Martin Hannan: Policing takes a backward step

Possibility of Edinburgh abandoning its sauna licensing arrangements will help no-one. Picture: Justin Spittle

Possibility of Edinburgh abandoning its sauna licensing arrangements will help no-one. Picture: Justin Spittle

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Once upon a time, long ago in what seems to have been a different life, I had to wait up late one night to explain to the good people of Australia that Edinburgh had not actually decided to legalise brothels.

Instead, in order to try and curb the spread of HIV and to take sex workers off dangerous streets, the then district council decided on a humane policy of licensing saunas, imposing pretty strict conditions about cleanliness and safety.

The Australian radio interviewer suggested to me that the council was turning a blind eye to what was really going on in the saunas. I said no, the council was licensing these establishments as saunas and massage parlours, and anyone caught being involved in prostitution would face the full letter of the law.

Of course, we all knew full well that the council was blind-eyeing. But given the problems that Edinburgh faced at the time with HIV, licensing was by far the better option.

As far as I understand, that policy of two decades ago never actually changed, though there is no question that Lothian & Borders Police took a hands-off approach, so to speak, to the “massage” activities within the saunas. Their softly-softly policy worked. Infection rates fell, and funnily enough, this city did not descend into some kind of Sodom and Gomorrah simply because sex was taking place behind closed doors.

Along comes Police Scotland, our new national force, and suddenly it is all change. The new broom has decided to sweep out the illicit goings-on within the saunas, hence the raids in June which saw ten people arrested for various offences connected with prostitution.

Now the city council is thinking of abandoning the licensing of such establishments altogether, and to me that is a very retrograde step. Anyone who thinks that prostitution will cease in Edinburgh because the “massage” trade has been kayoed is the sort of person who thinks that Prohibition worked in the US.

What will happen is that sex workers will be driven into places that will be neither safe nor clean, maybe even back onto the streets of Leith, and the result will be increased rates of STD and other infections, while the sex workers themselves will not be safe.

As an SNP member, I have had to accept that the Scottish Government correctly brought in a national police force as a way of modernising the policing of this nation.

I did warn, however, that there would be a serious problem with local accountability, and the national force appears to have proven my point already, with the sauna raids and the proposal to close police stations throughout the Lothians and elsewhere in Scotland.

Had chief constables been forced to appear in front of local police boards to explain policy changes and station closures, I suspect they would not have happened.

It is entirely the right of the police, one which I respect, to enforce the law, whether or not you agree with that law. It is not the right of any police officer, however senior, to change policies and effectively make new laws and policing arrangements.

Police Scotland is seeking the public’s views on the future policing of the city. Preserving local democratic accountability should be the starting point.

Moore of same in the reshuffle

Break out your champagne, festoon this capital city in bunting, and order the bells to be rung from every church tower in Edinburgh – we have a new Scottish Secretary, so let us rejoice!

The replacement yesterday of the completely underwhelming Michael Moore as Scottish Secretary by the even less whelming Alistair Carmichael is proof yet again that when it comes to loyalty, party leaders will always lay down their friends for their lives.

Nick Clegg’s decision to sack a nonentity and bring in a nobody is a panic measure which he hopes will save the Liberal Democrats some seats in Scotland at the next general election.

Clegg need not have bothered. His party is heading one way – annihilation.

Give the wisdom of Solomons time

Fans of Edinburgh Rugby will not need reminding that their team has had a dismal start to the season, but they must give new coach Alan Solomons the chance to turn things round, as he did with Ulster a few years back. He can deliver the goods, but only if he is given time.

Setting the tone

We all condemn, of course, the graffiti that has been daubed on Bankhead tram stop. Can’t help thinking, however, that it looked nicer than the grey concrete

underneath.

Just koala bear for zoo babies

It is beginning to look as if there won’t be the patter of tiny paws in the panda enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo.

It will be very disappointing for the zoo and panda watchers around the globe if there is no arrival, but I am reliably informed that the UK’s first koala joey, born last month, will be the cutest thing since Bambi when it pops its

head out of its mother’s pouch in the next few weeks.

Only trouble is, we won’t know until then whether it’s a Joe or Joanna – even for experienced zookeepers, animal pregnancy and birth is clearly not an exact science.