Last month, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes MSP, confirmed suspicions that the justice and policing budget would face real-terms cuts throughout the entirety of this parliamentary session. This, despite receiving the largest ever block grant in devolution history from the UK Government, which is set to rise in real terms every year throughout the lifetime of this parliament.
The announcement serves as a stark reminder that keeping Scotland safe is an afterthought for this soft-touch SNP Government.
The Scottish Fiscal Commission (SFC) reported that by 2026-27 the policing and justice budget will be cut by 4% after adjusting for inflation. These cuts fall on top of a Service that already has fewer than 17,000 officers for the first-time since the formation of Police Scotland.
Last Thursday, the leader of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party, Douglas Ross MSP, stood in the chamber and questioned the First Minister on this issue. To which she responded with the classic, “policing is very clearly a priority for this Government”, which we’ve heard repeatedly in education, another area of the budget facing real terms cuts.
As Douglas Ross rightly pointed out, the response from front-line officers, from the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, and the Scottish Police Federation tells a completely different story, all of whom are quite frankly insulted by the “derisory” pay offer, and feel overworked and undervalued. Even more concerning is that staffing issues are reportedly horrendous and has led to officers carrying more risks and feeling unsafe at their work.
These are the people who put their lives on the line to keep us safe, our children safe, and our streets safe. Yet the SNP cannot bring themselves to acknowledge for one second that perhaps, their priorities may be misplaced.
The number of applicants wishing to join Scotland’s police force has halved in just a year. This represents a catastrophic failure by the SNP to make policing appealing in Scotland. Earlier in the year, I challenged the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans, Keith Brown, on the concerning number of police officers biding their time until retirement, and asked the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure policing is an attractive career. But failing to acknowledge the problem, a satisfying response was absent.
It’s incredibly frustrating to see the SNP give themselves a pat on the back for merely stating policing is a priority, boasting an additional 300 officers to be recruited to the force in July. It’s hardly convincing, when not one day later, on the July 1, Scottish Police Federation withdrew “goodwill” following the most significant discontent in the police service since the 1970s and the most overt demonstration of action in over 100 years.
Douglas Ross questioned the First Minister, asking whether she had considered the implications of this on front-line policing and public safety, and to no-one’s surprise, the First Minister drew comparisons between the rest of the UK and passed the buck onto Police Scotland. Very telling.
But now is not the time for the First Minister to be treating Police Scotland with contempt. Violent crime is at its highest-ever level since Nicola Sturgeon took office, and sexual crime is at its highest level in five decades.
The Recorded Crime in Scotland 2021-22 statistics came out on the same day as Nicola Sturgeon’s statement on independence, so were unfortunately overshadowed. Again, very telling.
However, the statistics point to something much more sinister.
Violent crimes involving drugging increased by over 2,000% in the last year. But with fewer officers, the question remains how such an abhorrent practice will be monitored and policed.
And worse still, sexual assault against children has taken a dramatic rise in the last year, with sexual assaults against children aged 13–15 increasing by 45%, and sexual assaults against children under 13 rising by 33%.
These statistics are real people. Adults. Children. Young people. All of whom will likely be traumatised by these crimes for years to come.
Even the percentage of pupils in possession of an offensive weapon on school grounds, to be used in other criminal activity, is at its highest since records began, an increase of 140% since last year.
This country, to put it quite simply, is spiralling out of control, and the SNP has lost its grip.
Now is the time for punishments to get tougher, not weaker like this SNP Government supports.
Now is the time for a larger police presence on the ground, not a smaller one.
Now is the time to ensure the police feel empowered, safe, and equipped with the resources to effectively carry out their duty – not undervalued, overworked, and under resourced.
Following correspondence from a long-standing police officer in my region, I will be sending a letter to the Cabinet Secretary this week to find out what action the Scottish Government is taking to reverse this widespread dissatisfaction.
But more than that, the Scottish Conservatives have been and will continue working tirelessly to make up for the SNP’s neglect of the criminal justice system and will continue to push hard for our Local Policing Act that will see more bobbies on the beat, our Victims Law which will see victims at the heart of the justice system, and we want to see tougher sentences for violent criminals.