Ex-SNP leader calls for break up of Police Scotland

THE former SNP leader Gordon Wilson has launched a scathing attack on Police Scotland’s failures, and says his party’s ministers must take their share of responsibility for creating the centralised force.

Sir Stephen House's stewardship of Police Scotland has been heavily criticised. Picture: PA

Mr Wilson called for a “root and branch” reform of the service following the succession of crises to have engulfed Police Scotland, claiming the beleaguered single force should be broken up.

Abolition of the much-criticised Scottish Police Authority (SPA), which is supposed to hold the force to account, was another of the recommendations made in a paper drawn up by the former SNP MP, who said there had to be a return to community policing, claiming Police Scotland was suffering from “delusions of grandeur”.

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He also accused its higher echelons of arrogance and putting the views of the public second. The merger of Scotland’s eight police forces to form a unitary force under Chief Constable Sir Stephen House in 2013 has been one of the Scottish Government’s most high-profile undertakings as well as one of its most controversial.

In his report Mr Wilson said: “The problem goes much deeper than Sir Stephen House. Here the parliament, ministers and civil servants must accept responsibility. To ‘retire’ Sir Stephen in a cosmetic move will do nothing to tackle the real difficulties of Police Scotland.”

Mr Wilson’s outspoken criticism of his SNP colleagues is embarrassing for the Scottish Government. Political opponents described Mr Wilson’s remarks as an “extraordinary intervention”, which showed the failure of the SNP’s biggest act of public reform and the extent to which the public has lost confidence in Police Scotland.

A series of controversies have dogged Police Scotland since its formation in 2013.

Sir Stephen has faced calls for his resignation following criticism over the arming of police officers, the closure of local stations and high levels of stop and search.

Deep concern has also been expressed at the death in custody of Sheku Bayoh in Kirkcaldy as well as the scandal which saw M9 crash victim Lamara Bell spend three days in a car before police responded to a call reporting the accident.

Mr Wilson, who led the SNP between 1979 and 1990, published a paper arguing the police should be reorganised on a federal basis by re-establishing regional forces.

According to Mr Wilson, the four regional forces should be based in Edinburgh and the Borders, Strathclyde, Tayside Central and Fife plus Grampian and Highlands and Islands.

Each regional unit would have its own chief constable and would be overseen by local authorities.

Police Scotland as a whole would be run by a federal executive board.

Mr Wilson called for the abolition of the Scottish Police Authority. National oversight would then be transferred to the Scottish Parliament justice committee.

He also said the independence of the Police and Investigations Review Commissioner and the Inspectorate should be enhanced.

Mr Wilson said: “Rarely in the history of police forces has everything fallen apart as in the case of Police Scotland. The problems cannot be resolved by cosmetic actions such as a change in chief constable and calls for the resignation of the current Chief Sir Stephen House are puerile and nothing more than shallow political posturing.

“Real thought is needed and this is why I am launching an options paper setting out substantial ideas for change in the hope it will stir debate. This is a challenge to the Labour and Conservative parties as well as the government. Carping on the sidelines is not enough. It is time to engage on an intelligent basis.”

Mr Wilson continued: “Police Scotland suffered from delusions of grandeur. It saw itself as the equivalent of the Met and responsible to no one. Community policing got small shrift. It also became arrogant at top levels. The views of the public came second.

“Thus we had armed police parading around Inverness just as if they were part of a gendarmerie rather than as local police. A poor response to the Sheku Bayoh affair did not help. The final nail in the coffin was the disregarded report on the off-road death on the A9, suggesting that the centralisation of call centres was a step too far and that co-ordination had become dislocated.”

Although he described calls for Sir Stephen’s resignation as “puerile”, Mr Wilson questioned the former Strathclyde chief’s appointment.

“Questions must be asked,” he said. “Why was the head of the largest police force, Strathclyde, given the job of chief constable when it was known that he was an authoritarian likely to impose controversial Strathclyde policing policies on other parts of the country?”

Labour’s public services spokeswoman Jackie Baillie reacted to Mr Wilson’s outburst saying: “This is an absolutely extraordinary intervention from a former leader of the SNP. For one of the big beasts of Scottish nationalism to say that the biggest public sector reform of the SNP government has been a failure shows the extent of which Police Scotland has lost public confidence.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “A single service has removed the artificial barriers of previous force areas and allows all parts of Scotland better access to specialist services and equipment than ever before. We have confidence that the Scottish Police Authority will continue to perform a vital role.”

Police Scotland referred inquiries to the SPA. A spokesman for the SPAsaid: “We acknowledge there have been issues and difficulties, and that there is more of that journey of reform ahead of policing than behind it.”