First Minister Humza Yousaf, Tory leader Douglas Ross, Labour leader Anas Sarwar and LibDem justice spokesperson Liam McArthur.
By Bill Heaney
On another day, as tension gripped and tempers began to fray, someone might have rushed out of the Scottish Parliament and called the police.
However, there aren’t that many police officers around these days and it’s unlikely that any of Scotland’s Finest would have been on call and available to rush into the chamber.
First Minister Humza Yousaf was being criticised by Conservative leader Douglas Ross, whose wife is a member of the Force, for “secrecy” over police funding cuts that have been described as a “slash and burn” approach.
At a lively First Minister’s Questions, the SNP leader refused to say which police stations had been earmarked for closure; which crimes the police won’t investigate any longer, and how many officer positions would be cut from the service.
Douglas Ross said the First Minister was a “criminal’s dream”, as “he doesn’t want them stopped, he doesn’t want them caught, and he doesn’t want them jailed”.
It began to look as if a breach of the peace might well be in the offing.
The Tory leader posited that earlier this week, David Kennedy of the Scottish Police Federation, had warned: “We might see more M9 cases appearing where people actually die … that’s the harsh reality if there are not enough police officers.”
This is the case where two people died after they had been left for days in their crashed car on the M9 after the police had failed to respond to a call from a member of the public reporting the accident.
At a recent Scottish Police Authority meeting, Police Scotland officers described the budget cuts they are being forced to make by the SNP government as “slash and burn”.
The Deputy Chief Constable David Page is alleged to have stated publicly: “It used to be every pound is a prisoner, now it’s every penny.”
Police numbers have already fallen by more than 700 since the creation of Police Scotland.
It emerged this week that SNP budget cuts mean the police will have add another 30 stations to those that have already closed in the wake of the national force being set up ten years ago.
One of those earmarked for closure will almost certainly be the L Division Dumbarton station at Crosslet, where its location on the edge of the A82 has been criticised and the building itself not fit for purpose.
A new police office is being considered for the Artizan Centre which is being regenerated as part of the £20 million UK government levelling up project.
Prisoners arrested in West Dunbartonshire are having to be taken across the Erskine Bridge to Greenock to be processed and this can take hours of hard-pressed officers’ valuable time.
Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross said: “Humza Yousaf is forcing Police Scotland to close dozens of stations – but he won’t say where.
“Humza Yousaf is leaving the police with no option but to stop investigating every crime – but he won’t say which crimes [they won’t investigate].
“Humza Yousaf is making the police cut officer numbers to the lowest level on record – but he won’t say how low.
“For a First Minister that likes the sound of his own voice, he’s strangely silent when it really matters.
“Humza Yousaf is a criminal’s dream. He doesn’t want them stopped, he doesn’t want them caught, and he doesn’t want them jailed.
“The SNP leader is being sly, sleekit and secretive about the consequences of his police cuts.”
This had Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone, pictured right, reaching for the handcuffs and maybe even the parliamentary baton and Humza Yousaf was made to apologise which he did in a round about way which indicated he wasn’t the least bit sorry for what he had said.
His main plea in mitigation for all the budget cuts which have blighted the SNP government in Government was that the UK government at Westminster was to blame.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who was more measured in his approach, said “Police presence in communities across Scotland is about to be decimated, with heart-breaking consequences.
“Police Scotland is being forced to consider closing 30 stations. They say they will need to lose another 600 police officers and 200 staff next year, and 2,000 over the next four years – and that’s on top of the 600 officers already lost.
“Front-line police officers are being overworked, missing out on rest days, and struggling with their mental health. In parts of Scotland the police are even piloting not investigating some crimes.
“The Scottish Police Federation has warned that ‘people may die’ if further cuts go ahead.
“The first duty of any government is to keep its citizens safe.
“When police are warning that communities are going to be put at risk, Humza Yousaf must listen to them.
“This [crisis] is the direct result of 16 years of incompetence and mismanagement from the SNP.
“Policing, like our NHS and like every Scottish institution, is weaker after 16 years of SNP failure.
“The people of Scotland can see that it is time for change – the First Minister must see it too.”
The LibDems had their say on this matter following the publication of a 1919 Magazine story in which David Kennedy, General Secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, warned that “any notion that policing will remain the same and will remain as safe as it has been is just not going to happen”.
He added: “Reducing the number of officers dealing with emergency calls could result in another incident like the M9 tragedy.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said: “These comments lay bare the heavy toll on our police service of repeated budget crises. Government neglect has resulted in a loss of skill and experience, while leaving the service stretched dangerously thin.
“When the SNP’s botched centralisation of policing didn’t deliver the savings promised, backroom staff were laid off with officers brought in to cover these roles. That was never a sustainable model.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see Police Scotland properly funded and resourced; that starts by placing the welfare of both officers and communities at the centre of decisions about the future.”
Speaking to 1919 Magazine, David Kennedy said: “The reality is we have a lack of officers. All we can do is keep highlighting it and saying to the public that any notion that policing will remain the same and will remain as safe as it has been is just not going to happen.
“People need to realise that, and government needs to realise that. We might see more M9 cases appearing where people actually die because that’s the harsh reality if there are not enough police officers to get to calls that they are meant to attend. People may die.”