ARMED police are a common sight in many places abroad, but we remain deeply uncomfortable with the idea in Scotland.
Everyone understands that officers need access to weapons at certain times when their safety is at stake and no-one reasonable would object to that. What we don’t want to see is a constable carrying a gun turning up to deal with a garden shed break-in, or a late-night disturbance in the city centre, or on routine patrol at the airport when we fly off on our holidays.
Police with guns make us feel nervous and on edge. We are not used to it and we don’t see the need to get used to it. Times of national emergency are different, but in normal times it feels disproportionate.
The changes announced by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson are not a game changer. They don’t signal a big influx of guns on our streets. In fact, with an extra 90 armed officers across Scotland, very few of us would ever have noticed the difference if it had not been formally announced.
Thank goodness though that it was put out in the open in this way. The furore which erupted the last time Police Scotland put extra armed officers on the streets was largely down to the way the former chief constable Sir Stephen House mishandled the situation. There was no announcement and no explanation. People were left to be unnerved by the sight of officers with guns turning up to a scuffle at a Macdonalds restaurant and other minor incidents. It all added to the perception that there was an arrogance about the force and an unwillingness to take on board the concerns of the public.
That is very different this time. We understand that after the events we have seen in Orlando and Paris our country needs to be prepared for the possiblity of a major terrorist attack. This relatively modest increase in our armed capability seems reasonable and proportionate.