Home Secretary Theresa May has questioned the merits of the Scottish policing model – prompting accusations of “rank hypocrisy” from the SNP.
The Tory frontbencher said the way the single force had been formed north of the border showed “one should be very wary and careful” of the claim centralisation was the “answer to everything”.
She claimed there had been “operational issues” and said no “proper business case” had yet been put forward for the merger of the eight regional forces in 2013.
But a spokesman for Scottish Justice Secretary Michael Matheson turned the tables on the senior minister.
He pointed to the UK Government’s record on policing, adding: “This is another of example of rank hypocrisy from the Tories.
“Theresa May and her party are presiding over a total collapse in police numbers south of the border.”
He said the numbers were predicted to fall by a further 20,000, on top of the 16,000 already lost.
“In contrast, the SNP government has maintained 1,000 additional officers in the face of Westminster cuts, helping crime in Scotland to fall to a 41-year low,” he added.
North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald, however, claimed the establishment of a single force had taken away local accountability and transparency.
And Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes accused the SNP of “making it up as they go along”.
But a spokesman for the Scottish Police Authority said: “Operating as a single service, with commensurate reductions in duplication and overlap, has been a major contributory factor in sustaining policing in a time of public spending constraints.”
Mrs May told the Press and Journal: “I think the way that Police Scotland has been brought together shows that one should be very wary and careful about the idea of those who say that forming a single police force or larger police forces is the answer to everything.
“Obviously there have been some real operational issues for them, but also I think I am right in saying that they still have yet to put forward a proper business case for doing it.”
In last month’s spending review, Chancellor George Osborne announced police budgets in England and Wales would be protected in real terms.