Like many Scots, I am concerned about policing in Scotland. I know that problems always occur, but it does appear that Police Scotland has faced real challenges this year. I published a blog on the subject back in July and have updated it a few times – the most recent version can be found on the excellent Labour Hame.
When undertaking research for my blog, I found reports that suggest housebreaking doubled in Edinburgh in the first three months of 2015 and that Edinburgh (Balerno specifically) already topped the league for house break-ins.
Balerno is near where I work and part of the Holyrood constituency I live in, so I was concerned about this. When HMICS confirmed that Edinburgh had Scotland’s highest crime rate I contacted my MSP, the SNP’s Gordon Macdonald, to see what he was doing about the problem.
Whilst I wrote to him I fully expected he’d be defensive. After all, he had fully backed the way the SNP have reorganised policing. He’d backed cuts to the policing budget. He ignored warnings from Unison and Scottish Labour and backed the SNP accounting structure for policing which resulted in it being billed for an additional £32m in VAT. Nonetheless, I wrote to him and an image of his reply is below.
Let’s have a look at some of what he says…
Macdonald says: Since my election in 2011 I have been in regular contact with the Inspectors at Oxgangs (where SNP cuts meant a police station was closed) and Wester Hailes, the Chief Inspector at Corstorphine and I have met with the Edinburgh area commander Chief Superintendent Mark Williams.
Saying he was in “regular contact” sounded a bit vague, so I wrote to Mr Macdonald on the 6th of November asking more about these meetings. Four weeks later, I am still waiting on a reply.
Macdonald says: The peak period for break-ins was February to April but thanks to Operation RAC, which was introduced specifically as an anti-burglary and car theft initiative, we saw the number of incidents drop in May and June.
Operation RAC is essentially the reestablishment of anti-burglary teams which were disbanded when the SNP setup Police Scotland. They were re-established after both Ian Murray MP and Kezia Dugdale MSP made repeated calls for their return. Despite the success of Operation RAC, the burglary rate is still higher in Edinburgh than before the SNP formed Police Scotland. Indeed, HMICS are clear: “during 2014-15 reports of housebreaking increased by 20.8%”.
Macdonald says: The success of Operation RAC was “due to the dedicated housebreaking team’s success in locking up the main protaganists [sic]”.
I asked Mr Macdonald for more details of these arrests. After 4 weeks, I am still awaiting a response.
MacDonald says: You may be interested in noting that in 2006 a report to the Lothian and Borders Police Board highlighted a detection rate for house break-ins of 31.4% for Edinburgh and that the latest detection rate for the city in 2014/15 was 48%.
MacDonald claims the detection rates for house break-ins is falling, but HMICS say: “The detection rate for crimes in Edinburgh Division has decreased progressively from 41.7% in 2012-13 to 35.4% in 2014-15. The division has the lowest detection rates of all divisions in Scotland and is well below the Scottish average for 2014-15 of 50.4%.”
MacDonald says: In addition total recorded crimes in the Edinburgh area are down 29% from 2005/6 compared to 2014/15.
This is naughty. Across the western world crime is falling and the SNP can’t take credit for that. Let’s look at what the HMICS has to say about crime in Edinburgh: “A key aim of police reform is to protect and improve services and an indicator of success is reducing crime and disorder and improving detection rates. This has not been the case in Edinburgh Division with performance declining over the past three years. However, as illustrated by Chart 3, the longer term trends indicate that crimes per 10,000 of population are still below the five, 10 and 15 year averages.”The plot above shows how different the situation in Edinburgh is compared to the rest of Scotland. I have to say that I’d thought it was the job of my MSP to raise this issue in Holyrood. I asked Mr MacDonald if he had done this. He chose not to answer me, so I checked his record. He last spoke in Holyrood about policing in April 2013(!). At that time he was arguing that the “recent establishment of the single police force and the single fire service is another obvious example of how sharing of services can deliver cost savings (AKA cuts) and other benefits”!
It is very clear that Mr MacDonald is both out of touch and ineffectual where policing is concerned. It is important to note that Mr MacDonald’s willingness to mislead is not limited to me. In a recent newsletter from him there were a number of very misleading statements, including one on Policing in relation to the SNP’s 2014/15 budget where he claimed is was “Supporting 1000 additional police officers”. This is actually a policy from before the formation of Police Scotland. To maintain these officers when their budget is being cut Police Scotland must cut administrative posts and have police officers take on more paperwork. So whilst the SNP are boasting that they’ve appointed “1000 new officers”, they fail to mention that half these officers took the place of 972 sacked civilian workers. Unison’s George McIrvine: Police officers being paid around £35,000 a year are now doing the jobs previously performed by civilian specialists on £25,000.
There can only be one reason that Mr MacDonald is not a stronger voice for people living in his Edinburgh Pentlands constituency. That is that he is loyal to his party, not his constituents. If the SNP are to win the Holyrood 2016 election, people in Edinburgh Pentlands must ask themselves if they want an MSP that simply does whatever the government asks or one which actually represents their interests. I know what I want.