By Bill Heaney
Representatives of Police Scotland’s rank-and-file say they have been “kicked into the gutter” by their chief constable’s claim the force is “institutionally racist”.
The astonishing outburst this week from Sir Iain Livingstone, reported widely in national newspapers and on TV, has prompted a furious reaction from the lower ranks. It has also led to people questioning what exactly he did himself to tackle the issue before making his highly-controversial speech.
Commentators, formerly reticent to criticise the police chief, appear to have rallied together now to give him a kicking.
Addressing the Scottish Police Association on Thursday, Sir Iain, pictured right, told members: “It is the right thing for me to do, as chief constable, to clearly state that institutional racism, sexism, misogyny and discrimination exist. Police Scotland is institutionally racist and discriminatory.”
The observation caught many off guard, another way of saying they missed the story, and it was only yesterday that critics dismissed his claims. Among them was Calum Steele, until recently the head of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF).
In a furious diatribe, he told the Scottish Sun: “This is not an act of courage but of extreme sabotage. And an admission of failure of leadership.
“This is a kick in the solar plexus to police officers up and down the length of Scotland. The damage from these comments will be long-lasting. They will be thrown in the face of officers for their entire careers.
“It is telling that there is absolutely no acceptance by the chief constable – who has held one of the top two jobs for over a decade — that he or his leadership team are responsible for these failings.
“I raised the toxic culture of some senior officers to the force executive. Every warning could have avoided this shameful day had they been acted on. He has to explain why he did not.”
Mr Steele added: “Not once did those in command roles take decisive action. In fact, many of those involved in the worst forms of behaviour and cultures were tolerated and in some cases, promoted.
“What is he is doing about those who promoted institutional failure? Policing in Scotland was already on its knees. Now it has been kicked into the gutter.”
Those concerns were also echoed on Thursday by Mr Steele’s successor. Speaking to the BBC’s Newsnight programme about the impact the comments would have on police morale, David Threadgold said: “The use of the phrase ‘institutionally racist’ is one that has deeply offended and upset them and they do not recognise themselves in that way.
“That nuance in the delivery of the message was missed absolutely and there is real potential that has damaged the relationship between the chief constable and those who represent the communities in Scotland.
“The vast majority of the police officers who heard the words from the chief constable, and by extension members of the public, their perception is that the chief constable was identifying and labelling them as institutionally racist. That is simply not the case.
“And the distinction, the nuance the chief constable is trying to make between organisational issues and individual collective responsibility, was missed in the delivery.”
Mr Threadgold added: “That is a really important distinction to make because I believe that the role of police officers now in the communities will have been made more difficult by the comments of the chief constable.
“The reason for that is that they will hear him speaking and they will also not make that distinction.
“So they are patrolling in the streets that are in Scotland this weekend, members of the public will see them, they will make the link to the fact that the chief constable has said that we, as an organisation, are institutionally racist and that will make our job more difficult.”
The force is also under pressure due to an ongoing public inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh, who was restrained by police officers in Kirkcaldy.