There is an enormous amount being written about the forthcoming election, and I really didn’t think I had anything further to say about it. In particular, I didn’t really want to write more about the self-destruction of the Labour in Scotland party, being so ably pursued by Jim Murphy.
However, this morning I received an email from my Labour candidate that has made me furious beyond measure, and I think her views deserve to be shared more widely. This blog posting therefore reproduces several items of email correspondence. It will become clear that it is not just Jim Murphy that is intent on destroying the Labour party in Scotland from within.
On 21.4. I wrote to the two candidates most likely, under the (rubbish) First Past The Post system, to win the Stirling seat: Labour in Scotland’s Johanna Boyd (current leader of the Labour-Tory Stirling council), and the SNP’s Stephen Paterson (currently a Stirling councillor). My email to them was about the indefinite detention of asylum seekers; it was a proforma text from The Detention Forum that a friend had posted on Facebook or Twitter; I rarely use proforma emails, but they have their place:
As a voter in the constituency that you wish to represent in Parliament, I am writing to urge you to support the recommendations of the recent parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention by the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Refugees and Migration. In particular, I would ask you to support the inquiry’s recommendation that the next government introduce a time limit of 28 days on detention.
The inquiry has found that the current system is ‘expensive, ineffective and unjust,’ concluding that ‘we cannot go on as we are.’ The inquiry was co-chaired by Sarah Teather MP and Paul Blomfield MP who chaired the APPGs on Refugees and Migration, respectively. It comprised an authoritative group of mainstream Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, including former ministers, a former high court judge and former Chief Inspector of Prisons.
Since the reports publication in March, the Labour Party has joined the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the Scottish National Party (SNP) in vowing to end indefinite detention in the UK if elected.
The vast majority of developed countries limit the maximum period of immigration detention. The UK is unique in Europe in having no time limit and routinely detaining migrants for years. It has opted out of the EU Returns Directive, which sets a maximum time limit of 18 months. The UK should adopt this legislation and implement a time limit of one month.
As the inquiry concluded, ‘the United Kingdom has a proud tradition of upholding justice and the right to liberty. However, the continued use of indefinite detention puts this proud tradition at risk.’ Currently, over 30,000 migrants enter the detention estate every year. In one of the inquiry oral evidence sessions, one man who was detained over three years said “In prison, you count your days down, but in detention you count your days up.” This cannot go on in the UK.
I look forward to hearing from you your position on this urgent issue of civil liberties. I hope that you will join the parliamentary inquiry panel in calling on the next government to end indefinite immigration detention and adopt a time limit.
Dr Michael Marten
Within three days I received a pretty clear reply from Mr Paterson, and I wrote and thanked him for it. He said (my highlights):
Dear Michael, thank you for your email.
Some of the practices employed at the Dungavel detention centre in Scotland – from child detention to revelations earlier this year of some people being held for more than a year – have been absolutely shameful and show why we need a new direction when it comes to asylum and immigration policy.
Westminster has too often shown scant regard for the rights of people held at immigration detention centres – and is the only country in the EU which has no cap on how long people can be detained under immigration powers. It is time for a new approach which prioritises compassion and fairness over punishment and isolation.
A strong team of SNP MPs will seek an early review of the current immigration detention system and regime by the UK government, in order to deliver a fairer and more effective system as we move forward.
Today, nine days later, I finally received a reply from Ms Boyd. This is it (my highlights):
Dear Dr Marten
Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding immigration detention.
I believe it should always be the objective to reduce the length of time that any individual is in detention.
The Government needs to ensure that immigration detention is used proportionately and that appropriate safeguards are in place. Whilst the debate around a detention limit is important, I am concerned that currently this Government is letting thousands of people who shouldn’t be here spend years in detention paid for by the public when they could and should be on a plane home.
A report earlier this year by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration stated that the Government was not removing a number of foreign nationals with no right to stay in the UK despite securing travel documents. The report found that the Government was still keeping foreign criminals, who had completed their prison sentences, in immigration detention for months or even years, not only potentially a breach of their human rights, but poor value for money for the taxpayer as well. Such a situation is unacceptable.
A recent High Court judgment [sic] also found several serious failings within the Government’s fast-track detention system and particularly highlighted the unjustifiable delay in allocating lawyers. This ruling is an embarrassment for the Government who administer a system that is judged inherently unfair and has now lost credibility. We need strong borders with fair and effective decision making but this unfair policy putting at risk the UK’s history in providing shelter for those fleeing from rape, torture and oppression.
The Government needs to be far more efficient in dealing with deportation cases and at the same time do more to ensure that they are handled in a humane and professional manner.
If elected, I shall certainly look closely at the inquiry recommendations with a view to reducing time spent in detention.
Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views.
I could not help but write back to her, and I want to share that email too:
Dear Ms Boyd,
thank you for taking the time to write back to me.
I am absolutely astonished at your reply.
I asked whether you would commit to ending indefinite detention because the UK is one of the only countries in the world to do this and I, and many rights organisations and MPs, see this as a profound injustice (see this Guardian report, for example). Your email shows you completely fail to see this as a problem, since you simply mention ‘reducing’ detention time, not committing to ending indefinite detention. Instead, you prefer in most of your email to focus on a racist anti-immigration platform, presumably inspired by UKIP and your party’s pandering to the Conservatives.
This makes me very angry. I would never normally be this direct, but you are, quite frankly, an absolute disgrace to the once-proud heritage of a great party that was founded on a belief in righting injustices. I have voted Labour in most elections in my life, but you have done nothing to convince me that I should consider voting Labour again. Ever. I most sincerely hope you lose resoundingly in the forthcoming election against Mr Paterson (as I see the polls show is likely to happen). I strongly believe we need politicians with a sound moral compass – and your response (in contrast to the one I received from Mr Paterson) shows that is completely lacking.
Since you are seeking a high elected office, and many voters in this constituency will be unaware of your views, I will be sharing the text of your email on my website later today (www.InThePublicSphere.wordpress.com) and sharing it on social media. Your views deserve to be widely known. Readers will be able to contrast your views with those of Mr Paterson.
Yours, in deep disappointment,
No, I was not very restrained, but as most of her email is a racist rant that would make a UKIP candidate proud, I think she does need to be called out on this. If you still thought voting Labour in Scotland was appropriate – think again!