Humza Yousaf has been forced to apologise after he clashed with Douglas Ross on the Scottish Government’s record on policing and crime, in exchanges which saw the Conservative leader brand the First Minister a “criminal’s dream”.
Ross used First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood to challenge the SNP leader on the fall in police numbers and plans by Police Scotland to cut some 30 of its stations.
Yousaf hit back by saying Ross’s “lies about the police service simply will not wash here in Scotland”, as he stressed police numbers are higher than when the SNP came power, with officer numbers per head of population above those in both England and Wales.
However Holyrood Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone rebuked him, telling the First Minister: “It is wholly inappropriate to suggest that another member of this Parliament has lied and I would be grateful First Minister if you might apologise.”
She asked Yousaf three times for an apology, with the First Minister initially saying he would instead describe Ross’s comments as a “deliberate inaccuracy”.
He then said he was “happy to apologise to anybody who has been offended by the post truths that have come from the Conservative Party and anybody who is offended by my remarks”.
Asked a third time by Johnstone to apologise, the First Minister said he would “apologise to the chamber for any offence caused”.
Ross – whose wife is a serving police officer – had highlighted a warning this week from Scottish Police Federation general secretary David Kennedy that people could die because of a lack of officers.
Police officer numbers “have fallen by more than 700 since the creation of Police Scotland” in April 2013, Ross added.
The national force had 17,496 officers then, but 16,600 at the end of June 2023.
Police in the north east are also piloting an initiative which could see some crimes go investigated by officers, with Ross pressing the First Minister on this as he declared: “Humza Yousaf is a criminal’s dream.
“He doesn’t want them stopped, he doesn’t want them caught and he doesn’t want them in jail.”
Ross challenged the First Minister, asking him: “Why is he being so sly and sleekit and secretive about the consequences of the SNP’s cuts on Police Scotland?”
Yousaf accused the Tories of being in a “post truth phase”, but added: “Let’s stick to the facts because the facts tell us this – there are more officers per head in Scotland than in Conservative-led England and Labour-led Wales. Crime is down under this Government.”
He added that a recent pay deal means police officers in Scotland are “paid more fairly and are the best paid in the entire UK”.
Yousaf said: “On the substance of the issue in relation to Police Scotland, let me make it clear once again to Douglas Ross that under the SNP-led Scottish Government, we have more bobbies on the beat compared to England and Wales.
“We have increased funding for Police Scotland by an additional 6.3% in terms of their revenue.
“And of course what is important to people is ensuring that their communities are safe, and that is why under the SNP-led Scottish Government recorded crime is at one of its lowest level in almost half a century.”
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