Scotland and counter terrorism: 10 things you need to know

Nathanael Williams

CommonSpace looks at the recent developments in anti-terror tactics

TEN YEARS AGO, on June 30 2007, two men inspired by Islamist extremism drove a 4×4 carrying petrol and propane tanks into the main terminal of Glasgow Airport. It was the first terrorist attack to take place in Scotland since the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 that claimed the lives of 270 people.

Scotland’s recent counter terrorism history has also been shaped by events within the wider UK context, including the 7/7 attacks in London in 2005 and the Machester Arena which on Monday (22 May) took the lives of 22 people and injured over 120 others. 

We look at the recent developments in Scottish counter-terrorism measures and what it means for you and your community.

1). Start of a new era

On 1 April 2012, the Police and Fire Reform Act 2012 passed by the Scottish Government created Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. The establishment of a single police service has seen the blending of Scotland’s counter-terrorism and organised crime assets into the Specialist Crime Division (SCD) which advocates argue has made responses to operations and investigations smoother. Opponents such as Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have cited financial constraints as weakening influences on the new organisation.

2). Gaps in the network

In March 2016 the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) website accidentally published a private paper which showed that Scotland’s compliance with the UK counter-terrorism strategy, known as Contest, was insufficient. The report described “gaps of knowledge” in expertise for counter-terrorism operations in Scotland’s police services.

The Police Scotland remit focuses on “Contest” which covers four themes: Pursue, the investigation and disruption of terrorist attacks; Prevent, to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism and extremism; Protect, improving protective security to stop a terrorist attack and Prepare: working to minimise the impact of an attack and to recover from it as quickly as possible.

3). Lack of Cooperation

Scotland’s frontline police officers complained in October of last year that they were being denied access to “vital counter-terrorism intelligence” needed to prevent an extremist attack.

Europol, the European-wide police and intelligence service, criticised the lack of communication from London to Scotland’s services saying it meant that more than 3000 potential suspects who have spent time in Syria and returned to Europe and the UK can’t be accessed in real time by officers in Scotland on the street.

Angels Bosch, president of EuroCOP, a European umbrella police union organisation, criticising this lack of cooperation said: “Officers need access to the information instantly to do their job properly.”

4). Initatives and promotion

Last November saw Scotland take a bigger role in the UK-wide Counter Terrorism Awareness Week which ran until December 4.

British Transport Police, firefighters and paramedics were also involved in the campaign, with a focus on promoting safety, security advice and guidance in crowded public spaces like town and city centres. Hundreds of police officers are to step-up patrols.

5). Businesses pay for safety

In December last year, the Security Industry Authority (SIA) launched a counter-terrorism initiative with the Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC) and Police Scotland.

At a counter terrorism workshop in Tulliallan, Fife over 50 representatives from Scotland’s security industry as well as sports stadiums, universities and large shopping centres attended the event to give training to counter-terror measures for businesses.

6). Prevent

The UK Government’s “Prevent” strategy is a civic counter-terror project intended to stop people becoming “radicalised” and turning to terrorism. It is applied in educational institutions, universities, colleges and other public sector workplaces under provisions of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act of 2015.

Last November, three people had been referred to the Prevent Professional Concerns (PPC) processes in the council areas of Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, and Highlands.

Bodies such as the civil liberties group Scotland against Criminalising Communities describe “Prevent” as a controversial and intrusive government strategy which has the potential to alienate and stigmatise the Muslim community in Scotland and across the UK. Education unions such as the UCU, the EIS, the NUT and the NUS are all opposed to it, as they believe it encourages teachers and other public servants to spy on those in their care.

7). Civic Action

This year in March, Police Scotland launched an anti-terror campaign urging the public to help defeat terrorism.

The six-week campaign entitled Make Nothing Happen came under the remit of the Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) initiative and included community cohesion and communication projects.

8). Scotland in the lead

Following the Westminister terror attack in March Prime Minister Theresa May announced that Scottish forces will lead a counter-terror operation in October. The operation in October will test the multi-agency response that would come into force in the event of a terror attack.

9). Far right terror

On May 2017, the Ferret conducted an investigation that showed most counter-terrorism strategy in Scotland focuses on sectarianism and far right terrorism. This matches with intelligence services in the US and France who have also stated that over the past 40 years their resources have mostly been consumed tracking and dealing with far right extremist gangs and militant cells. Some in the intelligence community are concerned that too little attention is paid to the danger of far-right terrorism.

November 2016 saw the brutal killing of Labour MP Jo Cox by a far right nazi attacker who police found had imbibed large amounts of white supremacist literature and nazi propaganda and memorabilia. CommonSpace investigated the serious growth of far right groups planning terror plots in the UK in recent years.

10). After Manchester

Thirty Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) members, trained in special firearms drills and tactics, have been moved from Inverness to Perth yesterday morning in unmarked vans with armed escorts, ready for redeployment according to Police Scotland.

Put on high alert but not assisted by members of the British Army like in Manchester, the Scottish police force now has about 600 firearms officers and the number of armed response vehicles on patrol has been doubled since the attack.

Picture courtesy of WA

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