Lib Dems have led the case against armed police in the Highlands – not that you’d know from the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland

This time next week, I will be in one of what I think is the most magical places on earth, the Black Isle. The friendly people, gorgeously rich scenery from the fertile farmlands to the wonderful pink-sanded Rosemarkie beach, the rubbish mobile phone signal and the utter peace of the place combine to make it my perfect bolt-hole.  I feel myself relaxing as soon as I get my first view of Munlochy Bay from the A9. It’s pure heaven.

I try very hard when we’re there to do all my shopping from local shops rather than the big supermarkets in Inverness, just 20 minutes away. What I don’t want to go into, for example,  the Cromarty Bakery in Fortrose, where they sell delicious bread and cakes, and encounter a couple of police officers with guns in their holsters buying their lunchtime sausage rolls. And it could happen. Someone on Twitter told me that armed police casually strolled into Harry Gow’s in Brora, an hour or so further north. It’s just not the way Highlanders like to see things done.

I’ve written several times now about how the Chief Constable of the newly merged all Scotland Police force quietly enabled all Police officers to carry arms as and when they wanted. This has led to officers with guns being seen on the streets of Inverness at nightclub chucking out time and even in broad daylight. There is no need for such a thing in peaceable Highland communities. There’s not really much of a need for it anywhere unless there are specific, limited circumstances where lives are at risk.

This is a fundamental change in policy, snuck in without public debate. What’s particularly galling is that it’s gone unchallenged by a justice secretary, “Clear Desk” Kenny MacAskill, who considers everything an operational matter for somebody else.

Danny Alexander, who’s the MP for Inverness, has challenged this blatant disregard for civil liberties from the start. Alison McInnes, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson, has spoken out against it and the abuse of stop and search that’s been prevalent in recent years. Willie Rennie this week called for a formal review to be carried out now by the Scottish Police authority, saying:

With Kenny MacAskill abdicating any and all responsibility for the policies of Scotland’s national police force we have no-one to light a fire under the force when it moves too slowly to react to local concerns. Highland Council’s united calls for the policy to be scrapped have been stonewalled until the next routine SPA risk meeting in September.

That isn’t a good enough response to the pressing concerns of these communities. Scottish Liberal Democrats want the SPA to undertake an immediate and full formal review of Police Scotland’s policy on armed police. A separate review would allow swifter action on an increasingly controversial policy.

Pending the outcome of that review I know many wish to see an end to the deployment of armed officers on routine duties. Questions also remain about the need for those armed officers to carry sidearms if they are to continue attending routine duties.

Police Scotland’s refusal to budge on the issue puts them at odds with the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Justice Scotland, Highland Council and many others who have raised concerns. It is time the growing chorus of concern was met with a more thoughtful response.

So you would think, that if Sunday Politics Scotland were debating the issue, they’d have a Liberal Democrat on. Sadly not. Today, the SNP put up Kevin Stewart (after MacAskill refused to appear) and Labour’s Justice Spokesman Graeme Pearson took the opposing view. It is quite galling to see Labour taking the civil liberties ground when it’s the Liberal Democrats who have made all the running on this. It would have been better to have had a genuine highland, liberal perspective.


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

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  • “This is a fundamental change in policy, snuck in without public debate.”

    As I pointed out the last time this was brought up, the change in firearms policy was not made secretly at all. In fact the Scottish Police Authority was told about the proposed change even before Police Scotland came in to existence :-

    Alison McInnes should have been aware of this. Lib Dem Ian Ross (member of the SPA board) even more so. So why are the Lib Dems going around claiming it all happened behind people’s backs?

  • But the Liberal Democrat are now only a side show for the media. We all know the reasons, we are a sideshow. We do not count for the general public. It may be hard to accept but there it is. The question is what do we do about it, I reiterate, refocus, a new image, a new face etc etc etc.

  • Richard Dean 27th Jul '14 - 10:29pm

    As I understand the opening paragraphs, the “genuine, highland liberal perspective” is the elitist one – keep your dirty guns away from our special paradise – backed up by what appears from Stuart’s post to be persistent mis-information from the LibDem side. Why then would any of us ordinary folk actually want to hear a LibDem on the program?

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Jul '14 - 4:01am

    I don’t agree with doing an anti-armed police campaign. I live in a pretty peaceful town too, but I needed them back in 2005. Unfortunately, the local police had no guns so they wouldn’t come to help us. We had to wait 20 minutes for a team to come from the nearest City, I thought it was going to be too late.

    I could understand if we had a big problem with police officers shooting innocent people, but we don’t. Being anti- armed police is like being anti armed forces. Unfortunately we need them.

    I don’t mind a balanced policy, I just warn off doing a big civil liberties / soft on crime and weak on self-defence campaign.

  • Stuart, a paper sent to committee members covering a number of topics and published without fanfare on the internet does not in my view constitute a public discussion or debate. The problem is that, while this policy may well be suitable for Glasgow on a Saturday night, it certainly isn’t for a small town of a few hundred people in the Highlands. Under the previous system, Northern Constabulary could operate a different policy, but this has been adopted as a blanket policy across Scotland when it is not needed or wanted (last time I checked, policing was still done proudly by consent of the people.)

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 28th Jul '14 - 12:58pm

    Stuart, nowhere in that paper did it say that armed Police officers would be casually strolling into sleepy Highland bakers’ shops. This was a fundamental change that wasn’t spelled out and should never have happened without a proper public debate as Keith has said. Do we even know when this was first put into the public domain anyway?

    Eddie, how is it being soft on crime to not want police officers wandering around the place with lethal weaponry? Where is your evidence that this is required?

  • @Keith Legg
    “Stuart, a paper sent to committee members covering a number of topics and published without fanfare on the internet does not in my view constitute a public discussion or debate.”

    You miss my point. The document I linked to was sent to all SPA members last year, including prominent Highland Lib Dem Ian Ross. One would also expect Alison McInnes to read documents like this. Surely being informed about such matters should be an important part of her job? So Lib Dems certainly knew about it before the new policy was brought in, and if they thought it warranted a public debate, why didn’t they instigate one then? Instead, they keep claiming that Police Scotland changed the policy in a sneaky and secretive fashion – which simply isn’t true, and therefore just comes across as something of an unwarranted slur against the police.

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Jul '14 - 6:39am

    Hi Caron,

    I don’t feel strongly about armed police either way. However, a campaign that did attack the idea of armed police strongly wouldn’t appeal to me.


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