Sunday, 5 April 2015

French connections

THE general election in Scotland has become dominated by a bizarre row over what First Minister Nicola Sturgeon allegedly said to a French diplomat.

According to  a leaked memo obtained by the Daily Telegraph, Sturgeon told France’s UK Ambassador Sylvie Bermann that “she'd rather see David Cameron remain as PM”.

If true, this would have been hugely embarrassing: the First Minister has said publicly she wants Cameron out of Downing Street and Ed Miliband in.

The story unraveled after Pierre-Alain Coffinier, France's consul general in Edinburgh, as well as Bermann's spokesperson, both denied the Cameron claim.

The original newspaper report wasn’t helped by the fact that the memo was written by an official in the Scotland Office who wasn’t even at the Sturgeon meeting.

However, the memo also noted the First Minister saying she "didn't see Ed Miliband as PM material".

So, are the French diplomats also denying this part of this document?

When the Sunday Herald spoke to Coffinier yesterday, he repeated his denial about the Cameron claim, but was far more uncomfortable being quizzed on the Miliband section.

Here is the exchange with Monsieur Coffinier:

Shown the section of the leaked memo regarding Sturgeon’s views on David Cameron and Ed Miliband, he said: “Well, yes, that is not accurate.”

Asked if any of it was accurate, he said: “I’m not going to disclose that. My comment is very clear. There has been no preference expressed regarding the outcome of the elections.”

Pressed on whether Sturgeon said Ed Miliband was not Prime Ministerial material, he said: “No, I’m not going to answer. No comment… I don’t want to answer that. I don’t want to answer that.”

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Frisking a flawed policy

NICOLA Sturgeon's remarks in Parliament last week have confirmed that stop and search - the signature policy of Police Scotland chief constable Stephen House - is in crisis.

The controversial practice of suspicionless searches - which have no legal basis - is for the chop, while assistant chief Wayne Mawson has been recalled to Holyrood over his claim that non-statutory searches for under 12s were "indefensible".

MSPs were angered to learn that this "indefensible" practice has continued.

Scotland's frisk rate is also far higher than in London and nine times the proportionate rate compared to the New York Police Department.

I've charted the collapse of this policy in the Sunday Herald since February last year.

Here is a beginners' guide to a policing initiative that has spiralled out of control.

1.      23rd February, 2014. Police have been making up stop searches, claim officers.

2.     9th March, 2014. Leaked briefing: cops told to boost successful stop and searches.

 3.       23rd March, 2014. Police chief admits to fake stop and search figures.

4.       30th March, 204. Police prevent scrutiny of stop and search data.

5.       14th April, 2014. Cops challenge single force over ‘bogus’ stop and searches.

6.       April 20th, 2014. Single force admits there is no definition of a successful stop and search.

7.       3rd May, 2014. Single force overhauls recording system for stop searches.

8.       1st June, 2014. Kids as young as six were stop searched by Stephen House’s old force.

9.       5th July, 2014. Some cops make up nearly 90% of their stop searches, review hears.  bully-us-to-boost-stop-and-search-figures.24682653

10.   21st June, 2014. Weapons discoveries from stop search policy exaggerated by 40%.

11.   20th July, 2014. Scotland’s stop and search rate is 9 times higher than in NYPD

12. 28th June, 2014. Cops will be “firmly dealt with” if they don’t increase stop and searches.

13.   August 16th, 2014. Stop searches fall by 40% after ‘bogus’ frisk scandal exposed

14.   30th August, 2014. Police Scotland spent £10m on ‘unlawful’ stop searches

15.   27th September, 2014. Watchdog blocked critics from giving evidence to frisk review.
16.   2nd November, 2014. Stop and search has failure rate of 84%.

17.   26th November, 2014. Frisk levels fall by 50% after scrutiny of search policy.
18.   30th November, 2014. Drug detections from stop searches include ‘legal highs’.

19.   1st February, 2015. Scotland’s human rights tsar: end non-statutory stop and search.

20.   8th February, 2015. Bid to end non-statutory frisks to be made within days.

21. 22nd February 2015: Revealed, Police Scotland and Scottish Government tried to hamper research into stop-and-search 

22. 22nd March, 2015: Stop and search: now Police Scotland is collecting your phone numbers

23. 17th May 2015: Revealed: how Police Scotland tried to undermine criticism of stop and search

24. 21st June, 2015: Nearly one in every five Glaswegians subjected to stop and search

25. 26th July, 2015. World's End case used to defend stop and search policy

26. 9th August, 2015: Watchdog watered down stop and search report after House intervention

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Because he's worth it, part 2

IN his last week as SNP leader, Alex Salmond was treated by his party to a stay at the five-star Gleneagles hotel.
In today’s Sunday Herald, I reveal the latest example of the SNP’s touching generosity to the now backbench MSP:  a chauffeur-driven private hire.
I am told “security” is an issue.
One party source told me Mr Salmond is finding it “hard” giving up the trappings of power.
Here is a fuller version of the article.

By Paul Hutcheon

THE SNP has been criticised after agreeing to fund a chauffeur-driven car for its former leader Alex Salmond.

Party bosses approved the perk, but Scottish Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said SNP membership subscriptions were being used to pay for the ex-First Minister’s “imperial” lifestyle.

All First Ministers, from Donald Dewar to Nicola Sturgeon, have been entitled to a car for government business.

However, it is unprecedented for a political party to continue to pick up the tab for a motor vehicle after a leader quits.

Holyrood has provided a chauffeur-driven car for group leaders when in post, but political parties have never continued the practice.

Scottish Labour did not put on a car for Jack McConnell, Iain Gray or Johann Lamont after they resigned, while the same was true for the Tories’ Annabel Goldie and the Liberal Democrats’ Tavish Scott.

At Westminster, parties do not pay for a car for former leaders, but the UK Government provides police protection for ex-Ministers who held security-sensitive posts.

An SNP source said the car was intended to take the former First Minister from “a to b” and would save the public purse money through a reduced expenses bill.

A private hire firm is being used.

It was reported last month that the former SNP leader had been using public transport for his journeys
“I love public transport but it takes me some time to get around at the moment," the backbench MSP said.

However, it is understood his journeys are split between trains and the party-funded car.

The SNP also paid for a car to ferry Salmond about during his two spells as leader.

In 2008, the party paid a firm £2,888 to ferry Salmond around during the Glasgow East by election.

The same driver received £9,484 for a chauffeur service during the 2011 Holyrood election campaign.

Carlaw said: "Considering Alex Salmond seems determined on a new career as the SNP's backseat driver, it's perhaps no surprise the SNP is splashing out on a chauffeur driven limousine to ferry him around.

"I wonder how thrilled new SNP members will be to learn that their subscriptions are being squandered on keeping Alex Salmond in the lifestyle he has clearly come to regard as his imperial right."

Scottish Labour MP Anne McGuire said: "Alex Salmond stood down months ago but he's still acting like he is First Minister. Whether it's being chauffeured about, or announcing SNP policy instead of Nicola Sturgeon, the former First Minister isn't just a back seat driver - he's clearly itching to get back behind the wheel of the SNP."

An SNP spokesperson said: "Security assessments for the former First Minister are a matter for Police Scotland, not the SNP.

"The former First Minister has no access to the government car service, in contrast to former Prime Ministers and a number of other UK government ministers.

"Therefore, his transportation, including to party events, has no impact at all on the public purse."

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Political transparency

SCOTTISH Labour announced its leadership result on Saturday, but curiously declined to provide turnout figures for the three sections of its notorious electoral college: parliamentarians; affiliates; and party members.

However, affiliated trade unions are starting to release their turnouts: Community's figure was 12%; 21% of ASLEF members voted; and the Unite number was a paltry 10.2%.

So, half an hour ago, I emailed Scottish Labour's spokesman:
"Can you tell me the % turnout for the members' section?"

His reply: "No."

Remember this when Labour demands transparency from others.