stopping people at local authority borders when the travel restrictions were in place.

Then there have been the mass celebrations of Rangers football fans, the rallies of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the protest of the people of Kenmure Street furious at the Home Office attempt to remove two of their refugee neighbours.

All took place at a time when the government was very clear large gatherings were not lawful, and officers were either slammed for failing to be the warriors who broke them up or slammed for adopting the guardian mantle, endeavouring to make sure events did not escalate into violence.

The Hate Crime Bill, which was piloted through Parliament last session, is another potential minefield for a police force increasingly feeling the pressure to be more warrior-like in its application of the law.

Callum Steele, head of the Scottish Police Federation, warned at the time that the legislation would start a “clamour” for the police’s reach to go further than it should, with “things that are insulting easily being redefined to abusive to meet a criminal test”.

Police were scorned on social media for warning about women’s rights campaign stickers on Kirkcaldy lampposts while the prosecution of gender-critical feminist Marion Millar is being held up as an example of at least an activist, if not warrior-like, force in action.

Her case is yet to come to court and for many on either side of the women’s and trans rights debate, it will be a litmus test. Especially so for police officers of a force which feels it is being increasingly politicised and finding its own actions increasingly questioned.

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