Leader comment: Police Scotland is in a crisis, Mr Matheson

With nearly 23,000 officers and staff, Police Scotland is a massive organisation and, as such, requires strong and effective leadership.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson

This is a truism that ordinarily would not need to be said, but The Scotsman feels required to do so given the “crisis, what crisis?” approach adopted by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson.

This seems at odds with reality. The force’s Chief Constable is on “special leave” amid an investigation into claims of misconduct; an Assistant Chief Constable and three other senior officers have been suspended over “criminal and misconduct allegations”; and the Deputy Chief Constable who is currently running the show had planned to retire this autumn. After discussing it with his family, Iain Livingstone said he felt it was “my duty to remain”.

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If that’s not a leadership crisis, what is? This is not the only time there have been problems at the top.

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Sir Stephen House, Police Scotland’s first Chief Constable, stepped down early amid controversy over issues including stop-and-search policy, armed police performing regular officers’ duties, and allegations of officers breaking guidelines about intercepting journalists’ communications.

It hardly seems better at the body tasked with overseeing the force, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).

A report by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland earlier this year described key relationships at the SPA as “dysfunctional”. In June, the then SPA chair Andrew Flanagan announced he was stepping down in following claims of bullying involving a former board member. Mr Flanagan promised he would remain in post until a replacement was found, but few expected this process to take months. After two Holyrood committees expressed disquiet at his continued presence, former Scottish Health Secretary Susan Deacon was appointed. She has her work cut out.

Given all this, it hardly seems credible to deny there is a crisis. Mr Matheson should have made clear that sorting out the mess and ensuring it never happens again were priorities.

The dedicated officers and staff of Police Scotland will be able to deal with the everyday job of keeping us safe for a while, but without strong leadership the force risks drifting dangerously towards unforeseen calamity.