Police Scotland – 30 March 2023


This weekend sees the tenth anniversary of the establishment of Police Scotland when the former regional constabularies were amalgamated into a single service. Most folk are probably unaware of that and just assume it’s been here forever. A few might recall the larger constabularies such as Strathclyde but was it Lothian or Lothian and Borders and what of the others and the name for the force in the Highlands and Island?

Some even thought there would be the equivalent of a millennium moment with computers crashing and the earth ending. But it wasn’t so which is down to the hard work of many. It’s also forgotten that the former 8 regional constabularies hadn’t been with us forever but only a few decades. Before then we had forces such as the City of Glasgow and Scottish Northeast Counties Constabulary. As an old officer I met who had been through the previous reform stated all that changed was the colour of his shirt. The job continued as before.

Of course, there’s been challenges and the financial pressures are worrying. But anyone in any doubt about the need to have reform need only look at the crisis facing local government and the heath service. The troubles facing those organisations are even greater troubles than those of the Polis.

The genesis of reform was in the financial crash of 2008. Before then some had suggested amalgamation but as Justice Secretary, I viewed the savings as being offset by disruption that it would cause. But the banking crisis in 2008 aid ushered in the age of austerity. Had action not been taken then several of the smaller services would virtually have ground to a halt and even the larger ones been hugely curtailed.

There were then suggestions that it should have been a regional structure of 3 or 4 forces. But where would you locate the HQ for a service north of the Tay or even the Forth. More importantly the savings offered were marginal as most of the duplication remained. What swung it for me was meeting the police in Finland. They had reduced from many services to a few and only a few years later reducing again to a single service. If reforming, then do so only once was their advice. 

Suggestions that a single service threatens to create a Police state are spurious. It’s politicians not police who create that entity. Policing in Scotland has always been by consent and that continues to be the case. But if reform was going to happen, then it had to also be an opportunity to make the service the best it could be. A virtue had to be made from the necessity, and steps were taken to allow for benefits to be shared by all areas. Access to specialist resource whether helicopter, dogs and horses, never mind major incident teams must be for all communities not just the large urban conurbations.

It’s interesting that even those opposed to it aren’t calling for a reversal. Police Scotland’s here to stay. Further changes there will be and the financial travails are having  a serious effect on their ability to operate as they would wish. But reform was required and despite challenges continues to provide an excellent service.