First off, I’m not going to talk about the historical relationship between the police and British nightlife. I’m not going to talk about the legality or morality of drugs. I’m not going to talk about the political controversy over a single Scottish police force. I’m not going to talk about the suggestion that clubs are being purposefully targetted for their prime city centre real estate, or the very persuasive allegations that the former Chief Constable of the tendentious single police force – Stephen House – is a wanker. I’m sure you already have opinions on all of that, particularly the latter. I know I do.
What I am going to do is offer my view as a seasoned photographer (and patron) of nightclubs for around a decade. I’ve worked in all of the usual Glaswegian haunts from the Cathouse, to Bamboo, Garage, Sub Club, and the ill-fated Arches, and I am going to argue that we need to look closely at our city’s nightlife community to see a dangerous trend unfolding that represents a more authoritarian stance from the police.
Much has been said in recent years about how the ‘Glasgow style’ of police enforcement has been allegedly spreading to other parts of the country, with examples including the crackdown on the saunas of Edinburgh, and the presence of armed police on regular callouts in Inverness. What people fail to realise (or give appropriate attention to) is that this is not a Wegie-centric style of policing, but an entirely new approach in general. This is most evident (as far as I can tell) recently in the position of the police towards licensed premises.
In the past year or so, I have witnessed a palpably different attitude from the police towards clubs in Glasgow from what existed before. Not long ago, there was a good relationship, with many clubs praised for their low levels of ejections and lack of requirement for calling upon police resources to control their patrons. The basic idea being, that if your security staff can head off trouble before it happens, and/or deal with it effectively when it does arise, then you are doing a good job. Less calls to the police signal a better managed environment – and less burden on the taxpayer.
Based on this principle, there was hardly ever any reason for the police to step foot inside the private establishments where we go to drink and dance in the wee hours of the morning, unless there was a serious incident. People got on with drinking, and having fun – perfectly legally – and so long as there wasn’t any real manifestation of violence that couldn’t be controlled or dealt with by the trained (and licensed staff), the high-vis wearing arm of the law kept their distance; and rightfully so. Effective community policing – particularly in a city like Glasgow – is about working respectfully alongside people.
Now, however, things are different. The police routinely make drop-in visits to clubs throughout the city, in which they take some sort of guided tour throughout the various dancefloors… to eh, well, who knows what? Far from being a friendly visit to check that everything is going smoothly like they may have been in the past, these serve a distinctly different purpose.
There are two possibilities: either the police genuinely think they are going to stumble upon somebody engaged in some sort of nefarious activity whilst traipsing about in their dayglo jackets and arrest them, or else they are really there to demonstrate a misguided show of force. If the former is correct, then it remains to be seen how it makes any of us any safer. I’d be far happier if they were waiting outside at kicking-out time for the inevitable clashes with drunk passers by, or clamped down on the boy-racer neds who routinely speed out from Mitchell Street onto Argyle Street on weekends to cause trouble, or maybe even dedicated more resources to seriously tackle the 5% increase in reported rapes from 2014 to 2015 (and no, this is not simply down to ‘increased confidence of victims’).
I personally completely reject the idea that emanations of the State should be able to turn up at private establishments, and walk around with their assorted weaponry in a display of force, giving their approval for the behaviour of people who are socialising and not causing trouble. The only time police should enter nightclubs in this manner is where a crime has been reported – not on some routine ‘inspection’ to swing their self-inflated dicks around. Irrespective of the legal powers the police may or may not have, the question is about what kind of relationship we want to have with them.
One needs only look to Aberdeen to see the abhorrent practice of police turning up to clubs just before they open, and demanding that anybody who wants to enter has to submit to drug testing. This sort of action is completely unnecessary, and an illegitimate intrusion of the police into people’s private lives – skirting around the requirements of Section 23(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act for reasonable suspicion.
If we are not careful, this sort of authoritarianism from the police is only going to increase, and not just in the places where we gather to drink and listen to loud music. It’s worth bearing in mind at this point that Scotland is already subject to some of the strictest alcohol related alcohol laws in the UK, never mind the rest of Europe. How long before drug testing is mandatory to enter any sort of pub? How long before the police expand their jurisdiction to further elements of social society? This aggressive approach is not only a waste of resources, but an affront to everything that we supposedly believe in with regards to the freedom to live without undue interference from the State.
I don’t know what the strategic agenda is in these ‘drop-in’ visits. I don’t know the political manoeuvrings that are going on in the background. I don’t know if this is really a misguided attempt to curb violence, or to cut down on excessive drinking, or if it’s the hangover of a Stephen House power trip. I don’t know if it’s really an attack on ‘youth culture’, or if it’s somehow a result of David Cameron and that pig. What I do know is that the more time goes on, the more the principle of ‘policing by consent’ is being made a mockery of. Yes, clubs should be safe places – but they largely already are. The presence of the police does nothing but to cause friction where none exists. Our freedoms to congregate are rapidly being eroded for seemingly arbitrary reasons, and nobody really seems to care.
Dear Police Scotland – get tae fuck.