Jim Sillars: Armed police is undemocratic

Policing by consent is being set aside with the policy on arming officers on the street. Picture: cascadenews.co.uk
Policing by consent is being set aside with the policy on arming officers on the street. Picture: cascadenews.co.uk
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Have your say

Whether Yes or No in the referendum, we are all agreed are we not that we live in a democracy?

If so, how is it that one man can turn upside down a policy that we have all been proud of, that we and those who have gone before us boasted of? How come this policy is imposed upon us, without our being asked, and without our politicians at the highest levels not saying a word? Why in a democracy have we allowed one man, who controls the coercive power of the state, to define his own job, and use it in a way that very few, if any, want?

That one man is Sir Stephen House, Chief Constable of Police Scotland, whose policy is now, all over our country, to routinely deploy a number of armed police on day-to-day duties. The SNP Government can take credit for many good things, but Kenny MacAskill’s decision to create a single police force is, as is being proved, the crassest error any politician has ever made.

House claims the issue is one for him and him alone, on the basis that he can decide what is an “operational” matter. In Edinburgh we have already experienced the results of him deciding what has been the settled policy in our Capital, is not acceptable to him. There was no consultation, no obvious public concern expressed about them, before raids on saunas.

But armed policy in routine patrol is a dimension well above the matter of sex. What if he decides that arming all officers is going to be the new policy on “operational” grounds? Can he arrogate to himself a change in fundamental policing policy, without a murmur from us and our elected representatives? Is there no democratic check on a chief constable? All he needs to do is define whatever he wants as an “operational decision” and he gets his way. Policing by consent, the fundamental principle that has guided police forces throughout time, is being set aside. Police being sensitive to local opinions, recognising that things are different in a small Borders town to that in Glasgow, are swept aside.

Above, I deliberately asked about our elected representatives at the highest level, MSPs, and I have specifically in mind SNP ones. With the exception of Christine Grahame, whose record of independent thinking is admirable, are there none of them willing to haul MacAskill over the coals for enabling House to implement this outrageous new policy? Are they demanding from the Justice Secretary that he puts in law a proper definition of the “operational independence” of the police, which balances operational need with a chief constable’s responsibility to be accountable?

As Professor Arthur Miller, chairman of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, has pointed out, there is no legal definition of the rights Stephen House claims to have. We need one, pronto, so that this man is reined in. There are, however, elected representatives lower down the chain who have the guts to try and do something – councillors led by Jimmy Gray, leader of Highland Council and many other fellow councillors all over Scotland. But they have no legislative power. The Scottish Parliament does. As I have pointed out, a police force has considerable coercive powers, and that fact makes it imperative it be subject to formidable democratic constraints. It is time to impose them.

Network Rail has let Capital down

THERE is another question of democracy that is facing our Capital – how is it that a public sector organisation called Network Rail, whose function

it is to run a public service,

now has a policy towards Waverley Station that is dead against the public interest?

Only a few yards from the platforms, a perfectly placed taxi rank that has served the public for years (pictured below) lies empty while people struggle with luggage. This in our Capital city, the home of great international festivals.

Waverley is now a shambles inflicted upon people, taxi drivers and our reputation, by a public body, whose intention is plain – to use the space now sterilised for more commercial development.

But that will, surely, depend upon planning permission, a careful examination of previous planning applications, title deeds of the station, and anything in them or other public documents to see if any restrictions lie therein that were created to look after the public interest. Perhaps our MPs, as well as councillors, can start probing Network Rail – after all it is ours.

A chance for peace

Heard a young Israeli, on Al Jazeera, say only an end to the Israeli occupation, either with a two state solution, or all living in one state, would bring peace. I wish there were

more of him.