Leaders: Police Scotland must embrace accountability

The M9 tragedy has been a turning point for Police Scotland. Picture: Michael Gillen
The M9 tragedy has been a turning point for Police Scotland. Picture: Michael Gillen
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IT IS vital for a new governance group to restore trust in the country’s crisis-hit national force

The issue of accountability is a vital one when it comes to policing, but even before the a single Scottish force was created two and a half years ago, there were doubts about the oversight of the new organisation.

Time and again there have been warnings that Police Scotland is not being subjected to the degree of democratic scrutiny we – and it – should expect, particularly at a local level.

The warning signs were there from the very beginning. Six months before the force became operational, its chief constable, Sir Stephen House, admitted to MSPs that he had been engaged in a power struggle with Vic Emery, the chairman of the Scottish Policy Authority.

Ambiguities in the legislation that gave rise to the force meant it was not clear who had day-to-day control over crucial areas such as finance and personnel. It created a ruinous uncertainty surrounding who would be ultimately responsible when mistakes were made.

This culminated in the unseemly row over the deployment of armed officers to routine incidents, although critics of Scotland’s policing system doubtless have many other examples to choose from, whether it be the use of stop and search, the death in custody of Sheku Bayoh, or the control room problems linked to two tragic deaths on the M9,

Mr Emery has since left his position and Sir Stephen will depart his post next month, but both institutions have much work to do in order to ensure the force is properly held to account.

The announcement yesterday of the members of a taskforce responsible for reviewing police accountability and governance is a step in the right direction after a difficult and damaging time for Police Scotland’s reputation.

The committee, unveiled by Mr Emery’s successor, Andrew Flanagan, makes for encouraging reading, given it includes the likes of Christine McLintock, the president of the Law Society of Scotland, Professor Nick Fyfe, director of the Scottish Institute for Policing Research, and Moi Ali, who handled complaints against judges as Scotland’s first judicial Complaints Reviewer – before she resigned, complaining the role was toothless and poorly funded.

Pat Watters, the former long-serving president of council umbrella body Cosla, is also a member, and will be well placed to offer a forceful opinion or two from a community-based ­viewpoint.

There is a diverse and knowledgeable mix to the reference group and let us hope that by pooling their experience, some useful lessons will emerge. Its first meeting takes place in private later this month and Mr Flanagan is expected to report the findings of the review in March.

It is of paramount importance that the recommendations outline a robust and clearly defined new structure in which errors can be highlighted and addressed.

The process of strengthening accountability will put a few noses out of joint but it is surely in the interests of everyone at Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority that the necessary changes are put in place.

Perhaps then the public will begin to regain trust and confidence in a force that seems to stoop from one crisis to the next.

Action needed on unemployment

Although Chancellor George Osborne greeted yesterday’s announcement from the Office for National Statistics as “excellent news”, pointing to the fact that unemployment has fallen to a seven-year low across the UK, there is scant cause for celebration in Scotland.

While the labour market strengthens in other regions of the UK, the state of affairs here is considerably less cheering. The number of Scots out of work now stands at 166,000, a rise of 11,000 on the previous quarter and 2,000 more than the same period in 2014.

The quarterly increase in the jobless total jars when compared with other areas of the UK. The north-west of England, for example, saw 20,000 people find employment over the same period.

Trying to halt the rising unemployment rate in Scotland is no easy task, especially a time when once powerhouse sectors of the economy such as the oil and gas industry are going through an arduous time.

Reversing the trend requires a concerted effort from a vast array of parties, but yesterday’s statistics underline the need for resolute action to be taken north of the Border.

The Scottish Trade Unions Congress notes that while all age employment has seen a very small increase over the year, growth in Scotland’s labour market is now basically stagnant.

STUC general secretary Grahame Smith warned: “If jobs cannot be found for people returning to the labour market then unemployment is unlikely to fall over the coming year.”

With the UK government’s spending review and Autumn Statement less than a fortnight away, Mr Osborne must help create jobs in Scotland. Finance Secretary John Swinney also has a crucial part to play next month when he publishes his draft budget for 2016-17.