Democracy and epistocracy reconciled? The Scottish Police Authority and police governance in Scotland after 2012
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This thesis examines the emergent role of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) in delivering organisational accountability of the Police Service of Scotland, following reform in 2012. The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 amalgamated the eight local police forces into a single force, ‘Police Scotland’, and replaced the concomitant local police authorities, responsible for maintaining and governing those forces, into a national governing body: the SPA. The study draws on a broad range of qualitative data that includes official policy documents, selected minutes of public meetings held by the Justice Committee, and the SPA, inspection reports by HMICS and Audit Scotland, and interviews with a cross-section of stakeholders including a former Minister, senior police officers, members of the SPA, and MSPs. This study chronicles the inception and early development of the SPA, and critically assesses the SPA’s emergent accountability processes in relation to the perennial problems of police governance. Firstly, the doctrine of operational independence of chief constables, rooted in the traditional, and to-date “sacrosanct”, notion of constabulary independence (Reiner, 2013: 169), makes organisational accountability of the police a complicated and contested matter (Lustgarten, 1986; Walker, 2000; Donnelly and Scott, 2002a; Jones, 2008; Reiner, 2010). Secondly, there is a perpetual debate about whether the governance of police should be situated within local government structures, or delivered through central government. There is consensus among policing scholars that the persistent trend towards greater centralisation, coupled with the operational independence doctrine, curtailed the performance of the local police boards and their ability to hold chief constables to account (Walker, 2000; Donnelly and Scott, 2002a; Scott, 2011; Reiner, 2013). Amidst the tussle between central and local political actors for democratic control of the police, the recent policy discourse in Scotland, that led to the reforms and the creation of the SPA, has highlighted that the governance of the police requires expertise, skills and capacities, which the previous local police authorities lacked (Tomkins, 2009; Laing and Fossey, 2011). In light of the persistent difficulties of democratic governance, and the creation of the SPA as an expert body, the study presents an original conceptual framework outlining an ‘epistocratic and deliberative’ approach to police governance. The framework seeks to reconcile democracy and expertise and offers a prescriptive solution to resolve the underlying problems of police governance. The study applies the notion of epistocracy or knowledge-based rule (Estlund, 2003, 2008) to the role of experts in institutional settings (Holst, 2012; Holst and Mollander, 2014). Conceiving the SPA as an institutional epistocracy, it is argued that such an arrangement needs to be underpinned by the right Composition, and that it needs Power, and Autonomy in order to function effectively and independently. It is further argued that principles of Deliberation, including reasoning and justification, can further strengthen epistocratic governance arrangements, as well as providing a crucial democratic dimension. The analysis of the SPA provides a strong empirical basis for the framework. The study shows that while the SPA was created as a professional body of experts, it was unable to resolve the underlying problems of police governance in its first three years. This was due to inadequacies in its composition resulting from insufficient expertise and a lack of training for new board members, differing interpretations of its role and statutory powers, and external pressures and impositions resulting in a lack of autonomy. Looking to recent developments, the study suggests that deliberative principles are now implicit in the SPA’s approach to more proactive scrutiny, which has started to serve to alleviate some shortcomings and problems it encountered in its formative years. However, the study concludes that further strengthening of the SPA’s composition, clarity around its role and powers, greater autonomy, and explicit focus on deliberative principles is needed.