It is fair to say that on any metric, Stephen House’s tenure in charge of Scotland’s policing has been an unmitigated disaster. With a controversial reform abolishing local policing and imposing a national force, the Scottish government desperately needed a calm, trusted hand on the tiller to guide the national police through the tempestuous early days.
Instead, it chose a deeply controversial and widely distrusted figure in Strathclyde Chief Constable, Stephen House – appointing, without, apparently, any consultation at any stage, the man who policed Glasgow in the hope that this would assuage concerns in the country that the rest of the country would be subjected to his particular American-style brand of policing.
From even before Day 1, everything House touched started going wrong. He demanded a shiny new logo, which was duly delivered – and then scrapped at a cost to the public of over £100.000.
Under House’s control, Scotland’s police – against the will of Parliament – have begun arming themselves against the population, carrying rifles to operations where not only are there no firearms involved, but often no reports or threats of violence. Many who grew up in Scotland will have gone our whole lives without ever seeing a gun. Now, heavily-armed, armoured men swathed in black are a regular sight in our airports, railway stations, and even our supermarkets. And this change, completely against the will of the people of Scotland, our government, and our elected parliament, carried out simply because Stephen House woke up one morning and decided to have an armed police force.
His regime has been characterised from moving away from Scottish the Scottish model of policing by consent to an American model of paramilitary policing, ruling over the population using high-powered weaponry, and fear. One of the lowest moments in his tenure was the brutally violent attack on a crowd of youngsters whose crime was to walk to a soccer match in Glasgow without the permission of House’s thugs. In any other police force in the United Kingdom, an attack by armed, armoured men on a group of youths doing nothing other than walking in the street would have led instantly to the dismissal of the person responsible.
Not, however, in Scotland, where the police force operates at the behest of one man, elected by nobody, and accountable to nobody other than a weak, secretive, shadowy police board.
Catastrophe after catastrophe has been caused on his watch, and more often than not this secretive man and his secretive organisation have continued to squirrel away information which in any normal European country would be the subject of public knowledge.
We still don’t know why the Police Scotland helicopter plunged into a busy city-centre pub which lay within metres of flat, empty land, killing seven people in the bar.
We still don’t know how the police managed to kill Sheku Bayou in their custody. We do know that subsequent to that incident, House gathered every officer involved in the killing together for a debriefing, against all logic, and presenting nothing more than an image that the police were “getting their story straight”. It comes as little surprise that this arrogant and aloof man has continued to meet the family of Sheku Bayou.
We still don’t know why, when Police Scotland were told of a car crash off the M9 motorway, they didn’t bother to respond for three days. By the time they managed to put the doughnuts down and do their job, the victim’s injuries were too severe, and the neglect of medical treatment too much, for her to survive.
Individually, these are each grounds on which the Chief Constable ought to be relieved of his duties. There are people for whose safety he was ultimately responsible, and whose deaths have been caused by the actions or inaction of the people of whom he is in charge.
But collectively, it is clear that the House era represents a systemic collapse of policing in Scotland. It is clear that someone with House’s personality ought never to have been in charge of policing the nation, with the decision he should taken with zero public consultation (or, as far as anyone is aware, any consultation with the police rank and file).
It cannot be acceptable that his successor is simply a House-era senior officer, promoted to impose the same ideological policing on Scotland.
Given that the Chief Constable of the PSS has more power than pretty much any individual in the land, and given the disastrous tenure of the first holder of the office, there can be no doubt that a second failure on the scale of House would undermine the entire concept of a national police.
Were House’s replacement to fail as badly as he has, the people would be unlikely to tolerate the continued existence of the force. It would be manna from heaven for the Unionist parties, all of whom opposed the establishment of the national police, and each of whom would politicise the issue in their usual charming fashion.
The Chief Constable has to be accountable to the public. Either the next one must be elected, or the body to whom s/he is responsible – the Scottish Police Authority – must have a majority of its members directly elected by the public, and have its powers to hold the Chief Constable to account beefed up.
Scottish policing under Stephen House became violent, aggressive, and secretive. It must be made transparent and accountable, and the principle of unarmed policing, by consent, re-established. It is not good enough for the SNP government to whine (correctly) about the democratic outrage of an unelected House of Lords whilst imposing a police force upon Scotland which serves quite without accountability, and quite without public support.