Today's Herald has revealed that Scottish frontline police officers are not only opposed to proposals to merge Scotland's regional police forces into a centralised single service, but that they may actively resist them.
According to the Herald reporters, there is the risk of a "rank and file revolt by police officers" on the issue. They also quote Callum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, as saying “as a manifesto proposal it is understandable why the pledge is considered as attractive. Although unconvinced by the reality, only politicians will know if it’s truly affordable and deliverable in practice.” That is a diplomatic response and I really can't see why voters would find the plans appealing. A more forthright view came from Strathclyde branch secretary David Kennedy who claimed that the Federation "has always been against a national police force". He added that "the problem is it has never been properly discussed". I can easily believe that.
Alex Salmond, Iain Gray, Tavish Scott and Annabel Goldie will next week be addressing the SPF's annual confernce at which the following motion is being discussed: “One police force in Scotland will lose local autonomy, shall centralise power and will give any government the political control of its chief constable.” The Herald correctly states that Labour, the SNP and the Tories support the move towards a single police force while describing the Lib Dem stance as "sharing some of the [police force's] concerns". Why the reluctance to state publicly our party's vehement opposition to the plans? The above motion could easily read as a tidy summary of the Liberal Democrats' position, as determined at our Scottish Spring Conference.
The Liberal Democrats - and, in fairness, the Green Party - are providing the sober-minded voice on the future of Scotland's policing that the public want and need. Centralising power can have only negative consequences and removing local accountability would be a disaster for many communities. The public don't want this - but an unholy alliance of Labour, the SNP and the Conservatives is bent on imposing its will on the Scottish people.
Furthermore, apart from the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, it seems that police officers don't want these changes either. They should be listened to. They do, after all, know a great deal more about policing issues than our party leaders. If the powers that be are determined to press on with their ill-conceived strategy irrespective of the views of the police, I would certainly welcome industrial action on the part of rank-and-file officers.
That's one way of telling Salmond and Gray what to do with their plans. Another way is to vote for a party that actually opposes the creation of a single police force for Scotland.
Support the Liberal Democrats' campaign to keep police services local:
"Save our Police" Facebook group
Keep Police Local Campaign Page