Talking good! Kettling bad!

I can’t say I find anything particularly disturbing about Police Liaison Officers (PLO) contacting event organisers. Police Scotland’s role involves facilitating lawful public demonstrations and protecting those participating. If, as seems to be the case, PLOs are merely seeking information about upcoming events, what possible harm is there? The more event organisers and Police Scotland talk to one another, the better.

As we know from the All Under One Banner marches, close cooperation between Police Scotland and the organisers has helped to ensure that these events go off without any trouble.

It’s always healthy to be slightly suspicious of the authorities. But it’s far from healthy to let this descend into paranoia. If folk want to make a fuss about police methods, they should object loud and long to the practice of ‘kettling‘; which is nothing more than unlawful detention. Police Scotland needs to be made aware of the extent to which this practice anger and alienates members of the public who would otherwise be appreciative and supportive of their service.

I have only ever experienced ‘kettling’ once. And then only briefly. But I really didn’t like the way it made me feel – despite the fact that I understood why it was being done. Even the memory of it continues to disturb me. I’m not sure Police Scotland is taking due account of the impact this practice has on the law-abiding people who are subjected to a form of imprisonment without cause or explanation.

Since I’m on the subject, I’ll also point out that ‘kettling’ is a very lazy and ineffective and inefficient form of policing. Lazy, because it is policing people instead of crime. Ineffective, because the people who are likely to be disruptive are familiar with police procedures and absent themselves as soon as they see preparations being made for ‘kettling’. Inefficient because it requires large numbers of officers to do nothing other than aggravate peaceful demonstrators while potential trouble-makers are long gone.

Police Scotland should keep talking to event organisers. But they need a rethink on ‘kettling’.

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Every little thing they do

trump_balloonCould this be the deceptively thin but darkly portentous end of a metaphorical wedge? We know that the British political elite are motivated to seek, contrive and exploit every opportunity to undermine the Scottish Government. Devolution itself, initially intended as a device to kill the cause of independence “stone dead”, latterly has been reshaped as a political and economic weapon wielded against the SNP administration.

Powers over such things as taxation and welfare have been transferred to the Scottish Parliament, not for the purpose of further empowering the Parliament or improving Scotland’s governance or enhancing our democracy, but as a complex of political and fiscal traps designed to make life as difficult as possible for the Scottish Government and force the SNP administration into implementing unpopular policies. The British parties would then reap the benefit of the SNP’s declining electoral fortunes without the need to improve their own appeal to voters.

To work effectively, a tax/benefit regime must function as a coherent, integrated system. Having partial control over disparate bits of that system is just about the worst imaginable arrangement. Having control divided between two administrations operating in increasingly divergent political cultures and under very different sets of priorities, is a form of fiscal madness. Unless, of course, the intention is that the whole thing should fail, with blame for said failure being heaped onto the shoulders of the Scottish Government.

It is surely a source of huge frustration to the British political elite that the SNP administration has so adroitly managed to avoid the worst of these political and fiscal traps. Thanks to the efforts of people such as John Swinney, Derek Mackay and the remarkable Jeane Freeman, the newly devolved powers over tax and welfare have been deployed in such a way that the Scottish Government’s reputation has been enhanced rather than destroyed, and the SNP’s popularity with the electorate remains undiminished.

But the imperative to force failure on Scotland remains. So it is that, to give but one example, Police Scotland was long denied VAT exemption so that the British media could trumpet endlessly and gleefully about the ‘crisis’ facing the service and its always imminent bankruptcy.

So why wouldn’t the British establishment’s first thought in the situation under discussion not be to seize the opportunity to create a problem for the Scottish Government? At the very least, they get a chance to accuse the SNP administration of pursuing another ‘grievance’ against the UK Government. As if simply labelling it a ‘grievance’ invalidated the complaint.

I’m not suggesting that Theresa May invited Trump to visit just so Police Scotland would be hit with a massive bill. Although, on the basis of all evidence, it would be foolish to discount the possibility of any manifestation of political insanity. But it is more probable that, like so much of what the current UK Government does, this situation was totally unplanned and completely unforeseen. Nonetheless, it seems the first thought on encountering the situation was to use it as a means of damaging Police Scotland and, thereby, the Scottish Government.

It’s a matter of attitude. And the British establishment’s attitude towards Scotland is one of increasing hostility. An ethos has developed within the apparatus of the British state that regards an aggressively uncooperative stance towards Scotland as the default. This is not accidental. This is an ethos which has been purposefully fostered by a British political elite eager to roll back the experiment of devolution which has failed both as a means of halting Scotland’s march to independence and as a weapon against political forces which presume to challenge the established order.

The real story here is, not a £5 million bill being foisted on Police Scotland despite all considerations of precedent and basic fairness, but the fact that this sort of behaviour is now standard operating procedure for a British government determined to bring Scotland to heel. It will only get worse so long as Scotland remains in a political union which gives British politicians the means and the licence to treat us with utter contempt.

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Stirring it up

I see the normally quite sensible Iain Macwhirter is getting his boxers in a brouhaha about Police Scotland. We have to assume he isn’t aiming for measured tones when he declares that Scotland’s police service “seems to have abandoned any concept of natural justice”. Or when he accuses Police Scotland of “institutional dysfunctionality”. And when he likens Scottish law enforcement to the Cosa Nostra the thought occurs that he might usefully have switched to decaff a while back.

Nobody really expects Gordon Brewer to be sensible. Over on the broadcast arm of the British state’s propaganda machine, he was intent on outdoing Macwhirter in terms of undergarment turmoil; and frantically trying to provoke Kenny MacAskill to join him in a bout of histrionic outrage. But, much to Gordon’s very evident frustration, the former Justice Secretary declined to play along. His knickers were not for knotting.

Mr MacAskill is to be congratulated for so ably demonstrating how to handle an interviewer aggressively determined to define the narrative and bully the answers they want out of their subject. It was a superb performance. Iain Macwhirter would be well advised to take a peek at the video. This is how to stay calm and reasonable. This is how to provide context. This is how to put things in perspective. This is how to maintain a sense of proportion.

MacAskill managed to be both forthright in his criticism where this was justified and utterly determined not to let Brewer inflate and exaggerate the issue. With steely determination, he resisted every effort to use the undoubted problems in Police Scotland’s upper echelons to paint the entire service as an organisation in crisis.

Iain Macwhirter is just as guilty of this. He too conflates the upper management and the whole organisation in an effort to justify his moral panic. “This is no way to run an amusement arcade let alone a nation’s police force,” he proclaims. In doing so he fails to make the essential distinction between the bosses and the beat cops. He fails to recognise that it’s middle and junior management that actually run things while the brass deal with the bean-counters and the bureaucrats and the back nine.

Let your undies be untroubled. Police Scotland is working just fine.

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