January 31, 2011

Potential amalgamation of Scottish police forces could spell trouble for bands

The recent proposal to amalgamate Scotland’s eight police forces into a single, national body could mean trouble for the various pipe bands associated with regional constabularies. The move, if it goes ahead, would save almost £200-million annually, according to Scotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, and is in response to budgetary cuts across Great Britain imposed by the Westminster government.

There are currently three Grade 1 police bands in Scotland: Fife Constabulary, Lothian & Borders and Strathclyde Police, the latter two with histories older than a century. In Grade 2 there are the Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary and Grampian Police. The Central Scotland Police were recently downgraded to Grade 3A, and the Northern Constabulary Pipe Band competes in Grade 4 and is made up of strictly volunteer civilian members as a “community” group. The Grade 1 Tayside Police Pipe Band dissolved in August 2010.

One member of a Scottish police pipe band, when asked about the situation, said on condition of anonymity, “So far, amalgamation of the forces is only a proposal and has still to be agreed and then passed through Parliament. I admit, though, it is looking likely. I do think that the bands will retain their separate identities, but survival may depend on funding. I suppose it could be that the bands will really be police in name only.”

Scotland’s police pipe bands have gradually become made up of primarily if not solely civilian members, with fewer and fewer actively serving police officers in their ranks. The Strathclyde Police Pipe Band is one of the last police bands to comprise mostly serving officers, while other police bands have gradually dissolved the tradition beginning in the 1970s to the point where the bands are ostensibly sponsored by their police forces in return for practice facilities and performances at police functions.

Another person close to the situation commented, “In the last 12-24 months,  many Scottish police pipe bands have noticed a significant or complete withdrawal of financial, logistical  and moral support from their respective hierarchies, the most notable amongst them being the long running  and highly publicized saga surrounding  the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band. The Lothian & Borders Police Pipe Band however appears to still have a good level of support from its force management despite the current state of affairs elsewhere.”

Legislation on amalgamating Scotland’s police forces would not happen until after Scottish Parliament elections in May of this year. MacAskill said that another option is reducing the eight forces to three.

Other countries take a unified approach to a single police force. In Ireland, the Garda Síochána has policed the country since 1925.

In the 1994, Scotland’s Queen’s Own Highlanders and Gordon Highlanders were amalgamated to form The Highlanders, and in 2004 further amalgamation of Scottish infantry regiments resulted in more consolidation, as well as the dissolution of several military pipe bands.

“As recent events with Strathclyde Police Pipe Band have shown, it doesn’t matter how much history  and success have gone before and how healthy the finances of the band are if there is little or no support or goodwill from the head of the Force. Public opinion and heritage play no role in the decision making processes,” the source said.


  1. Interesting. Perhaps they could reduce the savings to 199 million pounds and toss a few bob in the direction of the pipe bands. I’m sure that the Scottish public would grudgingly agree that it would worth it to help keep their cultural tradition alive and well. The publicity around pipe bands in general helps to promote tourism and community good will. Surely it’s worth the investment?

  2. Sadly, many people in Scotland don’t recognise their cultural wealth…the whisky industry and tourist industry are the same. They will gurn when the bands are gone, but many couldnt care less at the minute. Very Sad

  3. I absolutely fully appreciate my cultural heritage. I’ve lived and breathed pipe bands for the last 30 years and for 10 of those, was a member of one of Scotland’s Police Pipe Bands. However, if, as a member or the public, I’m offered a choice of the now very limited police funds being spent on pipe bands or on operational policing costs, it’s got to the be the latter. That’s not a lack of appreciation for my culture, it’s just common sense. I really do hope it doesn’t come to that though. The blow would be felt throughout the pipe band world – not just by the Police bands. Suddenly taking so many bands out of the equation at once can only be detrimental to the whole pipe band ‘scene’.



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