A new turf war has broken out between Police Scotland and its main civilian watchdog, a former justice secretary has claimed.

Kenny MacAskill has already witnessed one power struggle between the leaders of the two organisations he helped to create.

Now the SNP veteran, who led the justice system for seven years, believes oversight body Scottish Police Authority and the command of the national force are again clashing over who decides what.

His concern, in an article published in this week's Police Professional magazine, came just as an English officer called Phil Gormley took up his post as Scotland's chief constable.

This appointment came amid speculation - rejected by the SPA - that Scottish candidates had been overlooked.

Mr MacAskill wrote: "A turf war of sorts was being played out between the new chair of the SPA, Andrew Flanagan, and the senior command team at Police Scotland."

Citing reports of "seemingly petty" etiquette issues over who had primacy, Mr MacAskill suggested "discord over the nature of the relationship between the two.

He added: "No smoke without fire, as the saying goes, and there was clearly friction. The substantive argument was clearly not protocol but power.

"The new chair was clearly eager to establish his precedence over the service and the chief constable in particular."

Mr MacAskill, pictured above, suggested that Mr Flanagan was more familiar with English oversight, where police commissioners have a greater role than that of the SPA. The SNP MSP said Labour proposals that SPA chairs be confirmed by parliament, rather than just ministers, had "merit".

SPA insiders have rejected talk of turf wars. But the organisation - under a previous chairman and a previous chief constable - was in relatively open dispute over powers back in 2013. An official spokeswoman said the chief was interested in "creating unity rather than division".

Mr MacAskill praised Mr Gormley, who has an impressive CV as a former deputy direct or the National Crime Agency, which has a small role north of the border but a substantial one in England and Wales.

 

But he expressed concerns about political whisperings that Scottish candidates - Deputy Chief Constables Neil Richardson, pictured, and Iain Livingstone - had not fared so well in the interview process. This, he suggested, could be seen as a reflection of the recent politics around Police Scotland.

He wrote: "Regrettably both for him and the service in Scotland, his appointment probably says more about the perception by some of Police Scotland than his own capabilities as an officer, excellent though they are.

"The private briefing by some political sources that he excelled at the interview while others faltered seems disingenuous and a political smokescreen for other agendas at play."

He added: "Knowing both the experienced officers personally that is incredulous.

"For sure, police and politicians can have off-days and perform atrociously on occasion. But it seems an attempt to deflect from what was becoming a choice as basic as knowing your ABCs – ‘Anyone But a Constable from Scotland’."

Mr MacAskill's view was that Mr Gormley was selected against an "unfair traducing of Police Scotland by press and politicians" and the power struggle between the SPA, which leads on such appointments, and police commanders. It was, he said, as if "a new helmsman was needed to save a sinking ship".

A SPA spokeswoman said: "Phil Gormley is the appointee of the SPA and the chair has made clear our belief that he is the right leader with the right skills to energise the wider police team around him.

"It is clear from his early communications that this is a Chief Constable who is interested in moving policing forward and in creating unity rather than division. That is a focus and approach that aligns strongly with the objectives of the SPA."

Police Scotland referred questions on Mr MacAskill's concerns of a turf war to the SPA.