Strikes, constitutional uncertainty and crisis poverty are threatening the cohesion of communities across the country, according to the head of Police Scotland.
Chief constable Sir Iain Livingstone also said planned cuts, which could result in the loss of thousands of officers, would lead to a “fundamental reduction” in the force’s ability to fairly and safely police large events and demonstrations.
Livingstone made his remarks at a Scottish Police Authority board meeting on Thursday, the day after rallies were held across the country to protest against the supreme court ruling that the Scottish government could not stage a second independence referendum without Westminster’s approval.
He told the board: “When there are times of a potential breakdown in social cohesion – there are more intense industrial relations, there’s clearly a level of constitutional uncertainty within society at the moment – all of those put wider pressure on the cohesiveness of local communities and inevitably that can manifest itself in pressure on local policing.”
A police source underlined that Livingstone had not intended to make a political point, but that a combination of factors were heaping pressure on already strained resources, as the cost of living crisis drives up vulnerability and need, and other agencies face similar budget cuts, often leaving police as the service of last resort.
Referring to Scottish government proposals to offer a flat-cash funding allocation to Police Scotland over the next five years, which senior officers have estimated will require cuts of up to £300m, Livingstone said: “The implications for community policing – the bedrock of policing in Scotland – and for operational effectiveness, for our ability to police major events and demonstrations fairly and safely and to protect people from existing and emerging threats would be significant.”
Livingstone called earlier this year for “robust but respectful debate” after what he described as disgraceful behavior at a hustings for the Conservative leadership in Perth.
Politicians, journalists and members of the public who attended the hustings at the Perth concert hall in August reported that demonstrators threw eggs, spat at Tory members and barged past the outer security barriers before officers pushed them back.
Amid accusations of increasingly inflammatory language on both sides of the constitutional debate, on Thursday Nicola Sturgeon’s official spokesperson accused “unionist politicians who are trying to pretend they won an election they lost” as “behaving like Donald Trump”.
This came after the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said Sturgeon’s rebranding of the pro-independence movement as “Scotland’s democracy movement” after the court ruling was “straight out of the Trump playbook”.
“I was elected to oppose a referendum with more votes than any other candidate in the history of the Scottish parliament. It’s my democratic duty to continue to oppose it,” he said.
Also on Thursday, the SNP’s defense spokesperson in Westminster, Stewart McDonald, urged colleagues on Twitter to moderate their language, encouraging politicians to “shun talk of being imprisoned or shackled”.
This came after Sturgeon told reporters on Wednesday, as she pledged to run the next general election as a “de facto referendum”, that she would not “allow Scottish democracy to be a prisoner of Westminster”.
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Despite UK government austerity, the Scottish government has increased police funding year-on-year since 2016-17 and has invested more than £10bn in policing since the creation of Police Scotland in 2013.
“Police Scotland has welcomed around 900 new recruits this year and we have a higher number of officers per head of population than England and Wales and more officers now than in March 2007.”