Police Scotland is once again in the centre of a media and political storm. The new single force has not had an easy start to its life. However the near constant harping on about the service seems to me to go way beyond legitimate and necessary scrutiny to bordering on media hysteria. The usual suspects are there, Labour and LibDem politicians ably abetted by their anti SNP allies in the media. Now a former leader of the SNP has joined this bandwagon. Gordon Wilson in the National has penned a blistering attack on Police Scotland and the SNP government. According to Wilson, rarely in the history of any police force has any force performed so badly as has Police Scotland. It seems there has been scandal after scandal and everything has fallen apart. Really! Has Police Scotland really performed worse than some of the police forces in England? Not to mention the sad and sorry recent examples of police brutality in the USA. Methinks Mr Wilson doth protest too much.
Police Scotland only came into being in 2013. Such a major reorganization was always likely to encounter teething problems. But to call for the abolition of Police Scotland after just two years seems perverse and lacking any sense. That there have been some failures seems very clear, but is anyone seriously suggesting that similar type failures never occurred before? Before putting forward proposals for further major change, one would hope that these would be based on evidence of endemic and systemic failure and not just one or two particular incidents. I would contend that two years is insufficient time to have accumulated this evidence.
When it comes to evidence it is once again noteworthy that just about all of the critics of Police Scotland simply ignore the evidence from other similar sized countries. Single police forces have been established in many parts of the world. Just across the water for example, both parts of Ireland have always managed with single police forces. While the RUC had its own difficulties to contend with, it is surely worth noting that both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland continue to support a single police force, the relatively new Police Service of Northern Ireland. Further afield in Australia, the states also have single police forces. In northern Europe the trend is towards establishing single forces. This had already happened in Denmark and a new national police force was established in Sweden at the beginning of this year. The Netherlands too has joined the single force club. None of this makes a single force necessarily the right choice for Scotland, but I would have hoped that at least some of the critics in Scotland would have made some reference to the experience from elsewhere in the world.
I am also, rather depressingly, unsurprised by the approach from the other political parties in Scotland. Some like the LibDems and the Greens always opposed a single force, but Labour was in favour of establishing Police Scotland. If they are to begin to re-establish themselves as a serious party of government they need to start acting in a more constructive way, and not just blame the SNP. Alex Rowley, their newly elected deputy leader, wrote recently about the need for Labour not simply to criticize, but to always make clear what they would do as a positive alternative. Police Scotland would be as good as any place to start. What does Labour have to say about Police Scotland? What would a Labour government do differently to the current SNP government? With a new, well, very slightly new team in place, it is time for Labour to step up to the mark and put forward their positive vision and concrete proposals for Police Scotland.