Gina Davidson: Taser cops won’t win back respect

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WHEN police officers are looking increasingly young you know you’re getting on a bit. Or so I’m told.

It’s probably the same when you realise you’re rooting for the cops rather than decrying them as the uniformed puppets of a totalitarian right-wing government; a change caused by age or perhaps the lack of industrial unrest in our society in general.

Anti-war protests aside, there are few reasons nowadays for large groups of people to come into conflict with the police. And while there will still be those – weekend cannabis smokers by and large – who still like to think of themselves as rebels living on the edge, who think referring to police officers in porcine terms is the height of wit, there has been, over the last few decades, a general rubbing along together between the forces of law and order and the large swathes of the general public not interested in a life of crime.

The creation of Police Scotland has changed all that. With its centrist policies, its top-down demands for stop-and-search quotas to be met, its apparent disregard for the idea of policing by consent by regularly arming officers, its lack of transparency about the decisions of top cop Sir Stephen House (inset below), the death of Fife man Sheku Bayoh while being arrested, the deaths of John Yuill and Lamara Bell who waited in vain for police rescue in their crashed car on the M9, its closure of local stations 
. . . with all of that the relationship has dramatically altered.

The public is increasingly concerned about the force’s ability to do its job and has become increasingly distrustful about the aims of Police Scotland.

But that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of concern when individual officers are being attacked on the streets.

On Friday, a female Pc was knocked unconscious after being attacked by a man she was trying to arrest. Now that maybe just comes with the territory but a few weeks before that two officers were attacked outside Portobello by a gang of teenagers – with an older man just passing by handing out a few kicks for good measure – after they responded to a girl apparently in distress.

According to the Scottish Police Federation, there are 5500 attacks on officers every year – that’s one in three officers.

The reasons people go into the police are probably many and varied but I would hazard a guess that there’s a 30-70 split between those for whom it’s a vocation and for those for whom it’s a job for life with a good pension at the other end. They’ll take the ups and downs and the risks for the security.

And they too have been affected by Police Scotland decisions. Morale is rock bottom. They are trying to do their jobs in increasingly difficult situations and don’t deserve to be used as punch bags – though that is perhaps inevitable when there are, allegedly, as few as four officers serving areas as large as West Lothian through the night. But there will be little public approval for the idea put forward by the Federation that all officers should carry tasers to deal with attacks.

As former Lib Dem MP and ex-policeman Mike Crockart said: “We need to have a bit of a debate about what the general public are willing to accept – and that’s where Police Scotland has gone completely wrong over the past couple of years.”

The force as a whole needs to win back public support and trust. Carrying tasers won’t do it. Having more police officers responding to calls will.

Corbyn needs to call for a spin doctor

Despite the expectations of the pundits, Jeremy Corbyn was elected overwhelmingly by Labour Party members as their new leader.

While it is refreshing to hear a Labour leader take a stance against the government’s austerity plans and stand up for trade union rights, whether that will resonate with all the voters Labour failed to convince at the last general election is questionable.

In Scotland, his rhetoric might win back some who turned to the SNP, but probably not in the numbers Scottish Labour requires for a comeback. And down south, if people thought Ed Miliband was too far to the left, then Corbyn has little chance.

He’ll never be a Blair, but he will have to learn some of the New Labour tricks to gain mass appeal and the first will be to get a hostile media on board. It seems spin doctors have their uses after all.

Our magnificent seven continue to be inspiration

ON a bookshelf I have a fading hardback in a rather inappropriate pink shade called Seven Against Edinburgh. It was written by Muriel Masefield in 1951.

When I bought it at a jumble sale as a teenager it was the first time I’d ever heard of Sophia Jex-Blake (pictured), Edith Pechey, Isabel Thorne, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson and Emily Bovell – the seven women who were determined to become doctors and study medicine at Edinburgh University.

But while Masefield’s book is a novel, it expertly weaves the real story of the Septem contra Edinam, as they were known, with her fictional characters – and pulls no punches about the treatment they received at the hands of university men.

Finally, 146 years after these women matriculated – the first women to be on a degree course at any British university – they have been commemorated in a Historic Scotland plaque at the university’s anatomy museum.

Trailblazers then, their names will no doubt continue to inspire all who want to dedicate their lives to medicine and young women who want a university education.