9. And if it happened today ...?
At the time of the 1984/85 Miners' Strike, there were eight regional police forces – Lothian and Borders; Fife; Central; Dumfries and Galloway; Grampian; Tayside; Northern; Strathclyde. There was a clear structure of command and operational deployment of officers. The response to the Strike was directed from the individual Chief Constables to their respective operational commanders. The direct effect of the Strike on police and communities may have been felt only in five of the eight areas – Lothian and Borders; Fife; Central; Dumfries and Galloway; Strathclyde – but there was an impact on policing more generally.
It was responsibility of each of the Chief Constables to consider the most appropriate response to ensure striking miners' right to picket, working miners right to work, the NCB right to transport coal and also the right of communities to go about their daily business unhindered. In balancing these competing interests, officers had the responsibility to enforce the law in terms of those who committed criminal acts.
It appears clear that Chief Constables were aware of the many pressures on their constabularies, as well as the possible impact on community relations of the policing of the Strike. In a letter dated 5 July 1984, Chief Constable Sir Patrick Hamill, at the time Secretary of ACPOS, wrote to the Scottish Office, addressing various aspects of the policing of the Strike, including the considerable financial implications. Presciently, he warned: "… Members [of ACPOS] were most disturbed at the severe strain which policing the current dispute is placing on police/public relations and the lasting damage which is likely to result…. This confrontation, with the police as referees, if allowed to continue is likely to have a profound affect[sic] on the Police Service, not only in industrial situations but in the way in which it is able to fulfil its accepted role in the community."
Since the 1980s a number of new laws have been enacted which have influenced the policing
response to major events, including strike action. The most significant of these are the Human Rights Act 1998, Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 and the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. This legislation has featured in police training and, for example, human rights is now an early part of basic training for new recruits, as well as featuring explicitly in the constable's oath –
"I, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of constable with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, and that I will uphold fundamental human rights and accord equal respect to all people, according to law."
There have also been new policies, guidance, and various learning opportunities as well as a growing bank of experience, all of which have further developed the police approach to dealing with major events. This obviously includes the police experience and learning from the Strike itself. The cumulative result has ensured that there is now earlier and sustained engagement with key individuals, groups, trade unions and communities and also a significant and detailed focus on understanding the immediate and long term impact on anyone affected by events.
This allows the service to more accurately assess the 'look and feel' of the police response to incidents or events which must ensure that any action taken by the police is tested against the principles of proportionality, legitimacy and necessity, and is ethical and reasonable in the circumstances at the time. All of these matters can have a direct effect on the trust and confidence the public have in the police service at any specific time and in general.
Whilst the actual structure of command at such incidents has changed little, the police service has continued to develop over the years and, more recently, with the introduction of a single force in Scotland. Now there is a single command structure for any major event. Whilst this means there is a consistency across Scotland, the police approach recognises the differences across local communities and allows for flexibility of response if that is considered to be appropriate. Included in this structure is direct and dedicated contact with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to ensure that the enforcement of the criminal law is consistent and proportionate.
At the time of the Strike, a tripartite arrangement existed for the accountability for police forces across Scotland. Scottish Ministers retained overall responsibility for policing policy. Police Authorities and Joint Police Boards were responsible for setting police budgets and ensuring that best value was attained. Chief Constables were acknowledged as being responsible for the operational aspects of policing within their force areas.
It was the responsibility of the eight local Police Authorities/Joint Police Boards to scrutinise their Chief Constables in terms of police activity in that force area. For understandable reasons, incidents and events that covered a number of Police Board areas may have limited the scope and depth of scrutiny as to the impact on communities by individual police boards.
As with the development to a single command structure within Police Scotland, the formal scrutiny arrangements have also changed. This is intended to ensure that there is scrutiny at a national level by the Scottish Police Authority as well as scrutiny by local police committees in each of the 32 local authorities. These are still early days for this new set of scrutiny arrangements which are still developing to ensure that they provide consistently robust and objective scrutiny of policing.
In addition to the formal scrutiny arrangements, there is greater informal scrutiny and commentary by the media and specifically social media, local and national partners as well as the wider public. It is routine now for police action to be subject to filming and simultaneous broadcast on social media, for example, at public demonstrations. There is no longer the same reliance on traditional media sources.