Why I Probably Won’t be Watching the Paralympics

My friend Ruth Murran posted this text on her Facebook page. I offered to make it more widely available here, and she kindly agreed. Ruth is a teacher in the south of England.

Paralympic Games

Paralympic Games

Am I glad that the Paralympics are happening? I think I might be but I absolutely have to hesitate a bit.

Because for me they kind of feel like what some people do to make themselves feel better about a ‘problem’; they are like buying The Big Issue from the quite clean and smart homeless person (the one who is making a real effort to change their life).

Because I don’t think that I will want to watch until I know that I can catch a bus to my workplace and won’t risk lateness because there was a pushchair and, to be honest, a working wheelchair-user is a bit of a novelty.

I don’t want to watch until advertised ‘accessibility’ is pretty much always what it claims to be; until, in fact, somebody has actually tried it out with a wheelchair, until I am not ‘too disabled’ for more places than I care to mention but ‘not disabled enough’ for a viewing platform in Hyde Park because I choose not to claim benefits and I might be ‘pretending’ to get a better seat.

I don’t want to watch until the toilet into which I might manage to fit is as clean as all the others and I don’t have to share it with toddlers and the nappy bin.

Because, the reality is, that I can watch performances in which I would not be able to participate in my chair, that passers-by often look at me in surprise if I happen to be cheerful and laughing and this surprise tends to increase if, on the pavement, I don’t ‘give way’ to every ‘walker’.

In the past few years, I have met with huge amounts of kindness and consideration, with many lovely individuals but, to be honest, it is very often ‘ the kindness of strangers’ on which I have to rely because infrastructure tells me on most days that I really ought to be grateful for what has been provided and, if it is a little ‘hit or miss’, then ‘at least we tried’.

I can’t shake off the uncomfortable feeling that young, fit, often mostly whole (or at least used to be) striving Paralympians are ‘normal enough’ to be acceptable.

So I think that I will be kind of relieved when they are over and I can stop feeling ever so slightly less happy and lucky than usual.


Brexit – what next? Thinking about the outcome.

I regard the referendum outcome to leave the EU as a disaster for many reasons, as will be clear from my last blog posting, written shortly before the vote. I’ll maybe write something short about my reaction to the outcome in the coming days.

Brexit: what happens next? Click to download the report.

Brexit: what happens next? Click to download the report.

In the meantime, the report from the House of Commons Library makes for fascinating reading (tweeted in the early hours of 25.6.16).

There are countless useful resources here, such as this note (p12) about devolution and how this situation may affect Scotland, citing Sionaidh Douglas-Scott:

It would still be necessary to amend the relevant parts of devolution legislation. But this would be no simple matter and could lead to a constitutional crisis. Although the UK Parliament may amend the devolution Acts, the UK government has stated that it will not normally legislate on a devolved matter without the consent of the devolved legislature. This requires a Legislative Consent Motion under the Sewel Convention. However, the devolved legislatures might be reluctant to grant assent, especially as one feature of the ‘Vow’ made to the Scottish electorate was a commitment to entrench the Scottish Parliament’s powers, thus giving legal force to the Sewel Convention. So the need to amend devolution legislation renders a UK EU exit constitutionally highly problematic.

Section 7 on the future options for Scotland are also very interesting for me (pp17-19), given that England (and to some extent Wales) voted to leave, but Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay. It will be for Holyrood and Nicola Sturgeon’s government to chart a course through this situation; I am confident that she and her allies in Holyrood will do this well. Her speech after the referendum indicates as much:

I think it is safe to say that independence for Scotland looks much more likely in the meantime.

Bombs away: anger about UK attacks on Syria

The UK bombing Syria will – according to significant senior military figures – have no strategic effect on ISIS. But the effects on civilians will be devastating: these will be yet more bombs on a country already being bombed and attacked, in particular by Bashar al-Assad, who has killed many times more people than ISIS.

Of course, the key issue here is that Assad has killed Syrians in Syria and our politicians care little about them, as evidenced by the shameful treatment of those fleeing his barrel bombs and trying to come to safety in Europe.  ISIS on the other hand, has not only killed Syrians, but killed Europeans in Europe.  Hilary Benn – supposedly a Labour politician (and I shouldn’t judge him by his father, but…!) – argued yesterday that ISIS are fascists who must be resisted, therefore a ‘fair share’ of the bombing (says David Cameron) should fall on our shoulders, even though the consequences – more dead civilians and more refugees – will by and large be prevented from coming here (according to Theresa May and most of the Westminster parliament).  This is decision-making without responsibility for Conservative, pro-attack Labour and other politicians:

Meanwhile, we can expect to hear of yet more deaths – though that will be disguised by weasel words such as ‘collateral damage’ or ‘targeted killings’ or ‘surgical strikes’ or ‘tragic accidents’ etc. – and there will be yet more parents robbed of children, children whose parents are killed, lovers whose partners are dead, friends who are left alone in the world.

I try hard not to be a vindictive person, but at a deep level my gut reaction, especially after all the catastrophic involvement of the British is conflicts over the years is to feel utter revulsion for all those who voted for these air strikes: I want their nights to be broken by visions of children orphaned by their bombs, by parents crying over the corpses of their dead children, by haunts of wailing lovers, by houses, schools, mosques, churches and hospitals destroyed.

This will, of course, become a constructive anger at the betrayal of values most of us hold dear, and I think that things will change as a result:

In broad terms, I think/hope that the situation in this country is now quite different to 2003, and that this reckless action is the undoing of Cameron and his warmongering allies in his own party, as well as in other parties.  The maps here demonstrate this transformation.


This is the list of MPs who voted to attack Syria, courtesy of the Guardian, are as follows (1, 2):

Conservative MPs – 313
Nigel Adams (Selby & Ainsty), Adam Afriyie (Windsor), Peter Aldous (Waveney), Lucy Allan (Telford), Heidi Allen (Cambridgeshire South), Sir David Amess (Southend West), Stuart Andrew (Pudsey), Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne), Edward Argar (Charnwood), Victoria Atkins (Louth & Horncastle), Richard Bacon (Norfolk South), Steven Baker (Wycombe), Harriett Baldwin (Worcestershire West), Stephen Barclay (Cambridgeshire North East), Guto Bebb (Aberconwy), Henry Bellingham (Norfolk North West), Richard Benyon (Newbury), Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley), Jake Berry (Rossendale & Darwen), James Berry (Kingston & Surbiton), Andrew Bingham (High Peak), Bob Blackman (Harrow East), Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West & Abingdon), Crispin Blunt (Reigate), Nick Boles (Grantham & Stamford), Peter Bone (Wellingborough), Victoria Borwick (Kensington), Peter Bottomley (Worthing West), Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands), Graham Brady (Altrincham & Sale West), Julian Brazier (Canterbury), Andrew Bridgen (Leicestershire North West), Steve Brine (Winchester), James Brokenshire (Old Bexley & Sidcup), Fiona Bruce (Congleton), Robert Buckland (Swindon South), Conor Burns (Bournemouth West), Simon Burns (Chelmsford), David Burrowes (Enfield Southgate), Alistair Burt (Bedfordshire North East), Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan), David Cameron (Witney), Neil Carmichael (Stroud), James Cartlidge (Suffolk South), Bill Cash (Stone), Maria Caulfield (Lewes), Alex Chalk (Cheltenham), Rehman Chishti (Gillingham & Rainham), Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds), Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells), James Cleverly (Braintree), Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswolds, The), Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal), Damian Collins (Folkestone & Hythe), Oliver Colvile (Plymouth Sutton & Devonport), Alberto Costa (Leicestershire South), Geoffrey Cox (Devon West & Torridge), Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire), Tracey Crouch (Chatham & Aylesford), Byron Davies (Gower), Chris Davies (Brecon & Radnorshire), David Davies (Monmouth), Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire), James Davies (Vale of Clwyd), Mims Davies (Eastleigh), Philip Davies (Shipley), Caroline Dinenage (Gosport), Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon), Michelle Donelan (Chippenham), Nadine Dorries (Bedfordshire Mid), Stephen Double (St Austell & Newquay), Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere), Richard Drax (Dorset South), Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South), James Duddridge (Rochford & Southend East), Alan Duncan (Rutland & Melton), Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford & Woodford Green), Philip Dunne (Ludlow), Michael Ellis (Northampton North), Jane Ellison (Battersea), Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East), Charlie Elphicke (Dover), George Eustice (Camborne & Redruth), Graham Evans (Weaver Vale), Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley), David Evennett (Bexleyheath & Crayford), Michael Fabricant (Lichfield), Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks), Suella Fernandes (Fareham), Mark Field (Cities of London & Westminster), Kevin Foster (Torbay), Dr Liam Fox (Somerset North), Mark Francois (Rayleigh & Wickford), Lucy Frazer (Cambridgeshire South East), George Freeman (Norfolk Mid), Mike Freer (Finchley & Golders Green), Richard Fuller (Bedford), Marcus Fysh (Yeovil), Roger Gale (Thanet North), Edward Garnier (Harborough), Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest), David Gauke (Hertfordshire South West), Nus Ghani (Wealden), Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis & Littlehampton), Cheryl Gillan (Chesham & Amersham), John Glen (Salisbury), Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park), Robert Goodwill (Scarborough & Whitby), Michael Gove (Surrey Heath), Richard Graham (Gloucester), Helen Grant (Maidstone & The Weald), James Gray (Wiltshire North), Chris Grayling (Epsom & Ewell), Chris Green (Bolton West), Damian Green (Ashford), Justine Greening (Putney), Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield), Andrew Griffiths (Burton), Ben Gummer (Ipswich), Sam Gyimah (Surrey East), Robert Halfon (Harlow), Luke Hall (Thornbury & Yate), Philip Hammond (Runnymede & Weybridge), Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon), Matthew Hancock (Suffolk West), Greg Hands (Chelsea & Fulham), Mark Harper (Forest of Dean), Richard Harrington (Watford), Rebecca Harris (Castle Point), Simon Hart (Carmarthen West & Pembrokeshire South), Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden), John Hayes (South Holland & The Deepings), Sir Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire North East), James Heappey (Wells), Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry), Peter Heaton-Jones (Devon North), Nick Herbert (Arundel & South Downs), Damian Hinds (Hampshire East), Simon Hoare (Dorset North), George Hollingbery (Meon Valley), Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk & Malton), Kris Hopkins (Keighley), Gerald Howarth (Aldershot), John Howell (Henley), Ben Howlett (Bath), Nigel Huddleston (Worcestershire Mid), Jeremy Hunt (Surrey South West), Nick Hurd (Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner), Stewart Jackson (Peterborough), Margot James (Stourbridge), Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove), Ranil Jayawardena (Hampshire North East), Bernard Jenkin (Harwich & Essex North), Andrea Jenkyns (Morley & Outwood), Robert Jenrick (Newark), Boris Johnson (Uxbridge & Ruislip South), Gareth Johnson (Dartford), Joseph Johnson (Orpington), Andrew Jones (Harrogate & Knaresborough), David Jones (Clwyd West), Marcus Jones (Nuneaton), Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury & Atcham), Seema Kennedy (South Ribble), Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown), Greg Knight (Yorkshire East), Julian Knight (Solihull), Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne), Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North), Pauline Latham (Derbyshire Mid), Andrea Leadsom (Northamptonshire South), Phillip Lee (Bracknell), Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford), Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West), Oliver Letwin (Dorset West), Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth), Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater & Somerset West), David Lidington (Aylesbury), Peter Lilley (Hitchin & Harpenden), Jack Lopresti (Filton & Bradley Stoke), Jonathan Lord (Woking), Tim Loughton (Worthing East & Shoreham), Karen Lumley (Redditch), Jason McCartney (Colne Valley), Karl McCartney (Lincoln), Craig Mackinlay (Thanet South), David Mackintosh (Northampton South), Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire Dales), Anne Main (St Albans), Alan Mak (Havant), Kit Malthouse (Hampshire North West), Scott Mann (Cornwall North), Tania Mathias (Twickenham), Theresa May (Maidenhead), Paul Maynard (Blackpool North & Cleveleys), Mark Menzies (Fylde), Johnny Mercer (Plymouth Moor View), Huw Merriman (Bexhill & Battle), Stephen Metcalfe (Basildon South & Thurrock East), Maria Miller (Basingstoke), Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase), Nigel Mills (Amber Valley), Anne Milton (Guildford), Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield), Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North), Nicky Morgan (Loughborough), Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot), David Morris (Morecambe & Lunesdale), James Morris (Halesowen & Rowley Regis), Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills), David Mowat (Warrington South), David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale), Sheryll Murray (Cornwall South East), Dr Andrew Murrison (Wiltshire South West), Bob Neill (Bromley & Chislehurst), Sarah Newton (Truro & Falmouth), Caroline Nokes (Romsey & Southampton North), Jesse Norman (Hereford & Herefordshire South), David Nuttall (Bury North), Matthew Offord (Hendon), Guy Opperman (Hexham), George Osborne (Tatton), Neil Parish (Tiverton & Honiton), Priti Patel (Witham), Owen Paterson (Shropshire North), Mark Pawsey (Rugby), Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead), John Penrose (Weston-Super-Mare), Andrew Percy (Brigg & Goole), Claire Perry (Devizes), Stephen Phillips (Sleaford & North Hykeham), Chris Philp (Croydon South), Eric Pickles (Brentwood & Ongar), Christopher Pincher (Tamworth), Daniel Poulter (Suffolk Central & Ipswich North), Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane), Victoria Prentis (Banbury), Mark Prisk (Hertford & Stortford), Mark Pritchard (Wrekin, The), Tom Pursglove (Corby), Jeremy Quin (Horsham), Will Quince (Colchester), Dominic Raab (Esher & Walton), Jacob Rees-Mogg (Somerset North East), Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury), Mary Robinson (Cheadle), Andrew Rosindell (Romford), Amber Rudd (Hastings & Rye), David Rutley (Macclesfield), Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury), Paul Scully (Sutton & Cheam), Andrew Selous (Bedfordshire South West), Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield), Alok Sharma (Reading West), Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet & Rothwell), Keith Simpson (Broadland), Chris Skidmore (Kingswood), Chloe Smith (Norwich North), Henry Smith (Crawley), Julian Smith (Skipton & Ripon), Royston Smith (Southampton Itchen), Nicholas Soames (Sussex Mid), Amanda Solloway (Derby North), Anna Soubry (Broxtowe), Caroline Spelman (Meriden), Mark Spencer (Sherwood), Andrew Stephenson (Pendle), John Stevenson (Carlisle), Bob Stewart (Beckenham), Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South), Rory Stewart (Penrith & The Border), Gary Streeter (Devon South West), Mel Stride (Devon Central), Graham Stuart (Beverley & Holderness), Julian Sturdy (York Outer), Rishi Sunak (Richmond (Yorks)), Desmond Swayne (New Forest West), Hugo Swire (Devon East), Robert Syms (Poole), Derek Thomas (St Ives), Maggie Throup (Erewash), Edward Timpson (Crewe & Nantwich), Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester & Strood), Justin Tomlinson (Swindon North), Michael Tomlinson (Dorset Mid & Poole North), Craig Tracey (Warwickshire North), David Tredinnick (Bosworth), Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed), Elizabeth Truss (Norfolk South West), Thomas Tugendhat (Tonbridge & Malling), Ed Vaizey (Wantage), Shailesh Vara (Cambridgeshire North West), Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet), Charles Walker (Broxbourne), Robin Walker (Worcester), Ben Wallace (Wyre & Preston North), David Warburton (Somerton & Frome), Matt Warman (Boston & Skegness), Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch & Upminster), James Wharton (Stockton South), Helen Whately (Faversham & Kent Mid), Heather Wheeler (Derbyshire South), Chris White (Warwick & Leamington), Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley), John Whittingdale (Maldon), Bill Wiggin (Herefordshire North), Craig Williams (Cardiff North), Gavin Williamson (Staffordshire South), Rob Wilson (Reading East), Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes), Mike Wood (Dudley South), William Wragg (Hazel Grove), Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth & Southam) and Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon).

The two tellers for the ayes were also Tories: Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) and Jackie Doyle Price (Thurrock).

Labour MPs – 66
Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East), Ian Austin (Dudley North), Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West), Kevin Barron (Rother Valley), Margaret Beckett (Derby South), Hilary Benn (Leeds Central), Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree), Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East), Ben Bradshaw (Exeter), Chris Bryant (Rhondda), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Jenny Chapman (Darlington), Vernon Coaker (Gedling), Ann Coffey (Stockport), Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford), Neil Coyle (Bermondsey & Old Southwark), Mary Creagh (Wakefield), Stella Creasy (Walthamstow), Simon Danczuk (Rochdale), Wayne David (Caerphilly), Gloria De Piero (Ashfield), Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South & Penarth), Jim Dowd (Lewisham West & Penge), Michael Dugher (Barnsley East), Angela Eagle (Wallasey), Maria Eagle (Garston & Halewood), Louise Ellman (Liverpool Riverside), Frank Field (Birkenhead), Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar & Limehouse), Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East), Caroline Flint (Don Valley), Harriet Harman (Camberwell & Peckham), Margaret Hodge (Barking), George Howarth (Knowsley), Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central), Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central), Alan Johnson (Hull West & Hessle), Graham Jones (Hyndburn), Helen Jones (Warrington North), Kevan Jones (Durham North), Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South), Liz Kendall (Leicester West), Dr Peter Kyle (Hove), Chris Leslie (Nottingham East), Holly Lynch (Halifax), Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham & Morden), Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East), Conor McGinn (St Helens North), Alison McGovern (Wirral South), Bridget Phillipson (Houghton & Sunderland South), Jamie Reed (Copeland), Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East), Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West), Joan Ryan (Enfield North), Lucy Powell (Manchester Central), Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North), Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge), John Spellar (Warley), Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston), Gareth Thomas (Harrow West), Anna Turley (Redcar), Chuka Umunna (Streatham), Keith Vaz (Leicester East), Tom Watson (West Bromwich East), Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) and John Woodcock (Barrow & Furness).

Liberal Democrat MPs – 6
Six Liberal Democrats voted in favour: Tom Brake (Carshalton & Wallington), Alistair Carmichael (Orkney & Shetland), Nick Clegg (Sheffield Hallam), Tim Farron (Westmorland & Lonsdale), Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) and John Pugh (Southport).

DUP MPs – 8
There were eight Democratic Unionist Party ayes: Gregory Campbell (Londonderry East), Nigel Dodds (Belfast North), Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley), Ian Paisley (Antrim North), Gavin Robinson (Belfast East), Jim Shannon (Strangford), David Simpson (Upper Bann) and Sammy Wilson (Antrim East).

Others voting for airstrikes
The two UUP MPs voted for airstrikes: Tom Elliott (Fermanagh & South Tyrone), Danny Kinahan (Antrim South).

Also in the aye lobby were Ukip MP Douglas Carswell (Clacton) and independent Sylvia Hermon (Down North).

General Election night: 01:30 – Scotland and the union

I want to make some very brief comments from the middle of the night, with just a few results in, and none in Scotland so far.  There has apparently been a high turnout in Scotland, which is one reason the results are slower in coming in than expected.  But it looks as if the SNP really will win almost every seat in Scotland – a great result for them.

However, if the Tories do win overall, even if not outright but enough to remain in power, Scottish delight about SNP wins need to be tempered by the prospect of five more years of austerity, renewal of Trident, evisceration of social security, and an EU in/out referendum and so on.  I support the call for an EU referendum, but almost certainly not on the terms the Tories want.

What is clear is that anyone arguing that there is no difference between social attitudes in Scotland and rUK is quite simply not paying attention: Scots have clearly voted for an anti-austerity, anti-Trident politics, in complete contrast, it seems, to rUK:

Even if Scotland does not leave the UK, or to put it another way, if there is to be any chance of Scotland staying in the UK, there has to be some kind of new constitutional arrangement beyond the pathetic nonsense that was the Smith Commission.  No Westminster government that wants to keep Scotland in the union (and I’m not sure all the Tories really do, to be honest) can ignore how Scotland has voted.  What that means for the future is not clear.  As commentators on TV joke about who would be Secretary of State for Scotland in a Tory(-led) government, there is a much more significant issue here that will require very serious consideration, that will have implications for Wales and the non-South East of England regions of England too.

My part in the #Jockalypse

I’m dangerous, and I know it: I’ve just voted. And not for one of The Approved Parties.

No, I voted for the Scottish National Party candidate, Stephen Paterson. He’s the only one who can realistically defeat the candidate from the largest of The Approved Parties (incidentally, she has racist views, as I found out recently, so it’ll be A Good Thing if she’s not elected – despite being from one of The Approved Parties).

If the numbers work out as they might, and Ed Miliband realises that he needs the SNP if he wants to be Prime Minister, things will change across the UK. Since I come from Jockland, I thought I should warn you of some of the Jockification that will be happening, starting from tomorrow. You’ve still got time to run to the shops and prepare.

For a start, everyone will have to have porridge for breakfast. No, not with sugar. A healthy breakfast is important, especially considering what the rest of your day is going to be like.

Mid-morning coffee? Only if you’re eating half a packet of shortbread with it.

Your organic lettuce and hummus lunchtime sandwich will be no more. Pies. That’s what you’ll be eating. And depending on the time of year, you’ll be doing so outside. “Ah. At least we’ll be outside!” I hear you say, “In the sunshine – how lovely!” No: it’s outside in the winter, and inside in the summer. How else are you going to keep your skin pale and your vitamin D at an unhealthily low level?

Late afternoon you’ll be allowed a Tunnock’s tea cake, or maybe, on a Friday, a Caramel Wafer (put the last of those organic oatmeal biscuits in the dog bowl – it’ll be appreciated, honest). Tea will need at least two spoons of sugar.

Dinner time? If it’s not been fried, don’t eat it.

Before bed, you’re allowed a snack and a drink. Something like a deep friend Mars bar, washed down with Irn Bru.

See, Jockalypse isn’t so bad. Honestly, you’ll get used to it…


Or maybe, things will be rather more mundane, and the SNP will do as it has done governing Scotland for the last few years, and be very competent, work towards a more just society, and engage with people. Not everything they do is perfect by any means: I’m a member of the Greens and have plenty to say about how they really need to buck up their ideas on a whole host of issues, including renewables, living wage, NATO and so on – but they listen, and that’s more than can be said about most of The Approved Parties.

(If you want more sober comment from me on contemporary affairs, take a look at other postings here, and if you want to know why I think the Labour candidate in Stirling has racist views, click here, and for a blog about The Approved Parties, click here.)

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 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!

Why it really is over for “Labour in Scotland”

Ewan MacAskill has written a measured and thoughtful article that I would recommend reading: “How disillusionment with Labour in Scotland has turned to raw rage“.

I agree with the picture MacAskill is painting here, but in some ways it’s actually months late. When I was chapping doors for Yes last summer in the villages in my area, that anger, that rage at “Labour” was already there.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and all that, but barring some kind of radical transformation – and Jim Murphy’s election and his behaviour since then continually shows that is not happening – I see no discernible way back for Labour in Scotland from their current position. Looking back on the summer of 2014 now, I realise people were really angry at them for siding with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats for the No campaign – and that anger made them think of all the other reasons they disliked Labour.  Some of those mentioned on the doorsteps included:

  • Trident (again and again)
  • austerity (no perceived difference in any of the three Westminster parties – they all want to make people pay for the bankers’ mistakes)
  • ignoring democracy (Scotland doesn’t vote Conservative, but look who’s at Westminster – and I suspect that is not changing at the moment, with all the hate-speech about the SNP and Scots more generally)
  • failure to improve social conditions (an older surgeon who commuted to a Glasgow hospital told me: “people have voted Labour all their lives, as have I, and inner-city health is as bad now as it was when I started working in Glasgow many years ago.  You don’t need to convert me to vote Yes: my patients have already done that”)
  • complacency (Labour politicians don’t care about their constituency, they just use it for their own political careers)
  • and so on… the key word again and again was: betrayal.

Siding with the other two large Westminster parties made people realise there were lots of other things they didn’t like about “Labour” and that the party bore little relation to what they had thought it actually stood for.

What we are witnessing now are the death throes of Labour in Scotland: even if there is understandable Schadenfreude at the party’s well-deserved fate, looming death is not pleasant to witness and people are badly hurt by it. Eventually, Labour in Scotland will die – and as is often the case with painful deaths, the sooner the better.  However, those of us who have long since moved on from Labour should not forget to look back occasionally, not just to remind ourselves of what not to do, but more importantly, to reach out a helping hand to those who are wanting to move on from the wreckage that was once a (justifiably) proud left-wing party.  We must be gentle in doing so: remember that death hurts all those around it.