Alistair Carmichael challenges police policies

Twice as many people in the Capital were stopped and searched by police than in two of the most deprived areas of London – and Scotland’s most senior Liberal Democrat says it’s because the SNP government was “daydreaming” about independence.

Friday, 27th February 2015, 9:18 am
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael. Picture: Greg Macvean

Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish Secretary and deputy party leader, went on the attack during a visit to the Capital to boost Mike Crockart MP’s campaign to keep his Edinburgh West seat.

Mr Carmichael believes there is “no reason” the Lib Dems can’t hold on to all 11 of their Scottish seats, even if every national poll is pointing towards a meltdown.

Speaking to the Evening News, he accused the Scottish Government of “taking their eye off the ball” in the run-up to the referendum, allowing problems to fester on A&E waiting times, stop-and-search policies and teacher numbers.

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He said: “You now see a situation emerging where A&E targets are missed in Scotland by a wider margin even than in England, where class sizes are going up, teacher numbers going down, and on stop-and-search the number of people subject to stop-and-search in Edinburgh is double what it is in Tower Hamlets and Hackney, with roughly the same size population.

“That’s because we’ve had a justice minister who was daydreaming about independence rather than doing his day job of controlling the police.”

Metropolitan Police and Police Scotland figures show that while 11,171 people were stopped and searched in 2014 in the two London boroughs, which have a combined 
population of just under half a million, 22,701 people were stopped by police in Edinburgh over the same period.

Stop-and-search tactics have put Scotland’s police force at the centre of a political storm, with MSPs accusing senior officers of breaching a promise to end the practice of consensual searches of children, and failing to present data transparently.

Mr Carmichael said that delivery of the Smith Commission agreement to increase the Scottish Parliament’s powers “finishes” the debate over independence, and that the political debate had to return to issues around governing Scotland.

If there is any such thing as a safe Liberal Democrat seat any more then Mr Carmichael holds it – Orkney and Shetland has voted Liberal in every election since 1950 and the Scottish Secretary enjoys a 9928-vote majority.

He has therefore taken on the role of travelling salesman, beefing up the door-to-door campaign efforts of Liberal Democrat MPs across Scotland.

Mr Carmichael is already a frequent flyer, making the journey from London to his Orkney home on a regular basis, 
stopping frequently in Edinburgh – and preferring to use the Airlink bus to the tram.

He’s been topping up the miles in the past few weeks, claiming to have visited every Lib Dem-held constituency in Scotland.

“You will read polls, and the danger is that at this stage in the political process, you can read too much into them,” he said.

“Polls, as we saw during the referendum, can change. They are snapshots of a particular day – they are never a prediction of how people are going to act.

“We’ve still got two months-plus. I have never known public opinion to be as fluid as it is at the moment. There is still an enormous amount of 
emotional intensity that you saw in the last few weeks of the referendum campaigns still to drain from the system.”

A decade ago Edinburgh was a Liberal Democrat stronghold, with the party leading the council administration, sending two MSPs to Holyrood and running Labour close at Westminster elections in the south of the city.

Now wiped out at Holyrood in the Lothians and with just three councillors escaping the tram backlash, the party faces a battle to hold on to Mr Crockart’s position.

Mr Carmichael said: “I find nobody in Edinburgh West who thinks that Mike Crockart has been anything other than an absolutely first-rate local MP. I think he’s won a lot of respect for the local campaigning work he’s done in the community, and on issues like nuisance callers.

“It’s one of those issues that politicians don’t often take on, because it’s not considered big enough, but there’s been a fantastic reaction.

“It’s a pretty straight fight between Mike Crockart and the SNP in Edinburgh West. That was a seat that voted massively No in the referendum. It would incredible to think that after May 7 that it could end up being represented by a Nationalist.”

And he is even bullish about Lib Dem prospects in the race that is likely to attract the most attention on election night – Gordon, in the north-east of Scotland, where Alex Salmond is making his bid to return to parliament in a seat with a retiring Lib Dem MP.

“I think we can win that one,” Mr Carmichael said. “Watch this space. I think we could pull off a bit of a shock.”

The Scottish Secretary added: “There’s no reason why we should lose any seat. I’m not going to predict because, as I’ve said, with public opinion as fluid as it is, we’ve got to fight.”

Responding to his comments, Edinburgh West SNP candidate Michelle Thomson said: “No matter what Alistair Carmichael says, he can’t escape from the fact that the SNP are delivering for the people of Edinburgh in government – while the austerity agenda he has so enthusiastically championed in government with the Tories is hurting some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.”