The humble beginnings of Scotland’s first Asian police officer – Dilawer Singh shares his journey and love for Glasgow
L: Singh at the Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust; R: Singh after becoming Scotland’s first Asian police officer (Images by Sunday Post)
More than 50 years have passed since Glasgow’s Dilawer Singh worked on the city’s buses; first as a conductor and then as a driver.
Born in Bhanoki, East Punjab, Singh came to Scotland in 1963 when his father decided to move for work.
Referring to Glasgow Corporation, which is now the Glasgow City Council, he tells Glasgow Times, “I was always very proud to wear the Corpy uniform”.
He adds, “I was actually a conductor on the trolleybuses first – it was a busy, busy time. It was very different then – people used to smoke on the upper deck.
“The back end of the bus was open, so people could jump on and off. Occasionally, someone did fall out, but not often…”
Singh was invited as a guest of honour at the open day for Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust, which was running winter tours at its Bridgeton Bus Garage home along with family tours in December last year.
He said, “It brings back happy memories being here in the garage again.”
However, his job as a bus driver wasn’t always easy as he recalls an incident that happened back in 1967 when one day, an inspector suspended him for not opening the doors at the traffic lights for him.
“There was a stop just a few yards away, he could have got on there but he refused and was very angry I wouldn’t open the door at the lights.
“But you were only supposed to open the doors at the stops or in an emergency. He ordered me from my cabin and drove the bus to its destination, leaving me standing on the pavement.
“It caused quite a stushie,” he said.
This incident made headlines and led to protests where around 400 staff members showed solidarity with Singh at the Ibrox depot by threatening to go on a strike.
“I was quite well-known because I was part of the football team for the garage, I ran a fitness club… so I was really pleased and proud people supported me,” he told Glasgow Times.
After the union got involved, Singh was reinstated to his job. But, this incident was a significant moment in his life as he decided that he would like to bring about change in the society by becoming a police officer himself.
“Ever since I was a child I dreamt of being a cop,” he said. “I always wanted to fight injustice and stand up for others.”
The path towards achieving his dreams wasn’t devoid of roadblocks.
He said, “There was nobody of a black or ethnic minority in the police at that time, and the officer in charge at the interview took one look at me, measured me and chased me, saying I was an inch too short.”
“But I knew I was tall enough, so I went back the next week and a different officer said I was fine,” he added.
He then jokingly mentioned, “I became known as the man who grew an inch in a week.”
Singh made history by becoming Scotland’s first Asian police officer in 1970 and fulfilled his duties for the next 30 years, working as an inspector and within the serious organised crime department in the later years.
In 1998, following the murder of Surjit Singh Chhokar, he was involved in a comprehensive investigation of race issues within the Scottish police as a member of the team.
Singh has expressed his immense love for Glasgow. He cherishes his time serving as a police officer in the 1970s and 1980s on his Glasgow Cross patrol and has fond memories of it.
“I remember it was full of characters,” he mentioned. “And everyone was respectful – I never had a negative reaction from people.
“There was one guy, a down and out, who always slept standing up on one leg on the street. And another, a newspaper seller, who every single night would come up to me, hand me his last paper and say ‘now I can sleep in peace’ and head off home.”
He continued, “I have no idea what he meant by that, but it was very nice of him.”
Once while he was regulating traffic on High Street, Singh witnessed a horse and cart that was out of control hurtling towards him.
“There was a bunch of kids crossing the street, so I had to act quickly,” he said. “The guy driving it had fallen asleep because he was so drunk – so I frantically blew my whistle and got the kids out of the way. He woke up, and spent a night in the cells.”
The next day, the driver paid a visit to Singh, who admitted that he was a bit apprehensive upon seeing him.
“When you’ve locked someone up, you don’t know how they’re going to feel about you the next day.
“But he came up and shook my hand and said – thank you, you saved my life,” he explained.
Singh also has a profound interest in sports, and in addition to being the current chairperson of the Scottish Ethnic Minority Sports Association (SEMSA), which he founded in 1989, he serves as a director of Sport Scotland Trust Company, the national agency for sports in Scotland, and as the vice chair of the Sports Council for Glasgow. He is also dedicated to combating inequality, and in 2014, he participated as a baton-bearer at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
“Sport is a great leveller, it brings people together,” he said. “But there is still a hell of a lot of work to be done.
“I will always campaign. I’ve always tried to treat people the way I’d like to be treated myself. Life is what you make of it and I’m always learning from others, so I’ll just keep going and hopefully keep making a difference.”