Police Scotland and Institutional Racism – 1 June 2023


Are there racist, sexist and misogynistic police officers? Sad to say, there’ll be a few, but it’s the same in other walks of life – politics, the press, civil service or health service. All seek to exclude them when recruiting but even the best processes can be circumvented or fail to pick up unacceptable views. Nefarious behaviour and inappropriate attitudes aren’t to be tolerated, with disciplinary proceedings following. Lapses in enforcement are managerial failures which should be addressed.

Harder to tackle is societal culture which officers will reflect. But, as in wider society, education, guidance and warnings are given with breaches or failings punished. Again, that’s right and the police service has evolved over my lifetime with changing attitudes towards drink culture, race, gender and sexuality. Both Scotland and its policing have come a long way, although there’s still a distance to travel.

As Justice Secretary from 2007-14, I can safely say that at no stage was it ever suggested to me that Police Scotland or the predecessor regional constabularies were institutionally racist, sexist or misogynistic. No Chief Constable, police authority, staff union or federation raised it with me. Indeed, I sense there would have been consternation had I suggested it, but it never crossed my mind to do so as I had no such view or fears.

I’ve been succeeded in that post by several others including the current First Minister. As far as I can see, the situation has remained the same under their tenure. If not, then I’m sure they would have raised it and acted. I have, for the avoidance of any doubt, written to Humza Yousaf seeking clarity on that.

If he was aware, what did he do and when was he advised of it? I suspect he never was. It seems that the institutional affliction has only now been discovered by the Chief Constable, Iain Livingstone, and a few others, with the rest apparently either too prejudiced themselves to notice or simply not enlightened enough to see it. Livingstone’s suggestion that it doesn’t reflect on individual officers is naïve, where else is it supposed to come from? A broom cupboard in Tulliallan? It must come from somewhere and officers will have to live with the statement.

Livingstone was in the post for six years, why wait until his final swansong? For it seems the first utterance was his bombshell statement at the Scottish Police Authority, his valedictory appearance at the body charged to hold him to account. I’d have expected him to have produced better evidence, given he’s a former chief of detectives. But there was little other than his inflammatory statement which, whatever he says, impacts upon, if not traduces, those who serve and have served.

Compounding that, he hasn’t laid out an action plan to address it in what’s a public service in which public trust’s vital. There’s not much the institution or SPA can do now but pick up the pieces, as he swans off into retirement with a very healthy pension that a humble constable can only look at and envy.

The SPA must now recruit his successor and he’s made it harder for a natural succession from within. Some legacy to leave former colleagues and the service.