Scottish police are preparing for the possibility of significant protests in the wake of this week’s independence referendum result, as tensions continue to run high on both sides of the debate over the country’s future.
Brian Docherty, the chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, told The Independent that officers were continually monitoring the situation and would “see what develops” in the wake of Thursday’s vote, with Friday night considered a potential flashpoint. Police Scotland said it would “respond appropriately to any issues” which might arise after the result, which is expected to be announced early on Friday morning.
On Sunday, thousands of Yes campaigners descended on the BBC’s Scottish headquarters in Glasgow’s Pacific Quay in protest at what they perceive as a pro-Union bias by the corporation’s journalists, notably its political editor Nick Robinson.
One of the protest’s leaders told The Independent that in the event of a No vote on Thursday: “We will take to the streets. We will not be robbed of victory by a conspiracy which has the BBC at its centre.”
Mr Docherty said he was “hopeful” that events would continue to be peaceful but that “forewarned is forearmed”. “As it sits just now, there is nothing which I’m led to believe is going to cause us any great issues, but you never say never in this game. It’s an ever-changing environment and the picture changes with the intelligence that we get in,” he said.
“You may still get a very small element who try to make some kind of gain on their policies and theories, and maybe even try to bring in a bit of violence, but you’ve just got to hope that common sense prevails and people accept what [the result] is.”
He added that if there was a large-scale protest, emergency procedures would kick in and the focus would be on getting officers to the right areas as quickly as possible. Demonstrations were most likely to develop on Friday afternoon, continuing overnight into Saturday, he said.
“If there is going to be any potential issues or problems kicking off, that’s when it’s going to be. We’re hopeful that by that time most of the intelligence picture will be available and we can deal with it accordingly, moving our people to where they have to be.”
Police Scotland has been working with electoral authorities to ensure that tensions outside polling stations are kept to a minimum and today it confirmed that it would remain on alert after the result is announced.
Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said: “The referendum is a significant event which is expected to attract a higher than normal turnout. Policing arrangements for the referendum are well in hand and will be appropriate and proportionate.
“Police Scotland’s priority is to ensure public safety and security. We will respond appropriately to any issues which arise. We will not offer comment on the numbers of officers or their specific operational deployment.”
The campaigns for and against Scottish independence have both expressed hopes that the result of the referendum would be accepted by everyone. A Better Together spokesperson said: “Whatever the outcome on Thursday night, it is important that the result is respected. After more than two years of campaigning it will be time to put division behind us and come together to take Scotland forward.”
Yes Scotland highlighted remarks made earlier this month by Mr Docherty, who said politicians should be “mindful of the potential impact” of their pronouncements on the public mood. “The referendum is a celebration of Scottish democracy, and a Yes vote is the biggest opportunity the people of Scotland have ever had – it’s important that we focus on this real debate,” a spokesperson added.