BACKSTABBING. Feuding gangs. Hate campaigns. Smears and counter-smears.

Reports about Police Scotland have started to sound a lot like reports by Police Scotland.

The five-year-old national force - or, rather, the corridors of power in its drafty HQ at Tulliallan Castle - has been a battleground of egos since before its creation.

However, according to insiders, such clashes are simply “business as usual” for Scottish policing. “It was always like this,” said one source, referring to a long history of competition within UK police forces.

But national policing means national politics. Suddenly all the cock-ups and career kerfuffles of cops - however routine - are network news.

Remember the old Winston Churchill line about the warring factions in Soviet politics? “Kremlin political intrigues are comparable to a bulldog fight under a rug,” the war leader said. “An outsider only hears the growling, and when he sees the bones fly out from beneath it is obvious who won.”

HeraldScotland: Police Scotland HQ sign

Police Scotland officers

Well, there are some growls coming out of Police Scotland now. You can read about them rather than hear them, they are little titbits in the newspapers or on social media. And there are bones too, the bones, to be precise, of former Chief Constable Phil Gormley.

Mr Gormley stepped down in February after spending the winter on gardening leave amid a series of allegations of bullying. Critics say he was erratic and lost his rag with underlings.

But the old chief did not go quietly. In a pretty unusual public defence of her husband, his partner Claire played a race card. “It is very easy to attack an outsider,” Mrs Gormley, also a police officer, told a tabloid. “Phil doesn’t have a Scottish accent, he was born in Surrey, not Stirling.”

This, rightly or wrongly, was seen as Mr Gormley playing the race card - even though half his senior team spoke with English voices. It was also viewed as an effective admission that his tenure was over. Were Mrs Gormley’s remarks also a “growl”, to use the Churchill term? The chief’s wife was saying he was being ganged up on. But by whom?

Did Mr Gormley believe he was being undermined by his respected deputy, Iain Livingstone? The Scottish officer had been a favourite to get the top job (as he is again after the old chief quit).

READ MORE: Kenny MacAskill says Police Scotland should not be a political football

Friends deny whispered allegations that Mr Livingstone plotted against Mr Gormley and there is no evidence he did any such thing.

Mr Gormley, some insiders suggest, may have had other ideas. Mr Livingstone was clearly disenchanted at Police Scotland under Mr Gormley. He announced his retirement and then cancelled that plan when Mr Gormley was put on special leave. There were whispers Mr Livingstone would have renewed that attempt to leave had Mr Gormley not resigned.

HeraldScotland: Phil Gormley

Phil Gormley

So will the acting chief get the top job. This week he told the BBC he was still deciding whether to apply. He did so after being asked about an historic allegation of wrongdoing: Mr Livingstone had been cleared of criminal allegations of sexual assault. at a drunken party at Tulliallan, the police college now hosting Police Scotland HQ.

Mr Livingstone admitted falling asleep in the woman’s room and was bumped down from superintendent to constable before being re-instated. This blot on his career, some believe, gave Mr Gormley the edge over him in the last recruitment drive for a chief constable.

But why has the old story, well told at the time, re-emerged. Another “growl” suggests why. Calum Steele, the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, which had defended Mr Livingstone against the original allegations, took to social media this week.

“Look at what’s playing out here,” Mr Steele tweeted. “There are a lot of scorned souls out there grinding axes like lumberjacks on speed.”

Mr Steele praised Mr Livingstone has having stepped in to the breach when times were hard.

“It wasn’t any of the clypes and snipes who are no loss to anything - it was the man who changed his life plans because he actually cares about the police service.”


Calum Steele

Mr Steele attacked a retired assistant chief constable who had raised concerns about the old allegations. She, he suggested, had served with Mrs Gormley.

The clyping. The backstabbing. The feuding. They all say something about leadership in policing. Tulliallan might have the answer to that. But not as a police HQ. In the early days of the new force, the college was mooted as a new centre of excellence for leadership training for all Scotland’s public services. Maybe the time has come to look among ranks and file for new men - and women - to groom for the top job? Because in a new era we probably need a new culture.