Margo MacDonald: Our new police force has got a lot to learn

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Told you so. Whenever, right from the start, the possibility of Scotland having a single police force entered into polite conversation, I voiced fears that its introduction would see an end to community-based policies being managed by community and voluntary stakeholders.

But there were some citizens good and true who thought that Kenny MacAskill the Justice Minister isn’t all bad, and that his big idea should be given a chance.

We’re beginning to see the difference between what could turn out to be Kenny’s big mistake and the tried and tested, locally devised and managed, policing policies and attitudes.

Unfortunately for the Capital, the first results of a policy switch in two, unconnected areas, house burglaries and the sex trade, suggest that the new Chief Constable of Police Scotland hasn’t quite got the hang of policing Scotland as smoothly as we have come to expect and much less so than locally produced models. If he’s wise, Chief Constable House will contrast the percentage of house burglaries solved before the local boys (and girls) in blue in Edinburgh changed their modus operandi, with the dramatic rise in unsolved thefts after the onset of Police Scotland’s centralised command and control. The new up-front and uncompromising attitude has not produced better results in combating housebreaking . . . by a long way.

As for the undeclared war on prostitution, the first salvoes of which were fired off at about the same time as changes in solving house break-ins emerged, the new regime stuttered into a social minefield that, I suspect, it seriously underestimates.

Maybe it’s just a string of coincidences, but the closing days of the trial of the woman found guilty of living off immoral earnings at the High Count, the raid on the saunas and the possible Bill from an MSP to criminalise the buyer, and not the seller of sex have all come on to the radar.

Like other unpleasant aspects of private and public behaviour, I believe prostitution to be a part of the human condition. If I’m right, then a heavy-handed denial of the different ways to treat prostitutes and their clients will do nothing to help the local residents plagued with women, or young men, approaching them near their homes. But I fear this up-front, frankly frightening behaviour deployed in Edinburgh to signal the end of pragmatic policing will simply make it more difficult for police officers to access and collect the quality of intelligence that kept trafficking at bay. Locally designed polices to manage and gradually diminish the oldest profession allowed police to feel secure that additional criminality to the sex industry was not happening under their noses.

I’m aware that I run the risk of causing people to believe that I approve of prostitution. I don’t believe it to be admirable, but I concede that sometimes selling herself is all a woman can do to survive. Having said that, I believe my responsibility is to try to help her escape the lifestyle, probably one of extreme poverty, instead of losing her trust and making her even more suspicious of police. There is proof of the superior results obtained by programmes of support and rehabilitation as and when it was requested by the sex workers who frequented the drop-in centre in Glasgow. The outturns of the zero tolerance programme pursued in Glasgow while Edinburgh and Aberdeen had more pragmatic policies can be compared.

Another difference between the cities at each end of the M8 was observed in the length of time and success experienced in responding to the murders of prostitutes. Measured over approximately a decade, there were seven murders in Glasgow, and two in the Lothian and Borders area. No-one has ever been charged with any of the Glasgow murders, let alone convicted. In Edinburgh, police had two suspects identified inside 36 hours who were later convicted.

Probably as much because of this intelligence gained by police as any of the other initiatives tried and tested in the managed area, in Aberdeen, or the tolerance zone, in Edinburgh, the numbers of street prostitutes fell while numbers of women working indoors stabilised.

In order to save money, Kenny MacAskill may have invited a coo-coo into the nest. He can still rescue things if he makes sure the new Chief Constable really does save money centrally and save lives and keep order locally.

Healey reveals silly billy oil tactics

Now Denis Healey, pictured, has spilled the beans on how the Scots were diddled out of the oil money that would have rebuilt our economy by spooks, or agents of MI5 and MI6, during the period of the 1979 referendum on Scottish self-government, and the Institute of Fiscal studies, amongst others, has said the UK will experience austerity for at least 20 more years, remember the spooks are working in this campaign, too.