By a Newsnet reporter
The issue of Law & Order has been brought to the fore as the Dunfermline by-election campaign continues.
With the contest to replace disgraced former MSP Bill Walker heating up, the SNP candidate has today turned her attention to the issue of law and order.
Shirley-Anne-Somerville has contrasted the record of Labour with that of the SNP in combating crime, as she tries to maintain momentum in what has thus far been a decent start by the nationalists who have forced Labour onto the back-foot over the issue of school closures.
Ms Somerville has pointed to analysis of official figures which shows that recorded crime in Fife has fallen by 50% since 2006/7 – from 30,304 recorded crimes to 15,230 last year. The figures follow a national trend in Scotland since the SNP took office, with recorded crime across the country now at a 39-year low – but falling more in Fife than anywhere else in Scotland.
According to the SNP candidate, the drop since the SNP took office stands in stark contrast to Labour’s record – where recorded crime soared in Fife from 22,884 crimes in 1997, to 30,304 when they left office in 2006/7.
Commenting, Ms Somerville said: “I warmly welcome the efforts of police across the Dunfermline constituency to make our communities safer.
“The contrasting records of Labour and the SNP could not be clearer. Since the SNP took office, recorded crime in Fife has halved.”
The SNP candidate also highlighted the SNP commitment to more police on the streets with the party exceeding its pledge to recruit 1000 extra police officers across Scotland.
Other initiatives include investing in preventative measures such as the Cashback for Communities initiative, which sees seized criminal assets invested in sport and creative activities for young people. Since its creation in 2008, over £1.3m has been invested in Fife.
Ms Somerville added: “The SNP Government has exceeded its manifesto commitment to recruit 1000 extra police officers across Scotland, and the 50 extra officers stationed in Fife have played a part in these encouraging figures.”
Her Labour rival, Cara Hilton, has attacked proposals put forward by the national police force Police Scotland, which would see front desks close in some of Scotland’s local police stations. One earmarked for closure is in Oakley which is in the Dunfermline constituency.
Commenting earlier this month, the Labour candidate levelled the blame at the feet of the Scottish Government:
“This closure is down to the SNP’s cuts to the police budget.
“But it isn’t just Oakley which is being affected. Police support staff in Fife are at their lowest levels on record, meaning police officers are sitting behind desks doing those jobs, rather than being out on the street.
“We know that the budget cuts mean that police officer numbers are under threat with Chief Constable House admitting he will have to cut police officers.
“With more police officers being turned into backroom bobbies, it can hardly be surprising that almost 6 in 10 robberies went unsolved in Dunfermline between 2008 and this year.
“This isn’t simply a matter for Police Scotland. The decision to close Oakley to the public, and the threat to police numbers, are down to the SNP’s budget choices.
“Shirley-Anne Somerville needs to now make her position clear. Does she stand with her bosses in Edinburgh whose budget cuts have made this happen, or does she stand with the local community who want local policing protected in Dunfermline and West Fife?”
However, the SNP candidate hit back, saying: “Let’s remember that the Labour party did not promise a single extra police officer, and have made no commitment to keeping the extra officers recruited under the SNP. The fact that 16,000 police south of the border are currently losing their jobs is a stark reminder of the importance the SNP places on having bobbies on the beat.
“There can be no room for complacency, however – I want everyone across Dunfermline and West Fife to feel that their local communities are a safe place to live. If elected as the MSP I will work with the police and other authorities to help drive down crime even further.”
Ms Somerville has also confirmed she has held talks with the local Chief Inspector and pledged to investigate fully the proposed closure of the Oakley Police Station front counter.