Stirring it up

I see the normally quite sensible Iain Macwhirter is getting his boxers in a brouhaha about Police Scotland. We have to assume he isn’t aiming for measured tones when he declares that Scotland’s police service “seems to have abandoned any concept of natural justice”. Or when he accuses Police Scotland of “institutional dysfunctionality”. And when he likens Scottish law enforcement to the Cosa Nostra the thought occurs that he might usefully have switched to decaff a while back.

Nobody really expects Gordon Brewer to be sensible. Over on the broadcast arm of the British state’s propaganda machine, he was intent on outdoing Macwhirter in terms of undergarment turmoil; and frantically trying to provoke Kenny MacAskill to join him in a bout of histrionic outrage. But, much to Gordon’s very evident frustration, the former Justice Secretary declined to play along. His knickers were not for knotting.

Mr MacAskill is to be congratulated for so ably demonstrating how to handle an interviewer aggressively determined to define the narrative and bully the answers they want out of their subject. It was a superb performance. Iain Macwhirter would be well advised to take a peek at the video. This is how to stay calm and reasonable. This is how to provide context. This is how to put things in perspective. This is how to maintain a sense of proportion.

MacAskill managed to be both forthright in his criticism where this was justified and utterly determined not to let Brewer inflate and exaggerate the issue. With steely determination, he resisted every effort to use the undoubted problems in Police Scotland’s upper echelons to paint the entire service as an organisation in crisis.

Iain Macwhirter is just as guilty of this. He too conflates the upper management and the whole organisation in an effort to justify his moral panic. “This is no way to run an amusement arcade let alone a nation’s police force,” he proclaims. In doing so he fails to make the essential distinction between the bosses and the beat cops. He fails to recognise that it’s middle and junior management that actually run things while the brass deal with the bean-counters and the bureaucrats and the back nine.

Let your undies be untroubled. Police Scotland is working just fine.


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6 thoughts on “Stirring it up

  1. I fully expected brewer to be sitting on Ruthie’s or Jackson careless lap on sunday it was evident his orders were being fed from the tory party , just like ruth banging away at a boring argument every week , the whole episode is of course meant to divert attention from a tory party imploding , and their mismanagement of the country is breathtaking and they are not even embarrassed about this failure

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  2. As a former beat cop I can’t think of any time when the senior management weren’t a complete bunch of (redacted) yet I like to think that I, and my colleagues, did our utmost to do the best by the public we served and, on the whole, succeeded.

    The trouble is that most people have as much knowledge of how the police (and the rest of the justice system) as they do about politics and that is because of the very same reason; the media. People who grew up watching Taggart and the The Bill (showing my age there) think that is how the police operate. They don’t and never did. Hollywood depictions of policing are even worse. To be quite frank, Scot Squad is about as accurate as it gets (and I hope everyone realises that it is a comedy, though believe me when I say a lot of what passes for police work is a farce). And that is even before we get to the ‘news’. I lost count of the number of stories that I read/viewed about crimes/incidents I had been involved in and saw that the report had very little relationship to reality. (This lesson, incidentally, was one of the final nails in the lid when it came to trusting the media in any of its forms and one I was able to take with me when campaigning for Scotland in 2014.)

    Roughly 95% of the population have no serious encounters with the police in their lifetimes and by ‘serious’ I include being stopped for speeding or going through a red light. 5% are in constant contact with the police, either as victims or perpetrators, so know the system well and the cororally of that is that police spend most of their time dealing with the 5% so can get a very jaded view of the public at large. I remember being told at Police College that we had to be aware that what might be a routine day’s work for us (investigating a house breaking, a mugging or a car crash) might be the single worst thing that had ever happened to the person we were dealing with who had only ever before seen police in passing and never had official contact with an officer.

    On top of that the police get the blame for actions taken at other stages in the justice system. ‘He got let off again’, ‘you lot never do anything’ (or similar) were constant refrains. Eh? I just arrested him for the umpteenth time and he went to court, what more do you expect me to do? Oh, the courts gave him a suspended sentence/the case ran out of time/the procurator fiscal decided to let the matter go (etc.) but somehow that is all the police’s fault. That’s ok, we had broad shoulders. [That is not to say that wrong decisions are routinely made in the rest of the justice system, but tell that to the member of the public who isn’t having their perceived ‘needs’ addressed. Justice is a system that serves our society as a whole but the fact is that it often doesn’t quite satisfy the individuals involved. But that’s ok by me, otherwise Daily Heil readers would be hanging people left, right and centre.]

    And that is before the we were picking up the pieces that the health service and social services missed or refused to deal with (a major bugbear of mine was dealing with people in mental difficulty who had been drinking or taking drugs because the NHS would have nothing to do with them; ‘They’re not mentally ill, they’re drunk!’ No, they are self-medicating because they need more help than you appear to be able to give them. I really hated locking people up – for their own safety – for self-medicating.

    Don’t get me wrong, I actually think there should be some sort of organisation that should be the final safety net that deals with any person that other services/institutions cannot help (though why they can’t maybe should be looked into) and I am quite happy that the Police are that organisation. But they need to be funded, trained and resourced accordingly and Police Scotland is not. But in the meantime it does have a top-tier of highly paid managers (on the whole I refuse to use the word ‘officers’ for many of them) who make poor decisions (not always, but far too often) like many top-tier managers do in all sorts of bureaucracies while the poor plods at the bottom of the hierarchy are the ones most likely to be seen and judged by the public.

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    1. Many thanks for that contribution, Hugh. It’s good to get a perspective from the sharp end.

      One thing that I would add is that this separation of top management from the operations they nominally run is not peculiar to the police. It is to be found in all manner of organisations. amalgamating Scotland’s police forces didn’t cause the problem. It merely provided an easier target for the media and those determined to denigrate anything that is associated with Scotland’s distinctive political culture.

      In my time, I’ve seen the police at their worst and at their best. I’ve suffered harassment and violence. But I’ve also benefited from the diligence and professionalism of police officers. My assessment of Police Scotland now is that the worst is not as bad as it once was, and the best is at least as good as it ever was. There are practices which must be constantly under review and a matter of ongoing public debate – stop & search and ‘kettling’ come to mind – but, for the most part, our police service performs reasonably well

      What is absolutely certain is that it is beyond ridiculous to assert a ;crisis’ affecting the whole of Police Scotland on the basis of some shenanigans among the top management. Police Scotland isn’t defined by the likes of Gormley. It takes its character from the men and women on the streets and in the patrol cars and working the computers. And they’re not so bad.

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  3. Poor management is everywhere unfortunately. I honestly don’t know if other parts of the world do it any better but the idea that the cream rises to the top and only the best become senior managers is nonsense in the UK. I’ve seen it in the private sector and several branches of the public. I’ll not repeat the stories my other half tells me about local authority and university management!

    I’ll also add, I am no defender of the police rank and file when they get it wrong. They have a power that enables abuses to occur and historically abuses have occurred all too frequently. Sometimes there are factors that get overlooked when looking back on events with crystal clear hindsight and at others actions were taken by individual officers that were, quite simply, wrong. I am very glad I served when I did and was not expected to help people ‘fall down stairs’ in the cells or dispense a beating on the streets. These things happened routinely not so long ago, and still do from time to time I am sure, but it is not how the current generation are trained to work.

    I’m glad I got out before Police Scotland came into being but that is not because I oppose the idea. The previous local forces were an inefficient hangover from the past and needed to go but the transition period (decade) was always going to be difficult. Unfortunately, police politics exists so the bigger forces gained more power in the new combined force and better practices (as found in some of the previous, smaller ones) have been ignored. I really hope that in the future Police Scotland will not automatically be headed up by a senior officer from an English force. There is a lot we can learn from our English cousins but at least as much we can develop ourselves and we, in Scotland, need to be aware that Scottish policing is among the very best in the world.

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