Nicola Sturgeon has invited the people of Scotland to cast their verdict on her Government after she was accused of presiding over some of the worst months in the history of policing.
But the First Minister said she already knows what the verdict will be, following a new poll showing 58% of people intend to vote SNP at the Holyrood election next year.
And she told her opponent Kezia Dugdale at First Minister’s Questions that “her miserable approach that denies anything good about this country” is the reason Labour is “languishing in the polls”.
Ms Sturgeon also confirmed that Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has her “full confidence”, after HM Inspectorate of Constabulary this week reported several weaknesses in police call handling.
Mr Matheson had previously insisted there were “no systemic failings in the call handling process” following the death of John Yuill and Lamara Bell, who lay undiscovered on the M9 for three days despite a sighting of their car being reported to police.
Ms Sturgeon said a link between the deaths and police call handling has yet to be identified by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc), insisting HMICS only addressed the wider issues.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I am more than happy to allow the Scottish people to judge my Government on its record. Perhaps that’s why we see today that 58% of people in Scotland intend to vote for us again next year.”
Ms Dugdale said: “I think the people of Scotland want to hear a bit less about the polls and a bit more about what she is going to do to support the police.
“The last few months have been some of the worst in the history of policing in Scotland.
“The resignation of the chief constable and the Scottish Police Authority chair. Morale at rock bottom. A third of staff preparing to leave the force. Civilian staff numbers cut. Bogus figures over stop-and-search. A lack of transparency over armed policing. A 20% increase in housebreaking in Edinburgh. Controversy over deaths in police custody. Allegations of spying on journalists. A £25 million budget overspend.”
“Judge me on my record, says the First Minister. What’s her verdict on that record?”
Ms Sturgeon said: “It’s not my verdict that counts, it’s actually not Kezia Dugdale’s verdict that counts. It’s the verdict of the Scottish people that counts.
“We know, at this stage, what the verdict of the Scottish people is.
“There was one fact that Kezia Dugdale forgot to mention – crime in Scotland at a 40-year low.
“That is down to the dedication of police officers and police service staff working hard around this country.
“Kezia Dugdale is right to hold this Government to account, but it’s her miserable approach that denies anything good about this country that sees her and her party languishing in the opinion polls.”
Ms Dugdale added: “This (HMICS) report is a damning assessment of this Government’s record on policing.
“Calls across the country diverted elsewhere. Not enough staff at Bilston Glen which resulted in low levels of performance. IT problems affecting day-to-day operations. A lack of governance leaving major risks unidentified, and an overtime bill that has gone through the roof.
“The day after Lamara Bell died, the Justice Minister Michael Matheson was on the television telling us that there were ‘no systemic failings in the call handling process’.
“We now know that this simply wasn’t true.”
She added: “The Justice Secretary is bang to rights on police failings. He can’t lay the blame anywhere else.
“So can I ask the First Minister: Does she still have full confidence in her Justice Minister?”
Ms Sturgeon said: “Yes, I do.”