Monday, 22 July 2013


 Richard Haley, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, 28.7.13

On 9 July, an inquest in London ruled that Jimmy Mubenga was unlawfully when he died on a plane at Heathrow while being restrained by G4S guards who were trying to deport him to Angola.

Jimmy Mubenga came to Britain in 1994, a student activist who had to get out of Angola because the regime was after him. He came here shortly after his wife (Makenda Kambana), whose father had already been killed by the regime and his child. He found work, they had more children. Then he got into a fight in a nightclub and in 2006 he was convicted of actual bodily harm jailed. After he'd served his sentence he  was in line for deportation – a far more severe punishment than his jail term.

Jimmy Mubenga was killed in October 2010, in the words of the inquest jury "pushed or held down by one or more of the guards, causing his breathing to be impeded".

Like all migrants and asylum-seekers living in Britain, he was living in a different country from British citizens, with a different legal system and different rights, subject to the old sentence of transportation for even a minor offence.

Jimmy Mubenga's death was exceptional. But violence and abuse during deportation is routine. In 2008 campaigners and lawyers published a dossier of nearly 300 cases of alleged assaults on deportees by private security guards. People were beaten, punched, kicked, knelt on, sat on, handcuffed in ways that caused injury, racially abused.

Those aren't the only ways that asylum-seekers are abused.

At the end of March, 180 people were being held at Dungavel, not for any crime, but because the government doesn't want them here. In the course of the previous year, over 28,000 people were taken into immigration detention across the UK, with about 2800 in detention at any one time. Some have been detained for years. [Of the people coming out of detention in the year to the end of March, 76 had been held for more a year.]

If you're suspected of a crime, you can be held without charge for at most a few days.

Some asylum-seekers have their liberty, and absolutely nothing else.

They aren't destitute by accident or oversight, but because the law has systematically destituted them. They aren't allowed to work. If they are refused asylum and don't have a new claim or an appeal in progress, they are shortly afterwards denied access to any publicly-funded support, unless (Section 4 support) they choose to co-operate in their own deportation back to countries where they believe themselves to be at risk of torture.

Why is the system so vicious? British immigration policy is openly based on a strategy of deterring people from seeking asylum here.

Asylum-seekers in Scotland

Only a handful arrive at Scottish ports and airports looking for asylum. Anyone who does that has to go down to Croydon to file their asylum claim. The overwhelming majority of Scotland's asylum-seekers enter Britain south of the border.

However they arrive, they then have very limited choices. If they have family or friends they can stay with, they can opt to do that and receive subsistence-only support from NASS. Most don't have that option. Under the dispersal scheme created by the 1999 Asylum and Immigration Act they'll be sent to one of the various locations around the UK where NASS has arranged accommodation. The only place in Scotland where they'll be sent is Glasgow.

So almost all Scotland's asylum-seekers live in Glasgow, with a small number receiving subsistence-only support in Edinburgh and one or two other places.

There's no accurate figure for the total number of refugees and asylum-seekers in Scotland, but based on UK trends the Scottish Refugee Council estimates that there are about 20,000 refugees, asylum seekers and others who come under the UNHCR term "persons of concern."

This isn't a very big figure, but it's quite a significant addition to Scotland's small BME population (100,000 people in the 2001 census). Economic migration to Scotland is much bigger – in each of the last few years 36-37,000 migrant workers entering Scotland were given national insurance numbers.

The number of asylum-seekers receiving support in Scotland reached a peak of around 6000 people in 2004 and fell steadily to about 2000 in March 2011. This March the number was just under 2300.

[This is partly a UK-wide trend. The number of people applying for asylum in the UK peaked at 84,000 in 2002 and settled down to somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 from 2005 onwards. Worldwide the number of refugees has marginally risen over that period.]

Dispersal is driven by cost. Glasgow City Council was one of the most expensive accommodation providers in the UK, which is why in 2011 UKBA ended its contract with the Council, giving the contract first to Ypeople then to SERCO, whose normal business is running prisons and detention centres (including Dungavel). The housing crisis for asylum-seekers is still unfolding, with evictions going through the courts.

Besides the asylum-seekers who are receiving support, there are others who have ceased to get any support. It's impossible to make a respectable guess about the number of people in that situation.

Last year the charity Positive Action in Housing helped about 313 people out of its destitution fund. 111 of  those people had been destitute for over a year, and out of those 111, 24 had been destitute for 3-5 years.


"On independence, Scotland could take into account economic and demographic needs, as well as human rights and justice, when considering asylum applications. Responsibility for the immigration and asylum system would allow Scotland to provide greater security to asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of their application and ensure a fairer and more humane asylum system" – SNP 'Your Scotland Your Voice', 2009

It's often said that Scotland's needs are different from England's because of aging population.

North or south of the border, we need open borders so that we can stand in solidarity with working people all over the world. We need to protect all our rights in the workplace by making sure that no-one is a second-class citizen or an un-citizen, and no one is stuck in a black economy.

An independent Scotland ought to work towards dismantling the oppressive immigration system that we're going to inherit. But there will be some very immediate problems.

We'll probably inherit 180-200 detainees held in Dungavel. We'll inherit an uncertain number – maybe 2000 – asylum-seekers living in poor housing and poverty. And we'll inherit an unpredictable but smaller number of asylum seekers who are facing absolute destitution.

The things that need to be done are things that various organisations have been campaigning about for years.

The first thing we need to do is to end detention and destitution.

That's to say, as soon as the Scottish Parliament gains authority over immigration matters, we need an act of parliament that abolishes the power to detain asylum-seekers and that gives all asylum-seekers – even those whose claim has been refused – an entitlement to support and a right to work.

We also need to limit the powers of immigration officials so that there are no more dawn raids like the one in February this year that split up a young Nigerian family in Glasgow.

It would also be a good idea to grant an amnesty – a right to Scottish residence - in all the legacy cases from before independence. On current trends, that would probably only be around 2000 people.

These are just minimal humanitarian demands – band-aid not reform.

It would be a bad mistake to think that they will be easy to achieve.

They fly in the face of the culture of deterrence that's shaped British immigration policy and policies right across Europe. But the groundwork for the struggle has already been done.

There's been cross-party sympathy in the Scottish Parliament, and there's been a fair amount of sympathy in the media. The issue needs to be pulled into the politics of independence.

Some Further reading

"Improving the Lives of Refugees in Scotland after the Referendum: An Appraisal of the Options" – Scottish Refugee Council - - COSLA strategic migration partnership – some useful and up-to-date stuff

- report by NCADC, Medical Justice, Birnberg Peirce (2008)

Europe: is a useful resource on European policy developments

International solidarity – the No Border Network -

Institute for Race Relations - - British based group with an international outlook (especially Europe)

Saturday, 6 July 2013


Talk given by Allan Armstrong (RCN) to the Republican Socialist Alliance meeting on July 6th in London

The development of the Republican Socialist Alliance is to be welcomed. Unlike so many on the Left, the RSA appreciates the importance of the constitutional monarchist nature of the UK state, and the formidable anti-democratic nature of the Crown Powers. These powers cloak the operations of the British ruling class’s ‘hidden state’ and the activities of the City of London. For republicans, opposition to these Crown Powers is of greater significance than opposition to the monarchy, which merely fronts them.

There are two other significant features of the UK state. It retains an established church, the Church of England, with its 26 bishops in the House of Lords. Although this is a specifically English ‘privilege’, along with the constitutional necessity for a Protestant monarch, it is still significant in maintaining British rule over Northern Ireland. A socialist response to this must be based on upholding a consistent secularism, which breaks the link between the state and religion.

However, republicans must also recognise the third feature of the UK, and that is its unionist nature. The UK consists of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (and the whole of Ireland before 1922). The UK came about as a result of the English conquest of Wales, the joint English and Scottish conquest of Ireland, and an English and Scottish ruling class deal to create a British state in which they could benefit from imperial exploitation.

Thus, if republicanism and secularism are the socialist responses to the UK’s Crown Powers and state-backed Protestantism, then upholding the right of self-determination for Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and yes, for England too, is the socialist response to the unionism of the UK state.

Ironically, the Union actually recognises national self-determination, but on a limited class basis. For example, under the 1707 Act of Union, the Scottish section of the new British ruling class retained control of those aspects of the state that enabled it to maintain its rule in Scotland – the Church of Scotland (including then, its control over education) and the Scottish legal system.

In the nineteenth century, with the rise of industrial capitalism, a new rising wannabe ruling class force emerged in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Many of them demanded an extension of national self-determination to protect and advance their own interests on a national basis. Thus Home Rule (or Devolution as it is now called) would provide protected careers within the nation, whilst also maintaining openings at an all-UK and British Empire levels.

Today, the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals (or ‘Independence within the Union of the Crowns’), which accept the Union and the Crown Powers, the Bank of England and participation in the British High Command and NATO, represents the self-determination of a wannabe Scottish ruling class. ‘Independence-Lite’ is a continuation of the old Home Rule tradition, but for a world dominated by the global corporations and US imperialism.

For socialists, self-determination in Scotland must reflect working class interests. This means a complete break with the Crown Powers, with the Bank of England and with NATO. During the nineteenth century Marx and Engels saw Tsarist Russia and its Hapsburg Austrian ally, as the two principal upholders of reaction against democracy in Europe. Today the UK plays the role of ‘Hapsburg Austria’ to the US’s ‘Tsarist Russia’ in upholding the current global corporate order. The struggle for genuine self-determination is thus directed at the US/UK imperial alliance.

However, this also raises the issue of what sort of republicanism we need to take-on this unionist and imperialist alliance. One tradition, which has some purchase on the British Left, needs to be questioned. This is the ‘Cromwellian republic’. It developed out of the ‘counter-revolution within the revolution’, after the Levellers were suppressed in 1649. Cromwell was no universalist and supported a Greater English republic and empire.
Although, the Cromwellian regime was ousted in 1660, this particularist form of republicanism was realised in the new American US republican constitution in 1787. In the White American Republic, the Crown Powers were, in effect, transferred to the imperial presidency. Cromwell may have failed in his attempt to drive all the native Irish beyond the Shannon, but President Jackson was able to remove the Five Civilised Tribes to ‘Indian territory’ beyond the Mississippi on his ‘Trail of Tears’.

In the UK, imperial republicanism fed into British Radicalism, and then the British Left. It could be seen in William Linton, the Radical Chartist, who first designed an English republican flag. He  believed that this was synonymous with an all-islands (Great Britain and Ireland) flag.  The Radical and republican MP, Joseph Cowen supported British imperial wars. The Radical Liberal and republican MP, Charles Dilke, was a rampant racist and promoter of British imperialism. What united these people was a strong belief in a ‘British road to progress’. They bought into the Whig version of history. Furthermore, from the days of Hyndman’s SDF to the ‘Brit Left’ of today, this Whig tradition has morphed into support for various ‘British roads to socialism’.

There is alternative socialist republican tradition to this. It is based on the recognition of national self-determination and ‘internationalism from below’. Its very first shoots can be seen in the refusal of those English republican Levellers to be sent by Cromwell to Ireland. They thought they shared more in common with the native Irish fighting to hold on to their lands. In the 1790s, an alliance of United Irishmen, United Scotsmen and the London Corresponding Society built up an ‘internationalism from below’ alliance to challenge the UK state, the principal backer of the counter-revolution in Europe and beyond.

The Radical wing of the Chartists supported Young Ireland in its desire to break the Union. From 1879-95, Michael Davitt and others attempted to build a land and labour alliance on ‘internationalism from below' lines in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. Indeed many of its proponents played a leading part in the ‘New (trade)  Unionism, which emerged after 1889.
Both James Connolly in Ireland and later John Maclean in Scotland developed ‘a breakup of the UK state and British Empire’ strategy. This emerged as the most revolutionary challenge in these islands in the context of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave. This is the socialist republican tradition that the Republican Communist Network is raising in today’s struggle for Scottish self-determination.