In a break of convention, MSPs were not given an hour of preparation time before hearing SNP Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill deliver a ministerial statement on the routine deployment of armed police in Scotland.
Mr MacAskill gave no explanation for this. Perhaps he needed more time to transpose the speech into rhyming couplets so suit his oratorical style. Maybe there was a printer error. Or it could be that, as reported in The Courier, drafting was still taking place.
Whatever the reason, it is not an administration at ease with its position on the armed police. Taking a closer look at the statement further, other questions emerge.
Mr MacAskill said:
“The current standing firearms authority was given by the Chief Constable after an assessment of a range of factors including evidence and intelligence. This authority is not new. Three of the former constabularies – Strathclyde, Tayside and indeed Northern – had endorsed this position prior to the inception of the service.”
The “indeed” makes this art. It is used to highlight the particular concerns of the Highlands which has been steadfastly opposed to the policy – highlighted by the overwhelming vote of Highland Councillors calling for a review of the policy.
But what did Northern Constabulary actually agree to before it was enveloped by the SNP’s centralised force? Did Highland police officers have this standing authority prior to Police Scotland?
In February 2013, one month before Northern Constabulary was disbanded, a report of the Northern Police Board stated:
“As part of the national policing review, Northern Constabulary is actively progressing road policing and armed response capabilities, which will be in place in February 2013. Whilst this has been an aspiration for Northern Constabulary for some time, it will accord with and meet the approved proposals of the Police Service of Scotland.”
“You would need to be a mind reader to know that this referred to a change of policy which would allow armed police on to the streets. But what it does make clear is that this was a policy driven forward by Police Scotland, even before it took over control.”
Not only is this Justice Secretary unapologetic about having armed police routinely patrolling Scotland’s streets, but he is claiming the Highlands endorsed the policy when he knows this is not the case.
The Justice Secretary could have taken all afternoon to re-write his statement. It still would not have satisfied Highlanders who have had enough of this deeply illiberal Justice Secretary and his deeply illiberal policies.