DOUGLAS Ross will set out proposals to double the maximum sentence handed out to those who attack emergency workers – accusing the SNP of a “soft-touch” approach.

The Scottish Conservative leader will argue for a tougher deterrent to be made against attackers – pointing to figures showing assaults on emergency workers soaring to record highs.

The number of recorded assaults on emergency workers is the highest on record and assaults on police officers have doubled since 2015/16.

Mr Ross will stress at his party’s annual conference this weekend that despite a rise in assaults, fewer criminals are going to jail because the current maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency worker is 12 months.

The Conservatives have claimed the Scottish Government has effectively banned prison sentences under 12 months.

In 2019, the presumption against short sentences was extended to 12 months by the SNP. This means that for anyone convicted under the Emergency Workers Act, they are unlikely to go to prison.

Since 2013, nearly three quarters of those convicted under the Emergency Workers Act avoid jail altogether.

Mr Ross said: "It’s shocking that so many frontline workers are assaulted while serving the people of Scotland by keeping us safe.

"As the husband of a police officer, I know only too well the dangers that those working in our emergency services face and there should be zero tolerance of violence against them.”

He added: "The SNP’s soft-touch approach has not worked. By effectively banning short-term prison sentences, criminals who assault these key workers are dodging jail.

“Especially after all they have done for us during this pandemic, our emergency services deserve better and by doubling the sentences for these abhorrent attacks, we can start to stamp out these crimes.”

The Scottish Government has pointed to the Emergency Workers Act, extended in 2004, with perpetrators facing penalties of up to 12 months imprisonment, a £10,000 fine, or both.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “While overall levels of violent crime have fallen significantly in Scotland over the last decade, no-one should be the victim of abuse or violence at work, and assaults on emergency workers are unacceptable. 

“Scotland’s prosecutors and courts have extensive powers to deal robustly with perpetrators, with the Emergency Workers Act, which this Government extended to cover more workers, being one option. Importantly, for more serious attacks, the Crown may prosecute cases under common law offences such as assault, with potential penalties of up to life imprisonment.

“While sentencing in each case is a matter for the court, and figures fluctuate annually, the average custodial sentence for offences prosecuted under the Act in 2018-19 was 12% higher than a decade before.  The Scottish Government keeps the criminal law under review with any new proposals needing to add value to existing criminal law protections.

“I'm glad to see the Tories are now backing this legislation as they voted against it in 2004.”