POLICE Scotland is so strapped for cash it will be unable to pay wages within months unless something is done, it has been warned. 

The Scottish Police Federation said the force risks having to cut up to 1,000 officers, while struggling detectives are dealing with huge caseloads of around 100 rapes and sexual assaults at any one time. 

General Secretary Calum Steele said: "At this point in time, the Police Service of Scotland is going to run out of money and not be able to pay wages in February. 

"That's the reality of what is facing the police service."

He made the intervention at a fringe meeting during the SNP conference in Aberdeen.

But Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf insisted it was "outrageous" and "untrue" to claim police officers will not get paid in February – and offered to resign if that happened.

He told the event: "If police officers are not paid in February, I will not just eat my own hat, I will eat every conference delegates' hat that is in this room and in this conference. Because that just simply won't happen."

Mr Yousaf said the Scottish Government could provide extra cash or cover the force's deficit, and stressed ministers do not take the force for granted. 

He added: “Let's make a bet, Calum, shall we? Shall we make a bet that if police officers' wages aren't paid in February – should one of us resign? If they are paid then you should resign.

“Let's do it. Shall we do it? If they are not paid then you can call for my head. If they are paid, shall I call for your head?"

One SNP delegate in the audience later criticised the pair for their "jokey" tone, accusing them of being "typical boys larking about". 

Police bosses previously warned they face having to cut 750 officers to balance the books, while Mr Steele said 300 officers funded by local authorities are also at risk – bringing the total to around 1,000.

It comes amid a rise in violent crime in Scotland, with recent figures showing it is at its highest level in seven years.

Mr Steele told SNP delegates their party will be criticised on the doorstep unless action is taken.

He said: "There is a canary in the mines now and it’s been there for a long time, it’s singing very, very loudly and it’s time people started listening.

"We have had to reduce ranks across the service... We have senior investigating officers in some parts of our country that are managing case loads on an ongoing basis of around about 100 rapes and sexual assaults at any one time, that’s a ridiculous risk and caseload for senior investigating officers to be carrying.

"We have detectives that don’t have access to cars, that don't have access to the technological support that they require."

However, Mr Steele said the SNP Government had generally been good for policing in Scotland.