ACC Higgins: uniformed or uninformed?

“Police Scotland’s purpose is to improve the safety and wellbeing of people, places and communities in Scotland.  Our focus is on Keeping People Safe which is at the heart of everything that we do”[1].

 “It is arguable that the essence of the general equality duty is to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations. This is at the heart of the strategic aims of police reform, namely to:

  •  Strengthen the connection between services and communities”[2]

Police Scotland have an important job to do. Administering the law and keeping communities safe is no easy task. Additionally developing relationships with an ever changing demographic takes time and requires trust.

The General Equality duties acknowledged by Police Scotland as their fundamental guiding principles however are entirely incompatible with their use of the ‘Act’.

In an astonishing sequence of media comments Assistant Chief Constable Higgins has let the cat out the bag.

The “regression” in behaviour ACC Higgins alludes too in relation to “offensiveness” contextualises perfectly the abnormality of this legislation and the role of Police Scotland in placing officers and young people with no previous criminal convictions at loggerheads.

None of this is possible in relation to the Act without the stubborn support of their political allies, the current office bearers of the Scottish Government.

Of course it also beneficial to have the additional support of the Crown office in a “criminal” law dogfight and in this current scenario we can see the beautiful confluence of executive, crown and police working as a single unit.

This is underdog challenge that provides a perfect footballing analogy. Organised individual citizen’s vs the tripartite of the Police, Executive and Crown Office. Not since the sloping out cases or Cadder has the Scottish Executive/Government dangled on the precipice of such a broad ranging human rights embarrassment. Of course the current Scottish Government, who provide the strategy at the head of this moral “anti-offensive” tripartite, are quick to remind us of the Acts ECHR/HRA compatibility.

For the moment we can set aside the fact that parliamentary scrutiny of the ‘Act’ at Bill stage was conducted against the backdrop of an executive partisan majority in a parliament devoid of a human rights committee.

We can begin to appreciate, however, that an Act which provides a ‘breath-taking expansion of the criminal Law’ (Liberty’s submission to the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament, August 2017 and empowers ACC Higgins’ band of anthropologists, sociologists, historians and political scientists on the beat, is in Police Scotland’s interest. It certainly makes their life “easier” in the short term. Our campaign proves however that, medium to long term, it will be met by a vociferous defence of football fans and young people.

Much like the infamous slopping out cases, or Cadder, the elements of a serious mistake are presenting themselves again. A maligned, crudely interpreted group of people, in this case football fans, mostly under 30 and almost exclusively with no previous interaction with the criminal justice system are being forced to navigate uncertain legislative territory with almost no power. Time will tell how this plays out and where the ‘cup final’ is played. The game is live in the Parliament and the Courts.

We have rattled the “moralistic” troika to the extent that Chief Social Scientist Higgins warns of grave outbreaks of “offensiveness” if his own subordinates are not allowed to retain the power to assess “subjective offense” to potentially imaginary people.

In truth the tripartite know they have already lost the battle for ‘hearts and minds’. Individual police officers have told us, COPFS staff have told us, and believe it or not MSP’s of a certain constitutional persuasion have told us, off the record of course, “it’s a disaster” – “I avoid using it at all costs”. In time we’ll share some additional ‘match procedure’ Information covering the policing of football fans which mentions every piece of legislation under the sun, bar astonishingly, the ‘Act’. Don’t take our word for it though. The comments of sheriffs are in the public domain.

What is happening now will illuminate to those who are victims of the Act, or who take an interest in equality, to what extent the tripartite will sacrifice otherwise law-abiding young citizens to save political face.

So directly to ACC Higgins and the tripartite, the story here is not your assertion that so called ‘offensive’ signing will increase but, instead, how senior public servants – such as ACC Higgins –  feel empowered, beyond meaningful scrutiny, to identify, articulate and advocate for substantial power based upon an unquantifiable variable. Power which contradicts your own guiding principles.

Hopefully the penny is beginning to drop for anyone who takes an interest in maintaining an effective democracy.

The Act has zero credibility. It needs to be repealed. Anything short of that is window dressing.






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