Scottish Lib Dem conference: Rennie critical of justice system changes

Willie Rennie said changes to the police system had made it worse not better

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie has accused SNP ministers of taking a "wrecking ball" to the justice system.

He told his party's conference the centralisation of policing had "pitted" police officers against support staff.

And he said hundreds of children were being stopped and searched "without any suspicion".

Mr Rennie also attacked Scottish government plans to remove the requirement to corroborate evidence in criminal cases.

He told the Aberdeen conference that the merger of Scotland's eight regional police operations into a single national force in a move to save cash had caused, "more cuts, not less".

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The centralisation has pitted police officers against staff members. It has removed local power and discretion”

End Quote Willie Rennie Scottish Lib Dem leader

The MSP said: "The centralisation has pitted police officers against staff members.

"It has removed local power and discretion. They have withdrawn from road safety schemes.

"Over half the police stations in the country have closed to the public. Over half the control rooms will shut."

Mr Rennie said of the Scottish government: "They have ripped the heart out of local policing."

He also criticised controversial plans to get rid of the requirement for evidence in Scottish criminal trials to come from two sources, which has been backed by police and prosecutors amid fierce opposition from the legal profession.

Mr Rennie said: "The SNP also once claimed to be a liberal party.

Police officers marching Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie says the heart has been ripped out of local policing

"But on corroboration they abolished a legal safeguard and then recruited 17 experts to try to work out a way to fix the problem they caused."

He said the Lib Dems would attempt to amend justice reform legislation, currently going through parliament, for stricter regulation of police stop and searches on members of the public.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie during a visit to Banbury Cross Nursery in Aberdeen Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie during a visit to a nursery in Aberdeen

Mr Rennie told the conference: "Stop and search has increased five-fold, including 500 under 10 stopped and searched without and suspicion - and the first minister says he is 'comfortable' and 'satisfied'.

He said of the Scottish government: "No liberal party would take a wrecking ball to the justice system like they have."

Mr Rennie who has been appointed to the Scottish government's Early Years Taskforce, also called on ministers to expand free childcare.

The Holyrood administration said that an annual 600 hours of free childcare provision would be offered to every two-year-old from a workless household, about 15% of the total, by August this year.

Childcare package

By August 2015 the provision could extend to 27% of all two-year-olds, as entitlement is widened to families receiving certain welfare benefits.

But Mr Rennie said Scottish ministers must match the 40% pledged by the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition government for England, telling the conference: "Thanks to the UK budget and the improving economic conditions, the Scottish government now has the money they need to implement the childcare package in full.

"I want John Swinney [Scottish Finance Secretary] to use the extra money he has received in that budget to fully match the excellent work south of the border on early education and childcare.

"He's just over half way there already. Now he's got all the money necessary he can travel the whole way.

"No fuss, no groaning, just do it. Future generations will thank us for this."

Mr Rennie also called members of the party faithful to "raise their game", ahead of the European Election in May.

And he argued that a "No" vote in the 18 September Scottish independence referendum, followed by the devolution of new financial and other powers to the Holyrood parliament under the Lib Dems' "home rule" vision, was the best way forward for the country.

Mr Rennie said: "When I question plans for Scottish independence, I am not questioning the ability of people in Scotland.

"The two are not the same. The nationalists conflate them, but they are not the same."

He told the conference: "The Liberal Democrat way means that people in Scotland can be Scottish, with more power here, whilst retaining the great backstop and insurance of the United Kingdom.

"We can keep the currency, trade and renewable energy that we share between Scotland and our neighbours in the rest of the UK.

"We have an absolute determination, as Scottish Liberal Democrats, that Scottish people should be enabled to be the best they can be as individuals."

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