Scottish Parliament Debates Spycops, Demands Answers

The Scottish Parliament saw an hour’s debate on Britain’s political secret police last week. Though sparsely attended, its content was extraordinary. One MSP after another expressed real outrage and disgust at what these officers have done and the paucity of accountability and justice.

The forthcoming public inquiry is limited to events in England and Wales. This is absurd, given that half the known officers worked in Scotland, with Mark Kennedy being authorised to go there 14 times in his seven years. These operations included, by the Met’s own admission, human rights violations and other abuses of police power.

A few weeks ago the Scottish government formally asked the Home Secretary to alter the terms of the inquiry and include events in Scotland.

The debate had been called by Labour’s Neil Findlay MSP. In a barnstorming speech that mentioned officers by name, he asked

Do we have a policing system and justice system… that picks out individuals and groups for special treatment because they challenge the prevailing orthodoxy, the established order or threaten, even in a tiny way, the grip that those in positions of power have on our economy and our society?…

Vested interests in the media, big business, government, the police and the courts have worked together to quash dissent, control people’s behaviour and prevent any challenge to their grip on power…

Police officers operating in our country under the identity of a dead child to victimise people whose only crime is to want a fairer, cleaner and more just society… I find that nauseating and utterly corrupt.

Elaine Smith, also for Labour, expanded on the point.

The demand for the Pitchford inquiry to be extended to Scotland, that should never have been a controversial demand. The Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance – a group investigating the role of undercover police – has documented numerous instances where officers who have been proven to have committed acts of abuse were operating and active in Scotland. There can be no doubt about that.

If we look at the frequent pattern of male officers abusing their position to exploit women and start sexual relationships, and the implied approval that this would require from senior officers, then there is the question of whether or not the police, in this regard, are institutionally sexist…

While the victims have stated that no apology or compensation can make up for the abuse they’ve suffered, we owe it to them to fully investigate and expose these horrific practices. The Pitchford inquiry should be extended to cover Scotland but if that is not agreed the Scottish government has a moral duty to undertake its own inquiry.

For the Liberal Democrats, Alison McInnes OBE insisted that there be an inquiry into spycops in Scotland come what may.

It is the kind of behaviour that transgresses professional and moral boundaries and flies in the face of common decency…

Even if the officers were from police forces in England and Wales, it appears that authorisation to work in Scotland came from senior Scottish officers and that’s why I support the call for the Scottish government to hold a similar inquiry…

Unless the SNP government is arguing that unearthing what has gone on in Scotland – both in terms of English officers operating here and of undercover policing within Scottish forces – is of no importance, there needs to be an inquiry here…

We too deserve to know the scale of the operations carried out and the lines of accountability and authorisation.

Roderick Campbell, of the governing SNP, affirmed the call for the Home Secretary to expand Pitchford’s scope.

If Metropolitan Police officers, or their divisions, were operating in Scotland it seems sensible to extend that remit to Scotland.

He said that there is a strong regulatory framework in place, which is of no comfort as the Met have specifically said that tightening rules in 2000 did nothing whatsoever to affect the function of these units.

John Finnie, formerly of the SNP but now an Independent, said

As many will know, I was a police officer for 30 years. Officers I served with were appalled by that sickening behaviour. The worrying thing is that it’s not a rogue individual; it must have been known to supervisory officers. They either ignored it or they were unaware of it, either way they were negligent.

I won’t go into the G8 protests, but to assume that the monitoring that went on across Europe stopped at Gretna is naïve.

Hugh Henry (Labour) was unequivocal in his condemnation of

a horrific catalogue of abuse by the state in this country. It’s unacceptable, and frankly if we in our complacency tolerate it or refuse to properly investigate then we are complicit with it…

I welcome the belated action by the Scottish government to write to ask for the inquiry to be extended but unless we get a guarantee that it will be comprehensive, it will be all encompassing and that the terms of reference will also include things which have gone on in Scotland over the years, to make it a genuine UK inquiry, that unless that’s done we are being short changed and therefore we will need our own inquiry…

This is not about national security, this about protecting the interests of big business or the interests of certain political views… this is the one opportunity we have to put things right.

We know that wrong has been done over many years in Scotland as well as the rest of the UK, and if we fail to take the opportunity now to get to the bottom of what was done and put things right then we are letting Scotland down, we are letting future generations down, but frankly we are also letting ourselves down as individuals.

Speaking for the government, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse, responded

If officers in those units were active in Scotland, and the inquiry has been set up to look at related activity, then the inquiry should, we strongly believe, be able to consider that activity irrespective of where it took place.

That is why the Cabinet Secretary for Justice wrote to the Home Secretary on 10 December last year, asking her to confirm that the inquiry would be able to take account of any activity by the Metropolitan Police units that took place in Scotland.

He was, however, a tad circumspect about what should be done if the UK government refuses to include Scotland in the inquiry.

Two parallel inquiries runs the obvious risk of duplication of resources. They may also embarrass each other if one produces vital details the other has missed.

The decision rests with the Home Secretary. We await her reply.

[The full debate is on our Youtube channel, and a full transcript can be found here].

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