We were up very late last night after a poker game. We think we might still be in some sort of fever dream, because however much we rub our eyes we can’t quite believe what we’re seeing in Scotland’s media this morning.
We’ll get to the bizarre story about the alleged hacking of Yes Scotland’s email and the No camp’s desperate, astonishing, barely believable attempts to whip up a smokescreen around it later. But first we want to take a quick look at something we missed yesterday in all the fundraising excitement, and which one of our indispensably alert readers brought our attention to.
The item in question – and it really is in question – is the lead story from yesterday’s Herald. The headline, “Huge rise in police stop and search numbers”, seems pretty self-explanatory and concerning. So let’s have a delve in the detail.
“Record numbers of people are being stopped and searched by Scotland’s police, fuelling fears that the approach is becoming unethical.”
Okay, sounds worrying.
“The new nationwide single force has used the powers on a massive scale across the country since it took over policing in April – including a doubling of the number of people being dealt with in Edinburgh. The total is a far higher proportion of the public than is being dealt with by forces in England and Wales where the legislation is different but the population is more than 10 times higher than Scotland’s 5.2million.”
So you can’t actually compare the two because they have different legislation? Hmm, not the strongest of starts, but hopefully the numbers will make everything clearer.
“Across Scotland, officers stopped and searched 186,463 members of the public since April in the first three months of Police Scotland’s existence. By comparison, for the full 2012-3 year across Strathclyde there were more than 612,000 stop searches, although senior police say this led to a record performance with a 50% reduction in violent crime since 2007.”
WOAH! Let’s just rewind that a touch. 186,463 in three months compared to 612,000 for a full year would indeed be a substantial rise, IF those figures were repeated across a full year. IF police stopped and searched people in the same numbers throughout the whole of 2013-14, it’d equate to 745,852 – a 22% increase.
Now, that hasn’t actually happened, but if it’s a deliberate policy then it’s not wholly unreasonable to extrapolate the three-month figures into likely annual ones.
But wait a minute. The 186,000 figure is for the WHOLE OF SCOTLAND. The 612,000 figure is for STRATHCLYDE ALONE.
The jurisdiction of the old Strathclyde Police encompassed about 2.3 million people. That’s roughly 43% of the population of Scotland. So if we’re playing the extrapolating game, the all-Scotland figure for the whole of 2012-13 would be something more along the lines of 1,423,000. In which case, the 746,000 figure implied by the Herald would represent NOT a 22% rise, but an almost 50% fall in stop-and-searches.
(The reader who sent us the story said that they’d attempted to helpfully point this out twice in the story’s comments section, but had both comments rejected by the Herald’s let’s-call-them-“unpredictable” moderators.)
The article, which was widely circulated yesterday on social media by people attempting to imply the imposition of a sinister new SNP police state, appears solely on the strength of its own evidence to be completely and spectacularly wrong, on a ridiculously basic level.
(The rest of the piece comprises a scattershot collection of statistics which have no bearing on the headline, except one about racial profiling which appears to disprove the earlier suggestion that “the approach is becoming unethical”.)
We can’t quite believe these are the standards to which Scottish journalism has sunk. But it does make the rest of what’s going on today a little easier to explain.