TIME is running out for Scotland's first national police service.

When the eight regional constabularies disappear on April 1, less than four weeks away, the new Police Service of Scotland will be expected to take their place without skipping a beat.

Crime, we can be sure, will not take a holiday.

For all our sakes, the 17,000 officers of the service must feel prepared for one of the biggest upheavals of devolution.

Ministers insist the public will not notice any difference in the quality of policing, despite the reforms saving £1.7 billion over 15 years and up to 3200 administrative jobs being scrapped. Those assurances would be more credible if the road to the merger had been a calm one.

But while the parallel merger of Scotland's eight fire-and-rescue services has caused barely a whisper, the police reforms have been raucous. At the heart of the matter has been a clash of two strong personalities, both used to getting their own way.

Stephen House, the former Chief Constable of Strathclyde who will head the new force, wants to control all of his staff, police and civilian. But the Scottish Police Authority, the watchdog created to oversee the force, says it should control some of the administrative staff.

The turf war raged for months until both sides apparently compromised. However, as we report today, the dysfunctional nature of the merger process was far worse than observers had ever imagined.

It is hard to believe such feuding is at an end. While the merger policy may be a good one in theory, the execution has been found wanting.

If ministers let the referendum distract them from the daily grind of good government, voters may well decide to punish their failings.