Scotland politics

Police watchdog changes to be considered

nicola sturgeon Image copyright Getty Images

Changes to the appointment process for Scotland's police watchdog need to be considered in the "fullness of time", Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Scottish Police Authority (SPA) members are currently appointed by the Scottish government.

But Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson called for appointments to instead be made by the Scottish Parliament.

It follows the resignation of Chief Constable Phil Gormley on Wednesday.

Mr Gormley had been on special leave since September while investigations were carried out into a series of gross misconduct allegations against him.

It subsequently emerged that the SPA agreed in November to allow Mr Gormley - who denies all of the allegations against him - to return to work.

The decision was reversed after Justice Secretary Michael Matheson expressed his concerns to then-SPA chairman Andrew Flanagan.

Mr Flanagan has claimed that Mr Matheson told him it was a "bad decision", and that he felt he had no choice but to overturn it.

'Obvious flaw'

But he insisted he did not feel "directed" to halt the chief constable's return by Mr Matheson, who says he only asked "legitimate questions" of the processes the SPA had followed.

Speaking at Holyrood on Thursday, Ms Davidson said it was an "obvious flaw" that the "head of the Scottish Police Authority is supposed to be independent of government, yet it is the justice secretary that appoints them".

She questioned whether that was "true independence", adding: "As this affair has shown us, that same justice secretary can pull the head of the Scottish Police Authority into a room and make him change his mind."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Phil Gormley quit with immediate effect on Wednesday

Ms Davidson added: "If the first minister is serious about strengthening the structure and oversight of the single police force then having its chair appointed by parliament and not at the grace of ministers is a good place to start."

Ms Sturgeon responded by saying primary legislation would be needed to do that - to which the Tory leader retorted: "Guess what first minister? This is a parliament - changing the law is what we do."

Who will succeed Phil Gormley?

When Sir Stephen House announced he was standing down in August 2015, the post attracted applicants from across the UK - including Mr Gormley.

But this time round it feels like a one-horse race.

Iain Livingstone, who has been acting chief since September, is the overwhelming favourite.

One retired senior officer, who asked not be named, told BBC Scotland: "Iain Livingstone will not be appointed. He will be anointed. Everybody knows that.

"The position should attract the best candidates from across the UK but south of the border the big hitters will have watched what happened with Phil Gormley.

"They will carry out their own risk assessment and also take note of the mood music surrounding Iain Livingstone.

"When you put all that together it does not encourage people to enter the race."

Read more about the search for a new chief constable

The first minister pointed out that Susan Deacon had only replaced Mr Flanagan as chairman of the SPA in December, and was "doing an excellent job".

She said: "Right now we have a new chair of the Scottish Police Authority in place, she is at the start of her term in office, I think she is doing an excellent job and I think we should get behind her in that.

"I think we should consider in the fullness of time before we come to appoint a new chair, whether there are changes necessary."

Later in the first minister's questions session, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard called on Ms Sturgeon to consider the findings of a review of policing led by former Labour MSP and former police officer Graeme Pearson.

The 2015 review made 10 recommendations including improved parliamentary oversight and staffing support.

Mr Leonard said: "Since then two chief constables have gone, morale amongst rank-and-file officers has sunk, public confidence has declined, and all the time the first minister refuses to take responsibility."

Ms Sturgeon said: "There has been a governance review under way, that will report shortly and all of us right across the parliament can consider any proposals and suggestions that come forward as part of that."

More on this story