Scots police officers demand right to be allowed to take part in political campaigns

Article by Paul Hutcheon, Investigations Editor Herald Scotland. Published 17/04/2016.

POLICE officers are demanding the right to be allowed to take part in political campaigns.

The Scottish Police Federation (SPF), which represents the rank and file, has published its own Holyrood manifesto and called for the strict limits on its members participating in politics to be eased.

The SPF also wants the next Parliament to abolish policing targets and create special facilities to help drunks sober up in.

Scotland’s 17,263 police officers are currently barred from taking an “active” part in the country’s political debates.

Personnel were not able to express a public view during the independence referendum and cannot stand for election even as independent councillors.

The SPF wants the same rights as public officials in America. In the US, the Hatch Act, which came into force in 1939, laid down what federal employees can do in the political sphere.

The legislation permits officers to express opinions about candidates and issues, and participate in campaigns where none of the candidates represent a political party.

They can also donate money to political organisations, attend rallies, sign nominating petitions and campaign for or against referendum questions.

However, officers and other federal employees cannot be candidates in partisan elections, campaign for or against a candidate in a political poll, or distribute material in such elections.

Wearing political buttons to work and organising partisan rallies is also against the law.

In its manifesto, the SPF stated: “Scotland has never been more politically active or engaged than it is now, but a large number of public sector workers are unable to contribute to political decision making and opinion forming.

“Nowhere is that more true than in the case of police officers. We consider it is appropriate to restrict police officers from taking a partisan role in politics. However, we believe there is room to consider their participation in other aspects of political life.”

It added: “The SPF calls on the next Scottish Government to commit to the introduction of a Scottish equivalent of the Hatch Act in the United States. An equivalent Act…would help to address the wholesale restrictions placed on police officers from participating in democratic life.”

If a Hatch Act was in force in Scotland, police officers could take public positions in the forthcoming referendum on the European Union and could take part if there was a second plebiscite on independence.

Separately, although the SPF is against the legalisation or decriminalising of drugs, but the body stated: “The SPF believes it is time to stop persecuting users and start concentrating on the dealers. Working in collaboration, the SPF believes that health, education and justice services stand a better chance of ending cycles of offending.”

To this end, the SPF believes individuals who have had too much to drink should not be placed in police cells.

“While intoxication is not a medical emergency, the consequences can be. Locking up drunk people in cells is no longer an acceptable way to manage that risk.

“The SPF believes that safe, secure facilities should be created to manage those who present themselves as intoxicated and avoid the need to shuttle people between police cells and hospitals.”

The SPF also claimed the Police Scotland policy of measuring performance through targets has failed:

“Removing targets will enable policing to concentrate on what matters; freeing frontline officers to use their professional skill and judgement to deliver the very best for the communities they serve.

“Trading numbers without context treats us all like fools. It’s right we monitor performance, but when many facts and figures are accumulated for their own sake, the exercise becomes meaningless. We all deserve better.”

Scottish Conservative candidate John Lamont said he is against a Hatch Act extension: “It is very important for public servants to remain impartial at all times. Public sector organisations should not be getting involved in political arguments. This suggestion by the Scottish Police Federation seems to go against this view.”