Safer communities

Anas Sarwar talking to two women in a shop

How Labour will deliver safer communities:

  • Action to tackle violence against women and girls
  • Tough sanctions to restrict online sales of deadly knives
  • Greater protections to keep young people safe online
  • Restoring trust in community policing
  • Putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice system

Security is the bedrock on which opportunities are built, communities can thrive, and local economies can prosper. Security means knowing someone will be there for you if things go wrong, and that laws will be respected and enforced.

Scottish Labour’s vision for policing and justice is that when you call the police, they should come. When you report a crime, you should have total confidence that it will be taken seriously and investigated no matter who you are or where you live. Police should enjoy the trust of communities. If you are a victim, you should have faith that justice will be delivered and that criminals will be punished.

Sadly, that sense of security has slowly been eroded over the past 17 years, and now our justice system is stretched to breaking point. Police Scotland has been gutted, with officers no longer able to investigate every crime. Our prisons are so over-crowded that the government has been forced to announce an emergency plan to release prisoners early. Court backlogs continue to delay access to justice, while sexual offences and violent crimes are increasing, and our young people are being drawn into anti-social behaviour.

This must change. Scottish Labour will restore community policing and tackle the epidemic of serious violence. We need a greater focus on prevention, including holding companies and executives cashing in on knife crime to account. We must never tolerate the violence against women and girls that stains our society. And we need to reform the justice system to put victims first, tackle the prisons crisis, and cut reoffending.

The SNP has failed to get the basics right. Scottish Labour would restore confidence in our policing and justice system, create safer communities, and prevent our young people from being drawn into crime in the first place.

Close up photo of an arm with Police Scotland written on a sleeve

Visible neighbourhood policing is the cornerstone of our consent-based policing model, but the centralising approach of the SNP has seen the number of local officers increasingly eroded.

Scottish Labour wants to see community policing numbers restored so that police officers are more visible, more responsive and more in tune with the needs and concerns of the community they serve. This will also enable the public to once again have confidence that Police Scotland will investigate the crimes that are reported to them. As well as prioritising more community police officers, Scotland needs a police retention strategy and improved co-ordination and interaction between emergency services to ensure the best use is being made of police officers’ time.

Public confidence depends on the belief that police officers will conduct themselves to the highest standards. Scottish Labour supports the intentions behind the Police (Ethics, Conduct and Scrutiny) Bill, but we would go further. Scottish Labour wants local accountability to be enhanced, with a role for local government in local policing plans. To support the rebuilding of community links, the voices of under-represented communities in Scotland must also be better heard in the police accountability process.

Police officers must be properly equipped and their investigative techniques must keep pace with modern threats. Scottish Labour supports the full roll out of body worn video cameras for police. Scotland’s police must be able to continuously modernise to be able to keep pace with modern threats, such as cybercrime, fraud, trafficking and terrorism. To support this, and improve collaboration between forces, Labour will also ensure that services elsewhere in the UK are organised to more effectively tackle cross-border issues, such as serious organised crime. UK Labour will also introduce a new expanded fraud strategy to tackle the full range of threats, including online, public sector and serious fraud. We will work with technology companies to stop their platforms being exploited by fraudsters, protecting people in Scotland and across the UK.

Anti-social behaviour is not merely a ‘low-level’ nuisance. It hits the poorest communities hardest and, if left unchecked, leads to more serious offending. That is why tackling anti-social behaviour was central to Scottish Labour’s plan for justice when we were last in government. Scottish Labour believes that developing a cross-government framework to crack down on anti-social behaviour, working with the police, schools, youth services and community groups, is essential to addressing such concerns and supporting young people in Scotland.

Shoplifting has risen exponentially in recent times alongside increasing attacks on shopworkers. Scottish Labour has led the way on addressing this situation, introducing the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act in the last Scottish parliament, but the police need more support and capacity to bring perpetrators to justice.

To get knives off our streets, a UK Labour government will ban ninja swords, lethal zombie-style blades and machetes, strengthening rules to prevent online sales across the UK. Executives of online companies that flout these rules will be personally held to account through tough sanctions.

For too long, violence against women and girls has been ignored. In Scotland today, at least one in five women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, while both violent and sexual crime have increased in recent years and misogynist hate has been allowed to proliferate unchecked online.

Scottish Labour recognises that bold action must be taken to protect women and girls in Scotland. That is why we launched a comprehensive consultation on measures to prevent violence against women and girls, and we support the use of every government tool available to target perpetrators and address the root causes of abuse and violence.

We know that the justice system in Scotland too often fails women and girls, and rape victims find the justice system retraumatising. Scottish Labour supports the creation of a single point of contact for rape victims and has called for a pilot scheme to give independent legal representation to victims of rape and serious sexual crimes. We also agree that the right to anonymity for rape victims should be placed on a statutory basis. While structural change is important, transformational change within the court system will only come through changing culture and practice. The first step is to embed trauma-informed practices and procedures throughout our courts and justice system.

To reduce court delays, Scottish Labour supports the proposal to establish a special sexual offences court and the ‘not proven’ verdict should be abolished to improve the transparency in the system. However, we have serious concerns with proposals to change jury sizes and pilot juryless trials and we will not back these plans as currently proposed.

Violence and abuse do not come from nowhere. Misogyny is the root cause, and tackling sexism from a young age is critical to ending gender-based violence later down the line. That is why we believe schools should be supported to address misogyny, with a strategy to teach young people from all ages about healthy relationships and consent.

Scottish Labour has also repeatedly called for the criminalisation of misogyny, and for sex to be included as an aggravator within the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act. Spiking is a devastating crime for victims, leaving women feeling vulnerable when they go out. Scottish Labour will explore how the law in Scotland can be strengthened so police better respond to this crime. We have also proposed closing loopholes in the law on the distribution of intimate images so that images cannot be shared without consent.

Children and young people face significant harm online, with inappropriate content too easily available at their fingertips on a smartphone. We have seen an increase in extreme misogynistic content online driving a culture of violence against women. A UK Labour government will build on the Online Safety Act, bringing forward provisions as quickly as possible, and explore further measures to keep everyone safe online, particularly when using social media.

Scottish prisons are close to breaking point. Years of inaction has culminated in inmates being released early, while prisons are increasingly unsafe due to overcrowding, and buildings are in a state of disrepair. The Scottish Government has repeatedly delayed new construction projects, but it is clear that Scotland’s prison estate needs to be modernised and improvements are necessary to prevent prisons becoming a breeding ground for more crime.

We need action to reduce reoffending. Improvements are required to the provision of purposeful activity for prisoners, and there must be better access to mental health support, substance misuse services, and rehabilitation programmes in Scotland’s prisons. We know a joined-up community approach is crucial for ending the cycle of reoffending, which is why Scottish Labour has called for a harm prevention plan for everyone who leaves prison, with a safe place to live, registration with a doctor, and other support. Labour mayors elsewhere in the UK are already pioneering this approach.

Scotland has one of the highest remand rates in Europe, partly driven by huge court backlogs which delay justice for all, but also because of a lack of confidence in community alternatives. Scottish Labour wants to see community sentences made more available and reliable to reassure sheriffs who are making sentencing decisions, and to keep the public safe. This includes modernising Scotland’s outdated electronic tagging system, as well as using new tech to track individuals at all times when they are out on bail. Vital changes are also needed to fix the failures of the victims’ notification scheme and improve the communication with local communities about the community work completed by offenders.

For more serious crimes, including domestic abuse and sexual crimes, Scottish Labour is clear that sentences should reflect the crime and that victim safety is paramount. Scottish Labour has called for a review of the sentencing guidelines for under-25s to ensure we have clarity and consistency in sentencing.

Too many victims of historical injustices have had to face years of campaigning, reliving some of their worst moments in the media, just to receive justice. Many have had insult added to injury by years of legal delays. Without justice and the truth, victims and their families cannot move forward. At a UK level, Labour will right this wrong, acting on the findings of the Infected Blood Inquiry, the Grenfell Inquiry, and the Covid-19 Inquiry, to ensure swift resolution for affected families across the country.

At Westminster, Labour will introduce a ‘Hillsborough Law’ which will place a legal duty of candour on UK public servants and authorities, and providlegal aid for victims of disasters or state-related deaths. We will ensure the victims of the appalling Windrush scandal have their voices heard and the compensation scheme is run effectively, with a new Windrush Commissioner. Labour will also ensure, through an investigation or inquiry, that the truth about the events at Orgreave comes to light.

Scotland is not immune from scandals or a culture of cover up. Scottish Labour has stood up for the families in the QEUH scandal and we are committed to passing ‘Milly’s Law’, establishing an independent public advocate who can act on behalf of bereaved families and has the authority to investigate incidents to establish the truth.