Campbell Campbell-Jack: Bigger isn’t better – the lesson from PC McPlod

In 2013 the Holyrood SNP government, against the advice of experts, forced the amalgamation of Scotland’s eight police forces into one. Amidst warnings about loss of local accountability and knowledge, the government spoke of budget savings and greater efficiency. Police Scotland became the second largest police force in the UK.

This was supposedly a distinctively Scottish response to the problem of numerous forces in a small country. Distinctive it certainly is. During its short existence Police Scotland has been dogged by controversy, scandal and plunging public confidence.

During that time it has rivalled Scottish Labour for the number of leaders. Sir Stephen House, first Chief Constable, served from October 2012 until November 2015 when he was forced to leave the post early after a series of controversies. These issues included the stop-and-search of juveniles and allegations of officers breaking guidelines about intercepting journalists’ communications.

Perhaps the most embarrassing controversy in Police Scotland’s early days was the forced U-turn on arming officers on routine patrol. Sir Stephen, who had been Chief Constable of Strathclyde which includes Glasgow, authorised the routine arming of a small number of officers. The policy blew up when photographs emerged of officers wearing Glock 17 semi-automatic pistols on their way to a stushie (fracas) in a fast-food establishment in Inverness.

What might have had occasional justification in the former Strathclyde police area was considered appropriate throughout Scotland, even in the Highlands, not a hotbed of violent gun-driven crime. It took concentrated pressure from the public, local authorities and politicians to force the reversal of the gun-carrying policy and for the force to authorise weapons only at incidents involving firearms.

More serious have been incidents involving the deaths of members of the public. Sheku Bayoh died of asphyxiation minutes after being arrested by officers in Kirkcaldy on May 3, 2015. Mr Bayoh was found to have approximately 30 injuries to his head and body. Amidst a welter of conflicting stories surrounding the incident, it took 30 days before the 11 officers involved were interviewed. Public disquiet with the Police Scotland grew due to the length of time it took to investigate the force.

The final straw for the public was the case of John Yuill and Lamara Bell. A police control room was informed of a car going off the M9 near Stirling on Sunday July 5, 2015. The incident was not investigated until the following Wednesday, when the two were eventually found. Mr Yuill had died in the car but Ms Bell was found alive, only to die in hospital a week later.

Following the resignation of Sir Stephen House, Phil Gormley was announced as Chief Constable on January 5, 2015. He lasted until September 8 this year. Chief Constable Gormley and one of his assistant chief constables have been placed on ‘special leave’ following two allegations of gross misconduct.

These allegations of bullying arose from within the Force Executive, the senior management team of Police Scotland. The allegations are being investigated by the independent Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc). Mr Gormley denies any wrongdoing.

As does Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins who was suspended by watchdogs at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) on November 24 after ‘a number of criminal and misconduct allegations’. Mr Higgins, who was the head of armed policing in Scotland, and three of his senior subordinates have been accused of using the firing range in an unauthorised manner. Another two officers have been placed on restricted duties.



Deputy Chief Constable Ian Livingston has been given the unenviable task of running the 23,000-personnel force. Having planned to retire this autumn after being surprisingly passed over in favour of Gormley, Mr Livingston, after discussing it with his family, said he felt it was ‘my duty to remain’. Scotland owes Mr Livingston thanks for his sense of duty; without him a bad situation would have been considerably worse after the loss of so many senior experienced staff.

The chaos in Police Scotland is mirrored in the body tasked with overseeing the force, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA). Earlier this year HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland issued a report describing key relationships in the SPA as ‘dysfunctional’.

SPA chair Andrew Flanagan announced that he was stepping down following claims of bullying involving a former board member. Governance at the SPA was investigated by two Holyrood committees after a board member quit amid a row over meetings being held behind closed doors and Mr Flanagan's failure to circulate critical correspondence.

Susan Deacon, former Labour Scottish Health Secretary, caught the hot potato and has been appointed SPA chair. She will need a mighty big broom to sweep the Augean stables of Scottish policing.
Understandably rank and file officers are ‘scunnered’, not only because of the chaos in leadership but because they claim their legitimate concerns regarding their work conditions are regularly disregarded or ignored.

In Scotland, at least, it is true that ‘a policeman’s lot is not a happy one’. Nevertheless, Michael Matheson, SNP Justice Secretary in the Scottish Parliament, is not daunted. With magnificent understatement, Matheson admitted to the Scottish Parliament on November 29 that Police Scotland was facing a ‘challenging set of circumstances’. He added, however, that the single force continued to provide an ‘excellent local service to communities that I believe is the match of policing anywhere in the world’.

Be aware, Police Scotland was intended as a cross-border example. Sir Stephen House, the first Chief Constable of Police Scotland, said: ‘My personal view is that structural change is inevitable down south.’ Perhaps experience teaches that big is not necessarily best.

Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack

  • martianonlooker

    The plod, education and the Scottish NHS are good examples of SNP mis-rule. So, when the Bute House fuhrer, frau Sturgeon, witters on about indyref2……give them independence. They can sod off and join their EU dream.

    • Lagopus scotica

      I understand your frustration, and offered all my family asylum in Yorkshire, in case the vote went the wrong way.

      • martianonlooker

        I’ve been away that long that it would seem that my Scottish family are no longer there, for one reason or another.

  • TheRightToArmBears

    There has been something rotten in the Scottish police for many years, certainly worsened by those political paragons Blair and Brown. They connived to place the Dunblane Report, into the massacre of twelve infants and their teacher, in cold and secret storage for one hundred years.
    Why would they do that? Was it because the application for the killer’s gun licence had been approved by a senior Labour politician, and the killer was a known paedophile?

    • gs_schweik

      Dunblane was a horrible incident, and its aftermath is a disgrace.
      That the police ignored warnings from legitimate shooters, who they then went on to punish, is part of that disgrace.

      • robbydot

        Dunblane wasn’t an ” incident “.

        • TheRightToArmBears

          It was arranged to protect senior politicians.

    • Lagopus scotica

      I believe that if the licencing procedure in force at the time had been followed correctly, the person who carried out the massacre would not have been allowed any type if firearm or shotgun, never mind small arms.

      There are rumours that the perpetrator was in the Masons, and his “brothers” in the police helped him obtain or keep his licence.

      Without a full independent enquiry, while witnesses to the licensing procedure and decisions are still with us, this cannot be reviewed properly.

      • TheRightToArmBears

        There was a full inquiry which produced the Dunblane Report, which Brown and Blair made secret for a hundred years.
        Labour have something very ugly to hide from here.

    • Royinsouthwest

      Blair, Brown and Co. are no longer in power so why can’t the decision to keep the Dunblane Report secret for 100 years be reversed? What is to stop the present government from releasing it now?

      • TheRightToArmBears

        Only the complicity that binds all those politicians in Westminster together in a conspiracy against us.

  • gunnerbear

    Police Scotland is simply the Scottish version of the NIPS….having a single force for Scotland isn’t a new idea. Some might say, given events in Rotherham, Hillsborough and the like, South Yorkshire Police ought to be got rid off and other forces should take over their ‘patch’.

    • hedgemagnet

      “Police Scotland is simply the Scottish version of the NIPS….having a single force for Scotland isn’t a new idea”

      NEEPS? No? Ah ok then.

      • gunnerbear

        Quite right, I should have said, PSNI….. 🙂 Good spot… 🙂

        • hedgemagnet

          Thanks, but it in all honesty it was a homophonic gag. Wouldn’t it be great if the acronym for the Scottish Police was somehow rutabaga based?!

  • evad666

    A single Police Force is far easier for the state to control and use against the population.
    witness the East German VolksPolizei.

    • Owen_Morgan

      Or the FBI, for that matter.

      • Little Black Censored

        And the French gendarmerie. When will our police be moving into barracks?

  • captainslugwash

    Scottish devolution is excellent in that it demonstrates to the rest of the UK the reality of a socialist government.
    It would be all the more obvious if we stopped helping to pay the bill and give them control over taxation.

  • JB

    Police forces in general are too large and powerful and their leaders have become lazy and politicised. This is why they’re now holding taxpayers to ransom saying they won’t investigate various crimes unless they get even more money. Our once great police service has become an arm of government prepping for socialist oppression of free thought by cracking down on non PC opinions.

    • I fully agree. Far better when we had smaller forces and a local Watch Committee keeping an eye on them. With modern communications it is simple to talk to the adjoining force if necessary and ensure necessary co-ordination with anything important. And we might still have some local police stations!

      • davidraynes

        That sounds like a Victorian solution to 21st century Policing.

        Nowadays a criminal is more likely to come from Albania or similar, not the next market town.

        • We have regional police forces to deal with such events and with computer communications, what’s the problem?

          • davidraynes

            We do not have Regional Police Forces.

            That is the point.

            I explain some of the issues in my earlier article on CW. There is a link in my other post below.

            Some of the Shire Forces are tiny.

            I do not know when you are harking back to “when we had smaller Forces”, can you explain? You must be a lot older than me!

          • What’s this Regional Crime squad that keeps getting mentions in the news?

          • davidraynes

            A squad, made up of loaned Officers to target particular kinds of more serious crime, typically Officers from various forces who OUGHT to be trained Detectives.

            Historically there were Regional Crime Squads, in the late 90s they formed the National Crime Squad, that merged with elements from Customs Investigation and the National Criminal Intelligence Service to form SOCA, that was not entirely succesful and was rebadged the NCA , National Crime Agency.

            What is currently the Regional Crime Squads is to fulfill that local need to deal with more serious crime which is beyond ordinary detective work, typically needing an element of covert surveillance and intelligence gathering.

            It is not a Regional Police Force and arguably they only exist where the local Constabularies are too small to have the strength in depth needed to deal with that sort of crime.

            Larger forces like GMP, Merseyside, West Mids and Met have less need for Regional Crime Squads. They are large enough to have the critical mass needed, exactly the point.

    • robbydot

      It was known as the police force, became a ‘service’ and been downhill ever since.

  • Thomtids

    Policing ceases to be “by consent” when it ceases to be local in recruitment and administration. The appointment of Police Commissioners has hardly been a measurable success, but like all attempts to politicise the Police such as ACPO and its slightly lower profile successor, it needs to end in tears for the politicians.

  • davidraynes

    Ths article is absolutely wrong about Policing in England, I wrote about it here:

    https://www.conservativewoman.co.uk/david-raynes-police-minister-mike-penning-wrong-reduce-number-police-forces/

    43 Constabularies in England and Wales is far too many, especially when so many are tiny and lack the critical mass to do many things very well.

    Moreover 43 Constabularies with people revolving through the senior ranks has stretched the capacity of the Police service to produce truly capable leaders in all those constabularies.

    The Police and Crime Commissioner role has hardly been a success either. A Tory Party invention when in opposition, it was a misplaced initiative from the off, which again has produced some true mediocrity.

    In one case I know of an ex uniformed Inspector, without the quality to rise higher in his Constabulary, became a PCC in charge of his Chief Constable. Unbelievable. The low turnout for the PCC elections just serving to demonstrate the lack of public confidence in the PCC role.

    Policing in England and Wales should have been re-modelled on around 10 or 11 Constabularies, responsible to a National Board of properly selected Commissioners, selected for their skill set, not political noise, political allegiance or political votes.