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Police Scotland: Outgoing Chief Constable Iain Livingstone fought to stop politicians...

...meddling in operational matters and turned troubled force around

This is my latest Scotsman column, published today, 30th June 2023.

Sir Iain Livingstone has been the outstanding police leader to emerge in Scotland in the last ten years.

They are changing the guard at Police Scotland, bringing the curtain down on the most stable and successful chapters in the ten-year history of the national force. Predictably, the cybersphere has been buzzing with rumours about the Chief Constable resigning early and Police Scotland being in crisis. You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to see this is nonsense. It was well known that Sir Iain Livingstone planned to retire this summer and the force is far from a crisis, despite trying circumstances.

By any measure, Sir Iain has been the outstanding police leader to emerge in Scotland in the last decade. Never an armchair warrior, he served in all the hottest spots, and led the force for six years. Where his predecessors failed, he brought this large, unwieldy organisation together and steered it through challenging times.

Whether it’s their performance on serious crime or the management of enormous public events, Police Scotland has proved itself under his leadership. Behind the scenes, he fought for funding and recruits while managing to keep the hands of politicians away from operational policing. This last hidden battle is surely one of his greatest achievements.

But like all leaders, Sir Iain has had his critics. Being Chief Constable has never been a popularity contest, and he has not shied away from big or controversial issues. His comment that the force is institutionally racist and discriminatory offended and perplexed many. But disagree as you might, you cannot question his right to say it. Indeed, he is uniquely placed to do so.

As he leaves, policing in Scotland is in as good a place as it can be in an imperfect world. Consider the facts. The police and the smaller fire service are the only Scottish public services to be reformed in the last 25 years. While local authorities and health boards remain unreconstructed, the police service was pulled apart and rebuilt ten years ago. Policing in Scotland now has fewer people and substantially less cash than then, and a host of new responsibilities, including cybercrime. Officers are doing a lot more with a lot less. By any objective criteria, Sir Iain is standing down after a job well done.

So what next? We know little of the new Chief Constable, Jo Farrell, except that she must be exceptional to have edged out the other contender for the job, deputy chief Malcolm Graham. An intelligent, principled and highly experienced officer, Graham and the other deputy chief, Fiona Taylor, have been among the key players in rebuilding Police Scotland from the wreckage they inherited. Both these highly experienced officers are themselves reaching the end of their careers and it is in the nature of things that they too may leave policing before long.

Although Police Scotland is on an even keel, enormous problems remain and await the new chief. First among them is the unglamorous business of finance, keeping the organisation fit to face old and new challenges. We must wish the new Chief Constable well.

As the wheel turns, history may judge the generation of police leaders now passing to have among the very best. We may find truth in the words of that great philosopher, Joni Mitchell: “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.”

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