Jackie Baillie, Liam McArthur, Willie Rennie and local police officers.

By Bill Heaney

The SNP government have come under a two-pronged attack over their failure to keep special constables on the beat.

And ignoring the fact that significant numbers of police are off work with mental health problems.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has warned that the police’s Special Constabulary could “vanish altogether” after he revealed that their numbers have nosedived since the SNP’s police centralisation.

And Dumbarton and Lomond MSP Jackie Baillie said: “Under the SNP the thin blue line is getting even thinner. First they reduced the number of police support staff, then they reduced the number of police, so it’s not surprising that the Scottish Government has reduced the number of special constables.

“The police have a hard enough job to do to keep us all safe without taking away much needed resources.”

The SNP themselves however have ducked the question and refused to comment while the Conservatives have not responded to The Democrat’s request for a comment.

Scottish Liberal Democrat freedom of information requests have revealed there were 1,394 in 2013/14, but this has fallen to just 505 in 2018/19.

Special constables operate on a part-time and voluntary basis, exercising similar powers to police officers and helping boost the police’s presence in the community.

The conditions for their receiving a recognition award changed in 2016/17, meaning that a special constable has to be in post for two years before they can qualify for an award of £1,100.

Mr McArthur said: “We are told that the history of the Special Constabulary is ‘long and impressive’, but at the current trajectory it will soon vanish altogether.

“The national force has lost almost 200 special constables a year on average, but trained just 50 last year.

“We’re asking more than ever of the police, but this hasn’t been matched in the resources they are given to deal with issues such as mental health. Now we know backup is being eroded too. Special constables are a valuable community asset and boost the police’s presence in communities, relieving some of the pressure.

“We know that officers don’t feel well supported. The police’s own staff survey is three years late. However, we recently disclosed brand new expert research showing almost half of all officers suffer from exhaustion, and 57% reported that a lack of resources caused them high degrees of stress.

“The SNP Government needs to repair the damage done by its botched centralisation. The national force must now get on with the staff survey, protect the future of the Special Constabulary and give officers the resources they need to do their jobs.”

Libdem leader Willie Rennie’s told First Minister Nicola Sturgeon there are “spiralling” rates of mental health absences among police officers and staff.

He also highlighted that the service-wide staff survey is running three years late and showed that Police Scotland has received just 7.5 extra staff to work alongside them on mental health.

Mr Rennie wrote to the Scottish Police Federation regarding the staff survey, a copy of which can be found here. SPF General Secretary Calum Steele’s response, containing the survey’s findings, can be found here.


  1. It certainly fills me with concern to read in this article that there are spiralling mental health issues within the police and that there are significant numbers off sick.

    In a police force where many police are routinely armed, and even more so in the MoD and Nuclear police forces who incidentally patrol civil industrial facilities, there has to be serious concerns about mentally ill officers with guns.

    And the same must also go for teachers and other council workers who have statistically very high levels of absence due to mental illness. They don’t have guns but they do teach our children and provide other services.

    So what is it that is causing this tidal wave of mental illness in our public services with huge sickness down time.

    Why is it, or at least why does it not appear that the private sector have similar levels of absence. Why do the the public sector absence levels appear to be orders of magnitude higher than the private sector.

    This is something that cannot supinely presented as being all the fault of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. That is just a cheap shot.

    Could it be that the private sector is a better employer than the state. Maybe zero hour contracts, minimum wages, minimal pension hardly worth talking about, and less than generous holidays and no sick pay entitlement has health benefits. Personally, I don’t think so, but something is causing the difference – and we need to find out what that is.

    The Tories of course have the answer, which is privatisation, but I think for the most part, at least in Scotland, we can discount their answer, albeit we can’t ignore their policies, because they do of course control the big strings.

    Maybe we should ask Nicola Sturgeon why she hasn’t abolished Universal Credit. But yes, why all the mental illness in the public sector.

  2. Maybe you would like to buy shares in The Democrat, Willie? I am delighted that so many of our articles stimulate a response from you but as I have said repeatedly, why not tell us your name? Your anonymity devalues all your (interesting and informative) contributions. Editor

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