Policing and Democracy in the 21st Century

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference


'I don’t predict a riot: stop and search in Scotland, legitimacy and accountability': In 2012/13, the recorded stop and search rate in Scotland exceeded that in England and Wales seven times over. The statistic is intriguing, principally because the tactic was politically and socially invisible at this juncture and viewed as a ‘non-issue’ by the police. This sense of invisibility is also striking when compared with the fraught history of stop and search in England. Following the amalgamation of the eight Scottish forces into Police Scotland in April 2013, the unproblematic status of stop and search was rapidly dismantled. This was prompted by two related factors: firstly, the publication of key findings from my doctoral research which revealed the scale of search activity; and second, by the rapid ‘politicization’ of Scottish policing in the post-reform period. Published into this charged environment, the research generated ongoing media and political attention, and within less than two years, led to major changes to policy, practice and the legal regulation of stop and search. The case of stop and search in Scotland raises challenges for researchers which this paper will discuss. The fact that stop and search was tolerated prior to reform, despite exceptionally high search rates, but rapidly rendered unpalatable in the post-reform period (when search rates were falling) runs counter to theories suggesting that police legitimacy principally flows upwards from police practice. Rather, the abrupt shift in wider public opinion suggests that legitimacy might also be understood as a top-down process, which is partly dependent on how policing is framed or represented, and the related degree of scrutiny. The remarkable rise and fall of stop and search in Scotland also challenges the view that policy-making is best carried out under more temperate conditions. Rather, it might be argued that more heated conditions are required to effectively hold the police to account.
Period17 Sept 2015
Event typeConference
LocationLiverpool, United KingdomShow on map


  • Stop and search
  • police legitimacy
  • Scottish policing