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Allan Dorans MP: Policing the parliament

Allan Dorans in his constituency. Pic: Gordon Terris/Newsquest

Allan Dorans MP: Policing the parliament

“Politics,” says Allan Dorans, “is a cruel game.”

As a member of two key Westminster watchdog committees, the ex-Met Police detective inspector is charged with ensuring that that ‘game’ is played by the rules.

Crime and policing spokesperson for the SNP at Westminster, Dorans is the sole Scottish MP on the panels, which deal with the conduct of fellow members of parliament and which currently hold the reputations – and political careers – of two controversial figures in their hands. Former PM Boris Johnson is at the mercy of the Committee on Privileges as it considers whether or not he misled parliament over alleged lockdown breaches while in office. Meanwhile, ex-SNP MP Margaret Ferrier, who lost the party whip over a Covid travel breach, could be forced into a byelection after the Committee on Standards recommended she face a 30-day suspension.

There is strong public and political interest in both cases, which are far from decided yet, with several procedural stages still to run.

And when we sit down to talk, Dorans is under pressure over his decision to vote against potential suspension in Ferrier’s case. Labour’s Ian Murray called the move “a betrayal of the people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West”, accusing Dorans of having “closed ranks and voted with the Tories” to protect Ferrier. Humza Yousaf, the new SNP leader and first minister, may not have echoed that sentiment, but he did share Murray’s call for Ferrier to resign and said Dorans “should have backed the suspension which has been agreed by the committee”.

Dorans himself has refused to set out why he voted the way he did. He can’t, he says – doing so would be against the rules. “No one in the SNP has ever asked me my opinion or tried to influence my decision on what I do or say,” he tells Holyrood. “Members of the Standards Committee and the Committee on Privileges are appointed by the House of Commons and can’t comment on individual cases or outcomes.”

I sat down on the green benches and thought, ‘what the hell just happened?’

Few could have predicted that this would be the outcome for Dorans – a boy raised in the poverty of an Ayrshire mining village now holding a former prime minister to account. But there’s little in his story that is predictable, and the man who spent so many years arresting people for drugs offences in England’s capital is now a vocal supporter of radical reforms aimed at saving lives on Scotland’s streets.

“When I first got down after my election, I sat down on the green benches and thought, ‘what the hell just happened?’ I’m still thinking that,” he says.

Raised in Dailly, where his war hero father was a miner and his mother a waitress, Dorans is the youngest of nine children who grew up in a household with little money to spare. “It’s not a hard luck story, it’s the truth,” he says. “I went through my childhood in poverty; I went to school with holes in my shoes and hand-me-down clothes. When I applied to be a [police] cadet, my mum took me to the social to get a voucher to buy my clothes.”

A bobby in Ayr had told him “all we do is make tea”, and so he looked south and at just 16 applied to join the Met. He would qualify within three years, and make detective inspector in under a decade thanks to what he describes as relentless graft, volunteering for “absolutely everything that came up”.

The Misuse of Drugs Act had recently come into force and much of that work, he now reflects, was a “complete and utter waste of time”, with “no mercy, no compassion, no discretion” available for someone caught with “a tiny bit of herbal cannabis”.

He now believes the Act should be scrapped and a public health approach to drugs misuse adopted instead, saying his attitude to casual drug use has “changed significantly” and “millions of people are quietly taking drugs without causing anyone any harm”.

A supporter of safe consumption rooms for injecting drug users, Dorans has suggested officers could make the Act “redundant” by using their discretion to avoid the criminalisation of drug users.

And he has praised Police Scotland’s adoption of life-saving Naloxone kits to reverse opioid overdoses. The nasal sprays had been used at more than 100 incidents as of December, and Dorans – who attended the aftermath of fatal overdoses – says it’s an example English forces should follow. “I keep trying to raise these issues of good practice in Scotland that could be adopted in England,” he says, “in areas like drugs and violence against women and girls”.

The latter is as much an issue inside the police as in the society it’s supposed to protect. The abduction and murder of Sarah Everard by a Met officer, Wayne Couzens, sparked widespread public anger and horror, and the review that followed found the force to be institutionally misogynistic, racist and homophobic, with more than one in 10 women in the Met stating that they had experienced harassment or attacks at work. 

That was published after it emerged that another Met officer, David Carrick, had carried out almost 50 rapes against women in a 17-year pattern of abuse that triggered eight warnings to the force about his behaviour – warnings that were ignored. “I, like everyone, am shocked, revulsed and horrified to hear of the abhorrent crimes of PC Carrick and the failure of the Metropolitan Police and other police services, which allowed those crimes to go undetected and unprosecuted for almost 20 years,” Dorans told the Commons, calling for “the most severe disciplinary action” against any cop or staff member who failed to report or investigate such complaints. “On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of honest, hard-working and brave serving and retired police officers everywhere, I offer my sincere apologies to the victims of these cases, whose needs must be prioritised and given our complete and unquestioning support.”

“I didn’t recognise the picture the review painted,” he tells Holyrood, though he concedes that the force was far more male, and far more white, when he joined. Dorans regrets that actions like the adoption of stop-and-search measures to tackle bag snatches in Brixton contributed to the Brixton riots, and says “more thought” could have gone into them. And he says women were “a very valuable part of the team”, though restricted to “dealing exclusively with missing children and searching female prisoners” in 1974. Dorans’ wife, Maureen, was one such officer and went on to become a detective. “She’s got more commendations than I have for policing and bravery,” he says. 

It had everything you would have in a town, but with more alcohol

The couple, who have one son, moved to Ayr in the late 80s after both had left the Met. Dorans became a personnel and training manager for Butlins. “It was a hugely complex job,” he says. “I often say being at Butlins was more dangerous than being a cop in London. I got assaulted one night; it was a very dynamic, fast-moving environment. We had 1,000 seasonal staff, most lived on-site and were aged between 18-25. We had 10,000 people visiting – it was a small town and it had everything you would have in a town, but with more alcohol.

“We had rapes, assaults, an attempted murder – I know the experience I got in the police enabled me to do that job, and the people who didn’t have that struggled because they couldn’t deal with the conflict, the fighting, the complaints and the staff issues.”

Dorans, once an inactive SNP member, decided to stand for election thanks to the cajoling of the membership secretary of his local branch, who knocked on his door one Saturday night, asked for a chat, and didn’t take no for an answer. The pair are still close and meet up at the local Wetherspoon’s every Friday night. “He tells me about politics,” Dorans smiles.

Dorans was duly elected and went on to become SNP group leader on South Ayrshire Council, but failed to be re-elected in 2017, a result which drew “an audible gasp in the room,” he says. 
Bitten by the political bug, Dorans stood for selection for the 2019 Westminster election in the Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock constituency, defeating Corri Wilson who had lost the seat in 2017. He won the selection and won the seat back for the SNP from the Conservatives.

A political career, he says, “can be isolating” and the caseload exhausting. His office gets 30-50 new cases every week, mostly about the cost of living, Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payments, and visas for medics who have secured positions at Ayr Hospital, but whose documents are stuck in the system. “There are dreadful, dreadful cases – sad beyond belief,” he says. And he considers the House of Commons “quite a difficult place to work”.

But a seat there has given him the chance to press for answers over the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher, who was shot dead while policing a political demonstration outside the Libyan Embassy in 1984. Dorans’ friend John Murray cradled Fletcher as she died and continues to press for justice. No one has ever been prosecuted for the crime and Dorans asked Boris Johnson to review the national security grounds on which some evidence was withheld.

“A letter came back that there had been no new evidence since 2015, which was not what I asked him,” Doran says. The question was repeated to Sunak, who agreed to meet with the MP. “It happened to coincide with the day Boris Johnson was giving oral evidence to the Committee on Privileges, so it’s been postponed,” he says.

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