Monday, 26 October 2015

Plugging the leaks

In two and a half years, Police Scotland has endured more controversy than the legacy forces attracted in a decade.
Stop and search and the use of firearms were the big policy rows, while the M9 tragedy and the murky death in custody of Sheku Bayoh continue to dog the force.

These important issues should be enough to keep any police chief awake at night, but I understand some of our senior officers have been nursing another obsession.

I’m told the police chiefs are paranoid about “insider threats” – namely, coppers speaking to journalists and MSPs.

Police Scotland would much prefer whistleblowers come forward internally, rather than amplifying their concerns with political or media exposure.

To this end, a new “standard operating procedure” (SOP) was published earlier this year on the rules for officers and staff accepting gifts, gratuities and hospitality. It was crafted by the Counter Corruption Unit, which has unlawfully used surveillance legislation in an attempt to flush out journalists' sources.

Much of the document is common sense: for instance, cash gifts are quite rightly banned.

However, the new Post-Leveson rules go further.

According to the SOP, hospitality may not be accepted if the provider is “directly or indirectly associated with a media organisation or a journalist”.

To spell this out, if a cop accepts a coffee from a journalist he or she could face a misconduct hearing. 

An exception is made where pre-authorisation is granted by the Head of Corporate Communications as “part of an approved media relationship strategy”.
Call me cynical, but it seems unlikely the Head of Comms will “approve” a police officer raising a public interest matter about the force to the media.

MSPs, some of whom are trusted contacts for police officers, are also part of the new SOP.

Officers must now think carefully before taking hospitality from a “representative of a political party”, where the acceptance would compromise the “impartiality and integrity” of Police Scotland.
Imagine a serving officer raising concerns about the force to an MSP, in the course of which he accepts a cup of tea or a beer. Would this be an example of compromising the “integrity” of the force?

Police Scotland has been subject to unprecedented scrutiny and leaks since April 2013 – and the chiefs don’t like it one bit.

Monday, 12 October 2015

A question of independence

I wrote a piece recently on the internal wrangling last year in the pro-independence Business for Scotland, based on a tranche of leaked board-level emails.

Much of the content centred on the role of BfS “managing director” Michelle Thomson - yes, her - who was allowed to keep the title after having her consultancy payments axed.

The row played into a wider split between, on the one side, board members Thomson and Ivan McKee (who is now an SNP Holyrood candidate), and BfS chief executive Gordon Macintyre-Kemp.

The emails also appeared to confirm widely held suspicions about "close" links between BfS and the SNP.

In an email to senior BfS figures on March 30th last year, ex-chair Tony Banks threw SNP chief executive Peter Murrell’s name (PM) into the mix:

“There have been remarks made by PM regarding having the both of you [Kemp and Thomson] and the fact both of you should have been fund raising over the last few months! He does not think that we need both of you.”

This is interesting because the Electoral Commission had strict rules in place about separate campaign groups “working together” during the referendum. The email has now triggered a complaint to the Commission.

However, other emails reveal there was a board split about the closeness of BfS to Yes Scotland, which was the official pro-independence campaign group.

McKee was of the view that, to comply with Commission rules, Yes Scotland Head of Development Colin Pyle had to be excluded from BfS board meetings.

In an email to board members on May 13th, he wrote: “Frankly struggling to see how someone in the payroll of Yes Scotland coming to a BfS meeting can be classed as anything other than ‘working together’.”

Others disagreed, but McKee persisted: “The biggest risk to the organisation is for us to realise that there are serious non-compliance risks and to ignore those. There is no bigger gift to the No campaign than that.”

It is unclear how the Pyle issue was resolved. Perhaps it is something for further enquiry.