SG interview: Daniel Johnson MSP ‘Time to act on retail crime’

Assaults “unacceptable” says MSP

Edinburgh South MSP Daniel Johnson
Edinburgh South MSP Daniel Johnson wants to hear from retailers on crime.

A long-running campaign to provide retail workers with additional protection under the law has entered a critical phase.

Daniel Johnson MSP, the man behind a proposed Scottish Parliament bill on retail crime, told Scottish Grocer it’s time for retailers to make their voices heard as the consultation is now open.

Retail crime is a subject that’s close to home for Johnson. Before being elected MSP for Edinburgh Southern in 2016, he worked as managing director of east-coast retail brand Paper Tiger and Studio One – founded by his father John Johnson in 1966.

“I was a shopkeeper before I was an MSP and I was always very mindful when I was running shops that the people working behind the counter were working in a public space with little or no control over who comes through the door – and that makes them vulnerable,” he said.

To combat this, the MSP has been working over the last year with industry stakeholders and parliament officials to prepare a consultation on the issue, the first major hurdle which any new law has to hop.

“We’ve had to prepare quite a substantial and comprehensive consultation document and that’s what has taken time,” he said.

Open for submissions online at the consultation invites retailers and other interested parties to submit their views on what a retail crime bill might look like.

Participants are invited to weigh in on a number of issues including what kind of offence should be created. Options include creating a new statutory offence, making it a crime to obstruct someone upholding statutory age restrictions such as Challenge 25, or a new aggravated offence which could see assaulting a retail worker treated like a ‘hate crime’, with the courts obliged to take this into account at sentencing.

Despite enthusiasm for Johnson’s proposed bill from parties including the SGF, SRC, USDAW and Scotmid, there are plenty of legislative obstacles to overcome – but there are also lessons to be learned from past experience.

“I think there have been previous attempts to bring forward legislation that’s been broader in scope. I think by keeping focused on the particular issue of people working in retail, hopefully we can be clearer about the issues they face,” Johnson said.

I don’t think people necessarily appreciate that the individual behind the shop counter is responsible for upholding the law.

The main area of focus for the bill at present is around the sale of age-restricted products, a common trigger for abusive and violent behaviour and one which the MSP views as key to getting his legislative ball in the back of the net.

“I don’t think people necessarily appreciate that the individual behind the shop counter is responsible for upholding the law around age-restricted items. They are the ones that can end up being fined or end up going to prison if they fail to do that.

“I think if we are asking them to uphold the law they should have the protection of the law,” he said.

One of the more common criticisms of Johnson’s proposals is that assault is already a crime, however the MSP doesn’t appear to believe its an argument that holds much weight.

“The thing I would say to people saying we don’t need a new law is that the law is not working  and actually there are already groups of workers who are protected from assault.”

Additional protection may be welcomed by some retailers but there are still others with concerns over the enforcement of existing laws.

While Johnson does not claim a retail crime bill could answer all concerns around police response and enforcement, he does suggest new legislation could serve as an effective deterrent to potential criminals as well as sending a strong message that retail crime will no longer be tolerated.

“There are lots of functions of the law, but communication and clarity are also important and I think what we clearly need is a very clear statement that this is wrong and also clarity for people who maybe right now think it’s okay to have a go at someone just because they’re wearing a staff uniform and they’ve said no to a person.

“I think we’ve reached a point where we just need to say ‘that’s not acceptable’.”

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Calling all retailers

• Daniel Johnson’s crime consultation runs until 20 April 2018.

• Retailers and other interested parties are invited to respond online at

• Once the consultation closes, the MSP hopes to bring forward a bill to protect retail workers.