Danny Alexander and Alison McInnes challenge SNP on armed police in Scotland

Police motorbike - Some rights reserved by Metropolitan PoliceI’ve written several times recently about how policing has changed in Scotland since Scotland’s eight police forces were merged into one.  Concerns have been expressed on a number of issues:

While Danny Alexander complained last week about the use of armed and mounted police in the highlands, it now appears that armed police are being routinely deployed across Scotland without the safeguard of a senior officer granting permission for each use.

I’ve said before that Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has the clearest desk in the Scottish Government’s HQ as he seems to think that everything is an operational matter for the Police. Willie Rennie was wrong when he said that the Police merger would create two very powerful people – one of them seems to just abrogate all responsibility. In this case, it’s clear he’s just given the police a free rein to fundamentally change the nature of policing on Scotland’s streets. Armed Police across Scotland now have a standing authority to carry weapons even when they’re doing routine things like overseeing closing time in pubs on Friday and Saturday nights or going to traffic incidents. Before, the arms would have been locked away and authority granted by a senior officer for their use on a case by case basis.

This change has been made without any parliamentary scrutiny or debate. Yes, that’s right. The Parliament, its Justice Committee, its Policing Sub-Committee were completely kept in the dark about this for over a year. What way is that to run a government?

My view is that this anytime, anyplace, anywhere approach to deadly weapons is disproportionate, illiberal and irresponsible. I’m not alone in that view. Yesterday’s Inverness Courier leader said:

This uniformity of approach from the “Wild West” of Scotland to our much less rumbustious city is not what the public wants.”

Alison McInnes questioned MacAskill on the matter yesterday:

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Afterwards, she said:

It is deeply concerning that neither the Justice Secretary or Police Scotland saw any need to tell anyone that firearms officers are  carrying guns while undertaking everyday duties and no longer need the authorisation of senior officers to fire them.

There is no hiding the fact that this is a significant change from a strict regime of only carrying firearms while responding to a clear threat to public safety, approved on a case-by-case basis and following a proper risk assessment.

The removal of this important safeguard and adoption of a blanket policy of approval to carry and use guns has been implemented by stealth. It appears that both Parliament and the SPA were in the dark about it for over a year.

With the Justice Secretary content to give the Chief Constable a free rein, despite the concerns of members of all parties, it is clear that the Parliament is going to have to do all it can to get a grip on this situation.

“We don’t want that sort of thing here”

This is what Danny Alexander had to say about armed police routinely patrolling in his constituency. His comments were reminiscent of those of Clarence Henry Willcock, the last person to be prosecuted for failing to show an identity card, who said “I’m a liberal and I’m against that sort of thing.”

Again, Scottish Liberal Democrats are showing their worth, standing up against the illiberal, authoritarian approach of the SNP towards freedom and justice. Kenny MacAskill is well past his sell-by date as Justice Secretary. It’s surely time for him to be replaced with someone who actually gives a damn about civil liberties. If someone can so radically change the relationship between police and citizen without a second thought, surely they are not fit for office.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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