Eleven brief comments on the Scottish elections

Scotland Can... the Scottish Green Party's campaign banner

Scotland Can… the Scottish Green Party’s campaign banner

Eleven short comments on the Scottish election:

  1. I’m delighted my party did pretty well, electing 6 MSPs on various list votes, including Mark Ruskell in my own region. It is excellent news that Andy Wightman is now in the Scottish Parliament – serious land reform becomes more possible. I am very sorry that Maggie Chapman and Sarah Beattie-Smith in particular did not get elected.
  2. The SNP did amazingly well, in a system not designed for such large votes (156,000 more than last time). They polled more votes than Labour and the Tories together, and gained 59 constituency seats (previous record: 53 Labour in 1999, 53 SNP in 2011). Most of Scotland’s cities went to the SNP: Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth, Stirling. It’s also very good to see that the percentage of women who were elected SNP MSPs has risen from 28% to 43% (we Greens have one woman out of six MSPs…).
  3. The Liberal Democrats did badly, though I wish they had not even won the constituency seats they had (especially Orkney and Shetland, given the scandal of a self-confessed liar in the form of Alastair Carmichael as the Westminster MP): although the LibDems have the same number of seats as before, their constituency vote is down to the lowest level they’ve ever had.
  4. Labour did disastrously badly: the lowest Labour vote in Scotland in living memory. I was at the Stirling count, and was shocked when sampling at how few Labour votes there were – it was clear early on that this was shaping up to be an awful night for them. I agree with Paul Mason to some extent: I cannot see how the Labour party can be relevant in Scotland again until they sever the link to Labour in London and realise that independence is the only way forward. They’ll sink further into irrelevance if they don’t do this. It probably has to happen within 2-3 years – half-way through this parliament – and be genuine. That is going to be tough. I don’t know if it can happen, or if Kezia Dugdale can manage to get her party to do that.
  5. The Conservatives did well in certain regards: it’s still a lower share of the vote than they had in the 1992 general election, but it has been effective, partly because they are clearly the party of the unionists: I suspect most of their support is not about welcoming the vicious policies the Tories espouse, but about wanting a solid unionist bulwark against the SNP. This will become apparent very soon: Ruth Davidson will get to be the first to ask questions at Holyrood’s First Minister Questions, and this gives the SNP a glorious opportunity to make Davidson defend, week after week after week, the pernicious effects of Tory Westminster policies on normal people in Scotland. Whilst Ruth Davidson is good at media stunts, Nicola Sturgeon is far more accomplished as a debater and will relish the challenge, I am sure, of attacking the Tories directly on such a regular basis. This has the potential to cause the Tories considerable harm.
  6. Rejoice: UKIP failed dismally across the board.
  7. Unsurprisingly, RISE did not rise. I still think most people will go for the Greens if they want a party of the clear left with environmental concerns.
  8. Although the SNP are the largest party, they cannot form a majority, so need an alliance. The only realistic party they can rely on are the Scottish Greens (seriously, the LibDems?!). Whilst I cannot see a formal coalition taking place (and the Greens’ co-convener isn’t expecting that either), having the SNP reliant upon SGP votes to get legislation through will help keep the SNP veering to the left. This is important, because an SNP majority with the Tories as second party would probably not do this as they would then pander to the right, the natural home of several SNP MSPs, such as Fergus Ewing. We know that most Yes campaigners and ergo most newer SNP members were to the left of the party’s elected representatives – we’ll see if that has changed as a result of this election – and a connection to the SGP will help to solidify that.
  9. I think it was a mistake for the SNP to try and push the #BothVotesSNP line so hard. It was entirely predictable, after the Westminster election last year, that the SNP would dominate the constituency vote, and that then means to achieve anything significant in the list requires an absolutely massive number of list votes (for my own region, Mid-Scotland and Fife, results were: Conservatives (4 list seats) 73,293, Green (one) 17,860, Labour (two) 51,373; SNP had 120,128 but no list seats). That was always unlikely given the diversity of list parties on offer, and whilst no party will ever say “don’t vote for us”, a more nuanced approach might have led to better results for the broad pro-independence parties and therefore let fewer Tories in. This is something many people tried to argue, but certain die-hard SNP-supporters have done themselves no favours by shouting such voices down. The Scottish parliament is not designed for majority government and I don’t think the system can be gamed to achieve that – as reputable psephologists such as John Curtice repeatedly explained – so the 2011 result should be seen as an anomaly and not an expectation.
  10. In some ways, the future appears to be like the past shortly before the Scottish parliament: the main opponents of Scottish independence (or even constitutional change) are the Tories. The choice, articulated as putative in the independence referendum by many on the Yes side, is now clear: independence or the Tories.
  11. The SNP cannot deliver independence on its own, as the 2014 referendum showed, based as it was largely on an SNP approach. For example, arguments for reducing Air Passenger Duty, blind support for oil and gas with no vision for change, keeping the United Kingdom’s monarchy etc. were not things that most Greens could fully subscribe to, and we therefore had to make complex arguments about all these things being proposals that could be decided upon after independence. There are many who argue this case (for example, here), and I broadly agree with that argument. However, the SNP connecting with the SGP as another clear pro-independence party will help in this regard, and make independence a surer prospect when the next referendum comes. And it will.

Edit 7.5.16:  added Mid-Scotland and Fife results to point 9.

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Manifestos and Mandates

Andy Wightman (Scottish Green Party candidate) tweeted last night:

Even if your manifesto is a joke, as UKIP’s clearly is (this interview with STV’s Bernard Ponsonby is a must), at least it’s possible to decide that for yourself if you have a manifesto you can read.

I read somewhere recently that Labour are only releasing a manifesto eight days before the election – I find this utterly incredible, given that we can use postal votes and therefore some people will decide their vote long before that. This morning, their manifesto page shows ‘A note from Jim Murphy’ on it! This is obviously from the 2015 Westminster election:

Scottish Labour website; screenshot, 15.4.2016 (click the image to go to this page)

Scottish Labour website; screenshot, 15.4.2016 (click the image to go to this page)

The SNP website doesn’t yet appear to include any mention of a full manifesto at all, as far as I can see (I can’t be bothered looking up the LibDems, but I’ll take Andy Wightman’s word for it).

Such lack of respect to the voters should be impermissible. Even a shambolic semi-democratic system like ours should be able to require parties to release a manifesto a set time before postal ballots are sent out – even if it was just a week or 10 days, that would probably be sufficient.

Expecting voters to place blind faith in a party that isn’t prepared to outline it’s proposed programme in some detail is a singular failure in the democratic process.

——

I’m delighted that my party, the Scottish Greens, launched our manifesto before the postal ballot began.  You can read all about it on our website:

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

You can also download our full manifesto as a PDF in two different formats:

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

Scottish Green Party; screenshot 15.4.2016 (click image to go to this page)

Why vote for the SNP in the Scottish Parliamentary elections?

On 7.5.16 Scotland will vote for a new Scottish parliament.

It’s worth understanding how our voting system works. Stephen Paton’s wee video is excellent:

In thinking about how to vote, it’s important to know my background. Very simplistically put, I…

  1. … am broadly on the left;
  2. … am a vaguely active member of the Scottish Green Party (SGP) and have been involved at various levels for a few years;
  3. … campaigned alongside Scottish National Party (SNP) members and others in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and voted Yes;
  4. … voted SNP in the 2015 Westminster elections (I know, I know, it’s bad for an SGP member to do that when an SGP candidate was standing in my constituency, but I wanted to be absolutely sure the racist Labour candidate Johanna Boyd didn’t win, and I wasn’t trusting enough of the polls predicting an SNP victory… I also couldn’t campaign for the SGP at this time, so hadn’t sought to persuade others to vote in a way I wasn’t prepared to do… all this is one of the bad side effects of Westminster’s FPTP voting system).

I still want Scottish independence, and am sure it is coming. I cannot foresee any circumstances in which I’d ever vote Conservative or LibDem (the former basically hate everyone not part of the 1% and are profoundly racist, sexist, and just downright awful for anyone with a social conscience, whilst the latter are mendacious and equivocal, actively supporting blatant liars like Alistair Carmichael). Although I voted Labour solidly for years I doubt I’ll ever do so again: this is not only about having watched them celebrate the 2014 referendum outcome at the Stirling count with their Tory Better Together friends, but that is a potent symbol for their broader failing to represent the interests of the vulnerable in society, which I think is one of the primary roles of political parties. As the Greens are not putting forward a constituency candidate in my area (it’s just SNP, Conservative, Labour, LibDems), I therefore need to think carefully about how I vote. Many might see the options as:

  1. constituency vote: SNP, list vote: SNP
  2. constituency vote: SNP, list vote: Green
  3. constituency vote: SNP, list vote: RISE
  4. or…?

One of the things Paton points out in his video is that the list vote allows you to vote as you really want to. However, the constituency vote also impacts on the list vote, reducing the value of the list vote for parties that do well at constituency level – and that has serious implications for those who want to vote for a broadly pro-independence and left position. Lots of SNP supporters on Twitter and elsewhere follow the SNP’s line of arguing for #BothVotesSNP (option 1 above) – and of course the SNP would be a very strange party if it didn’t argue that people should vote for it whenever possible! But I don’t think option 1 is a good idea, in part because the SNP is likely to win most constituency votes with a substantial margin and so the number of SNP votes needed in the list to not let Labour, Tory or LibDem candidates in would have to be absolutely huge.

Many folk on the pro-independence left are therefore suggesting: vote SNP for the constituency, and then Green (option 2) or RISE (option 3). However, I am inclining towards another option – of not voting SNP in the constituency vote at all, and just voting how I want to in the list.

I like Nicola Sturgeon as a First Minister (and I certainly wouldn’t want Kezia Dugdale or Ruth Davidson as FM!), and Bruce Crawford, our constituency MSP candidate seems a decent person who mostly tries to work for the interests of the constituency. But the SNP as a whole is failing to do more than tinker with some of the great problems we face, such as:

  1. environment – the unbridled enthusiasm for oil and gas (and the SNP’s Energy Spokesperson’s equivocation over fracking) when we actually need to be moving away from fossil fuels and towards additional renewables;
  2. land reform – even the party membership recently rejected the cautious approach of the party leadership;
  3. economics – John Swinney’s fiscal conservatism at times seems remarkably close to Westminster’s Tory austerity: I wonder if he is so caught up in financial concerns that he’s lost sight of the purpose, the telos, of economics, which is to improve society;
  4. Council Tax – based on valuations from 1991(!), the SNP’s revised CT (after years of the anti-democratic interference of local finance through the CT freeze) still means those in the cheapest properties will pay proportionately far more than those in the most expensive properties, as these two tweets show (with the contrasting amounts proposed by key parties contesting this election);
  5. standardised testing in schools – a policy opposed by pretty much anyone in education (but with enthusiastic support from the Tories!), it is hard to imagine why the SNP wants to promote this.

There are many more examples. Although the SNP’s membership is now far to the left of the leadership, this appears to be having little effect on policy, at least for this election. Whilst the SNP has never, to my knowledge, described itself as a left-wing party (it’s broadly centre-left social democratic), its new members might see that differently.

In contrast, the Scottish Green Party is at core progressive, seeing independence as a way to implement progressive policies (as do RISE, but I doubt they’ll do well in May). The SNP – and certainly many of its supporters – see independence as a primary aim after which all other things can be sorted (see many of the comments on sites like Derek Bateman’s): for many, progressive policies are a tool to get to independence. This results in half-hearted and tepid efforts at the truly transformational politics that Scotland needs right now.

Of course Scotland should be freed from Westminster’s priorities, but we can do so much more in the meantime, and the SNP’s timidity in the face of the truly enormous challenges faced by so many people who, after the bankers’ crash of 2008, have suffered from Labour/Tory/LibDem policies at Westminster. The SNP is failing here: ignoring the huge injustices of unequal land-ownership, the reliance on fossil fuels, the Council Tax shambles – these are all things they could act on, but the assurances of electoral victory are perhaps making them too complacent to do so (just as happened with Labour in Scotland?).

I therefore have to ask: why should I vote for the SNP at all? They’re doing too little to earn my vote. After all, we’re not obliged to cast both votes. Option 4 then becomes: no constituency vote (blank or spoiled ballot), and Green (or another preference) in the list vote. And one day, the SNP’s members might help it to become the more radical party so many of them want it to be – in the meantime, my vote for them is hesitant, but I will give it. This time.

Edit 4.4.16: correction to list vote procedure.

Is there any point in blogging? How this blog was used in Stirling Council

There are many people who (still!) wonder whether there is any point in blogging.  “Does it change anything?” they ask.  Well, apart from the number of readers that you might have (see below), even a little oft-neglected blog like this can have a role in wider circles than might be imagined.

Today my local paper, the Stirling Observer, published an article that mentioned me.  In fact, it did more than that.  It mentioned (though did not link to) this blog, and in particular the posting I wrote before this year’s Westminster elections about the different responses to my query to the SNP and Labour candidates on the question of indefinite detention of asylum seekers.  It’s worth going back to that posting and reading it again to see the generous response from Steven Paterson (SNP) and the racist response from Johanna Boyd (Labour): SNP and Labour on indefinite detention.  Of course, Mr Paterson won the election by a huge majority, and Ms Boyd was almost put into third place by the Conservatives.

Today’s Stirling Observer reported on a developing row in the city council over the current refugee crisis, and SNP councillors have picked up on my May blog posting and the way in which Labour’s Boyd now appears to have forgotten her racist track record.  Someone in the Stirling branch of the SNP has clearly kept a note of my blog posting, and used the comments Boyd made. Here is a scan of the article:

Stirling Observer, 11.9.15 (click for larger version)

Stirling Observer, 11.9.15 (click for larger version)

The SNP is picking up on Boyd’s racist comments from May, and contrasting them with her new-found concern for refugees now.  Of course, the SNP is calling this hypocrisy, and whilst she may have had a change of heart and moved away from her racist views, I see nothing in the article that really suggests the SNP is wrong in their assessment.

So next time you’re wondering if there’s any point to maintaining a blog and in particular whether it is really worth writing about politicians’ behaviour, remember this little incident.  Time will tell if Boyd’s racist comments can be countered by a change in attitude and behaviour, but her email to me now forms part of the public record, and even in that small way, this little blog has shown its worth.

——-

Just how little is this little blog?

I started this blog after the referendum in September 2014, and this is the 52nd blog post.  Some posts have been by guest authors, and almost 60,000 people have visited and read something here.  I think that’s not bad, considering I sometimes neglect it for weeks at a time, post a link to new articles on my Facebook page, and tweet each one a few times.  Apart from seeking to write thoughtfully, it’s not a lot of effort, and yet it’s clearly attracting some attention.  It’s good to know it interests some people.

The Labour leadership contest is about the true identity of the Labour Party

I read this story with some incredulity: Labour Leadership Race ‘Should Be Halted’ – rather than welcoming new members, establishment Labour figures appear to be wanting to keep them out:

[Backbencher John] Mann told The Sunday Times that acting party leader Harriet Harman should step in, as speculation grows that 140,000 people may have joined the party since the General Election – just so they can vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

After last year’s Scottish independence referendum, which decided that Scotland should remain part of the UK (at least for the time being), the tremendous upsurge in political energy sparked by the referendum resulted in several of the key political parties in the former YesScotland campaign becoming much bigger. My own party, the Scottish Green Party, went from about 1,700 members to now well over 9,000, perhaps more – a five-to-six-fold increase.  The other two key parties involved, the Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish National Party, also saw remarkable increases in their membership.

All three parties have welcomed their new members, and delighted in the increased popularity and influence this affords them, and they have been willing to change as a result of their new members.  And increased membership brings obvious electoral success: without so many members and volunteers, it is unlikely that the SNP would have won 56 of the 59 Westminster seats in May, for example.

Jeremy Corbyn is the only candidate the public actually likes - Labour or otherwise

Jeremy Corbyn is the only candidate the public actually likes – Labour or otherwise

The Independent had an interesting article a few days ago showing that Jeremy Corbyn is not only the most popular leadership candidate amongst Labour members, but also amongst the population overall. He represents something that the other candidates, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham, do not: a clear understanding that the present neo-liberal agenda is not working, which is something that most people know, even if neo-liberal Labour do not. Corbyn offers Labour a chance at electoral success that the other right-wing candidates quite simply don’t: he could offer voters a Labour Party worth voting for. It’s not that there are not enough Labour voters in the UK, it’s that there’s not been enough Labour for most people to vote for.

The defeat of Labour in May and the resultant rise in membership as a decent leadership candidate emerges certainly has some parallels to the defeat of the Yes campaign in last year’s referendum and the subsequent rise of the defeated parties.  If 140,000 people really have joined Labour recently (though how John Mann knows they’ve all joined in order to vote for Corbyn is not clear to me), that should be cause for the party leadership to be rejoicing.

Instead, what responses like Mann’s clearly show is that the establishment Labour Party is not interested in winning against the Tories, but would rather preserve its own self-interested and cosy position as part of the Tory-Labour duopoly at Westminister – which, incidentally, also explains why it struggles so much with the SNP.  If the establishment Labour Party is allowed to get away with such anti-democratic measures as fixing the leadership election, or ousting Corbyn as soon as he’s elected, then they really are doomed in the rest of the UK (and not just in Scotland, where they won’t manage to defeat the SNP any time soon anyway, even if they elect Corbyn).  What the inclusion of Corbyn in the leadership election has shown above all is that this leadership contest is really about the core identity of the Labour Party, and perhaps that explains why it is such a heated debate – the neoliberal right is aware that it faces a real threat to its dominance of not just the Conservative Party, but also that traditional party of the broad left, the Labour Party.  The parallels to the Scottish independence referendum, the rise of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain all show that resistance to the neoliberal consensus is growing, and that is tremendously encouraging.

The Labour Party is not my party, but… you know… go, Jeremy, go, go, GO!!

—-

PS Rather than exclude Corbyn supporters, perhaps what should be happening is that people like Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall should be excluded from the party for infiltrating an ostensibly left-wing party from the neoliberal right, thereby killing off the old hunger for winning elections in order to bring about change that benefits the people they supposedly represent…

A response to the new Tory administration

This is a guest posting by Rob Hudson, a photographer I know who is based in Cardiff.

Is there an emoji for feeling completely and utterly depressed? Because that’s all I felt like posting yesterday. Honestly I don’t recognise this country anymore and I don’t suppose for one second I’m alone. I suppose I was privileged to be born into a humane country, where for the most part people cared about their fellow citizens (even occasionally citizens of other countries), but I surely won’t die in one.

I feel like taking the first boat out of here, but there are people here who’ll be all the more reliant on me after this election. The country is broken, the NHS is in mortal danger, the poor, the weak and the young and elderly will be sacrificed to the vagaries of the unfeeling, unthinking free market.

It’s the sense of disbelief that’s most palpable here today. We really are a nation divided, divided ideologically, philosophically and morally. Forget national geography for a moment, this is neighbour against neighbour, town against country, city against City. And that gulf is enormous, I actually find myself hating, fearing and despairing of my fellow countryfolk and countrywomen today. How could they do it, how could they vote for self-interest and against caring for those in need? It’s hard to believe we will ever be reconciled, it’s like we were born on different planets. What they voted for is evil and I don’t know how I’m going to talk to them again.

I have heard rumours that perhaps 30-60000 of our fellow citizens have died after being declared fit for work, more after their benefits were sanctioned for the most trivial reasons. There’s an FOI request imminent (the DWP have been sitting on it during the election, despite having been ordered to release the figures in February) and I do hope Tory and UKIP voters will feel sick when they see the bold facts. Because with £12bn in unspecified welfare cuts it is only going to get worse.

But will they feel sick? Are they so self interested or sociopathic that they will think that an acceptable toll for a £5 a week cut in income tax? I hope you spend it wisely, because it’ll be little use if you lose your job, become ill, are young or get old.

No. I can’t think that negatively about the people I grew up amongst. I don’t believe we’ve become inhumane overnight. I believe we (in England and Wales) were not offered an alternative in the form of a party with the remotest chance of power that could inspire us.

Labour offered no serious critique of our situation, allowed the Tory lie that they were responsible for the deficit through overspending to become commonplace. They failed to propose an alternative to austerity, an alternative electoral system, to propose reform of an inequitable tax system, failed to propose any meaningful response to the huge growth of inequality and fell into the Tory trap of failing to propose an anti Tory alliance with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. And on top of that ignored the environment.

I speak as someone who joined the Green Party last year and it’s amazing how taking that stance has enabled me, in my mind, to critique what had formerly been my party of choice – Labour. But I feel guilty; I take some of the blame because I have not been nearly active enough. And that makes me even more depressed.

Yet it’s little wonder Labour lost, they tried tinkering at the edges under Blair and Brown, and that’s simply led to large numbers of disenchanted Labour voters, who’d seen no real change, to switch their allegiance to the bigots, homophobes and thinly disguised misanthropes of UKIP. I hesitate in calling them racists, but suspect that hesitation is unjustified.

There is one glimmer of hope and that comes from Scotland. Whilst Plaid Cymru made little progress outside of their language based heartlands, the SNP were elected in nothing less than a political tsunami. I thought I might have more to say about Plaid, but I really don’t. They’ve made little progress; they are essentially still a political irrelevance. They obviously have much to do to convince the electorate that they no longer represent the interests of the minority of Welsh speakers alone. In essence they are where the SNP was thirty years ago. It’s not to say their message won’t have impact in the future, they are undeniably a progressive party.

I know many of you in England and Wales base your opinion of nationalism on an analysis based in the 1930s. But what that fails to recognise is that the nationalist parties learned from the experience of Nazism, and rejected ethnic nationalism to become what are now known as ’civic’ nationalists. The SNP aren’t the evil Scots rising up to steal your babies as portrayed by the Tory press, the Tory Party and depressingly Ed Miliband. They are what we might have once called broadly social democrats before every major UK party moved to the right of social democracy, including Labour. They believe in government close to the people who elect them, as I do, and I include Wales and the English regions. Most importantly they offered something of an alternative to the cold winds of free market austerity.

But it’s not nationalism or even particularly regional democracy that I want to agitate for at this time, that’s an argument for another day. What is really important is the way the independence debate engaged and politicised the electorate. How grassroots activism has sustained and (in Scotland) elected a party that presents a genuine alternative to the status quo.

We, south of the border, need to come together too, we must offer an alternative. We need to become active citizens: screw your online petitions, join together, and actually do something. Join a political party, join a union, form groups of like-minded people outside the current broken system. Take every opportunity to protest and to inform your fellow citizens because you can be sure the tax avoiding non-doms who own our press won’t. You can be sure the newly enfeebled BBC won’t.

There is no Tory majority; they simply have the most seats in the discredited first past the post system (in fact only 27% voted Tory). Politics comes from the people and that means you and me folks, because there isn’t anyone else, we are the people. And if we don’t, if we stand by and let the new government literally kill tens of thousands of our citizens and unleash yet more evils of neoliberalism; what does that say about us, other than we are complicit. Because alone in our despair we are weak, but together we can find hope.

SNP and Labour on indefinite detention

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.

Yours sincerely,

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.

Kind regards

Steven Paterson

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.

Yours sincerely

Johanna

Johanna Boyd

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,

Michael Marten

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!