MP for Edinburgh North and Leith
The Battle of Kenmure Street
Kenmure Street in Glasgow was, until recently, just another street, a collection of homes and families, to most of us. In the future it will be remembered by many of us for much, much more.
Sumit Sehdev and Lakhvir Singh were detained by UK Border Force officials and were to be sent to a detention centre. Their neighbours however had other ideas, before the van containing them had a chance to move protestors surrounded it. The first chap there even crawled under the van into the space beside the axle and he stayed there until the men were released - eight hours I think.
After a few changes of tactics during the day, the police were eventually persuaded that it was in the interests of public order that the two men should be released in a deal negotiated by the lawyer Aamer Anwar.
Glasgow’s victory that day was Scotland’s pride and it marked a clear difference between the public discourse over immigration between the UK Government and the good people of a sound Scottish community.
It’s a temporary reprieve, of course, the battle will be refought and the two men will have to face immigration tribunals and the indignities of the UK immigration system.
They weren’t the only ones targeted that day, either, there are others who are now in detention centres and there will be more in the coming months. Let’s celebrate the victory, though, and build on it because we’re going to need strength in the times ahead.
The number and frequency of these raids will increase because the much-vaunted trade deal between the UK and India included a side deal on immigration.
That side deal means that the UK will be rounding up and sending back a load of people who originally came from India. When people’s lives and futures end up tied into trade deals we’re in dangerous territory.
The idea of making money by agreeing to ship human beings around the world has obvious and very unwelcome resonances.
The hostile environment created by the UK Government, supposedly to deter people from employing, housing or otherwise helping people, who can’t prove their right to be here, is horrific and dehumanising.
Adding the perverse influence of a trade deal enmeshed in an immigration policy that already carries the taint of xenophobia, takes the state’s treatment of some vulnerable people to a new and disgusting low.
So there will be more raids, more people detained and more support needed. The Windrush scandal wasn’t a passing error, it wasn’t a one-off or a misunderstanding, and it was part of the ethos of successive UK Governments.
British jobs for British workers, the claims that non-white children are less intelligent, the vicious attitudes towards gypsies and travellers, the open racism in debates in Westminster - they are all examples of the systemic and institutionalised xenophobia that runs through the UK establishment.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said of Priti Patel’s plans for the immigration system: “Under the proposals, LGBTQ+ people and those fleeing political or religious persecution will be left with no options to travel to the UK. Those at our borders trying to reach family and friends in the UK will be pushed into the hands of people smugglers.”
Patel wants to cut off legal advice for asylum seekers, and be able to send them to countries they have no links to.
If there was any doubt about her delight in this inhumane system it was washed away by recent photographs of her attending one such raid - just as David Cameron and Theresa May did in their time.
This is not a system that serves us well, it is a system that does us everybody ill, and we should not tolerate it.
In Scotland’s Parliament there exists a far more respectful attitude, a far more inclusive attitude - across the parties - and that reflects a far more welcoming attitude among the Scottish people.
We can build a better future here; we can build a better country, given half a chance. In the meantime, we can do what we can to protect our friends and neighbours.
The Battle of Kenmure Street was incredibly peaceful - the protestors even cleared away any litter and discarded protest signs after it - and it was soul-enhancing. It is probably not the last we will see, but it was won, and we should value that.
By the way, I’m told that the chap who spent eight hours hugging the van’s greasy axle got to his feet at the end of it without any help.
If you’re looking for something impressive, look no further!
Police throw cordon round Home Office van as protestors look on