First Minister Humza Yousaf has hailed as “historic” and “monumental” a statement from the outgoing chief constable of Police Scotland in which he admitted the force is “institutionally racist”.
Sir Iain Livingstone told a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority that it is important to “acknowledge the issues within the force”.
His comments came part way through a public inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh, a black man who died after being taken into police custody in 2015.
Mr Yousaf told how he had challenged “racism in the police force” himself when he was younger, after being stopped and searched several times by officers from Strathclyde Police – one of several regional forces that existed in Scotland before the national body was created.
“I remember raising issues around racism in the police force, Strathclyde Police as it was back then, when I was stopped and searched over a dozen times as young boy, whether it was in my car, walking with my friends in the streets, in airports.
“So the acknowledgement from the chief constable is very welcome indeed.”
Mr Yousaf stressed Sir Iain’s comments are not an “inference on individual police officers, who we know put themselves in harm’s way to protect us day in and day out”.
The First Minister added that acknowledging the problems of institutional racism and institutional misogyny within the force is the “first step that is required in order to then dismantle those institutional and structural barriers that exist”.
He said he is “committed to working with Police Scotland” on these issues.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, whose wife is a serving police officer, called for urgent action to “overhaul how Police Scotland handles legitimate complaints from within the force”.
Claiming the current system is “not fit for purpose”, Mr Ross said: “Nobody should feel fear when raising concerns. That’s clearly unacceptable.
“Officers should be able to raise legitimate issues without suffering any consequences.”
Mr Yousaf pledged to look at the issue, as he highlighted the importance of culture within the police force, saying “that is why the chief constable’s statement was so monumental, because it is demonstrating from the very, very top of the organisation that culture simply is not acceptable”.
Mr Ross went on to raise the issue of police budgets, saying the trade union Unison has complained about a £74 million shortfall as he voiced concerns that officers are “being asked to do too much with too little”.
Mr Yousaf agreed that “funding can never be an excuse for institutional racism, institutional misogyny”.
He added: “In terms of the funding we provide for Police Scotland, despite UK Government austerity over the years, we have increased police funding year-on-year since 2016.
“We have invested more than £11.6 billion in policing since the creation of Police Scotland in 2013.”
Speaking to journalists after FMQs, Mr Yousaf reflected on his own experiences with the police.
He said: “I felt quite emotional, I have to say, listening to the chief constable as he was making his statement today.
“I can think of well over a dozen times where I was stopped and searched as a young teenager walking the streets with my friends – never doing anything wrong.”
He said he had also been stopped in airports, as well as while driving a car at night.