MANY people will have concerns about the idea of children being stopped and searched by the police, even, or perhaps especially, where this involves the notion of consent.

The notion of informed consent is difficult enough at the best of times with, say someone considering the pros and cons of a medical procedure. When it involves, instead, a nine-year-old providing "informed consent" to a police constable twice his height and four times his weight, the term becomes somewhat elastic.

There was a golden age of demonisation of young people under American sociologists in the 1990s who spoke of "super predators" and predicted a lawless future. Instead, on both sides of the Atlantic, our young people have grown ever more law abiding.

Loading article content

The creation of Police Scotland has brought in its wake many debates on policies and geography. Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has thus far ended up pledging consistency when it was sometimes unwanted.

Around Scotland, officers wedded to the old forces bemoan "House rules" and being "House trained" and there is a perception that the new national force has become simply Strathclyde writ large.

It certainly felt that way when Edinburgh had its longstanding social policy, championed by the late Margo Macdonald, on using regulated saunas to control street prostitution swept away.

A procedure to make guns more readily available to police as a response to the kind of events faced primarily in the Central Belt provoked outrage in the Highlands and Islands.

Which begs the question: Whatever happened to the great network of local police committees at divisional level? It was a fine pledge and carried the promise of more locally responsive policing. If Edinburgh can't keep its tolerance zones, you can be sure Auchtermuchty isn't keeping its 20mph High Street, or perhaps I do the burgh a disservice.

The early power struggle between the new force and its supposedly governing authority is well documented. But where has that left us? It often seems as if it has been left to the media to scrutinise police performance rather than the supposed local guardians doing their job.

The BBC has produced new figures on the stop and search issue which suggest there remain big questions to be answered, particularly in relation to youngsters.

The figures are contested, but as they stand the calculator shows that among my fellow white, Scots 60-year-olds in Edinburgh some 12 of us were subjected to stop and search last year. I'm thinking of starting a support group.

In Glasgow I would have 167 in that support group. I've given up on Aberdeen where there were a paltry two. Consistency across the country is as variable as the notion of consent.

To put it another way, a nine or ten-year-old in Glasgow is as likely to be subjected to a stop and search as this 60-year-old in the capital, only I am much more likely to decline my consent. Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson is under particular fire for promising MSPs he would end stop and search for minors but to politicians he gave a politicians' answer which lacked a timescale.

More important than the raw statistics is the manner of policing, In Glasgow some young people out for the night queue up to be searched so that they can enter a zone where they feel safe. Some searches of children are blatantly because they are being used as mules by adults for weapons or drugs.

Above all, the key is attitude and approach. England doesn't have the same powers of stop and search as Scotland, and yet aggressive policing and targeting of young black men has created far more controversy there.

Here, Human Rights Professor Alan Miller is right when he says: "Children are very vulnerable and they can't be expected to know what their rights are, or to be able to stand up for themselves.

"And it doesn't create a good relationship going forward between these young people and the police as they get older."

That is a common sense voice that the police must see as a friend rather than an enemy. Our young people are actually more law-abiding than a generation ago and it is vital not to use heavy-handed tactics to wreck their relationship with the police in years to come.

Sir Stephen, in spite of his past flirtation with mass stop and search, would probably agree with that. The statistics are disturbing but it is the relationship on the ground between police and the public that matters most, right across Scotland.