I am often asked by some of the many young visitors to the Parliament what I think is the best thing the Parliament has delivered for the people of Scotland. I am sure that MSPs from across the Parliament give many answers to that from the Smoking Ban to the Climate Change legislation. But, for me, it is the 2007 decision to extend the education rights that are enjoyed by Scottish-domiciled students to the children of asylum seekers.
A Government press release from the time stated:
“Children of asylum families are to have the same access to full time further and higher education as Scottish children under plans announced today.”
The then education secretary, Fiona Hyslop, said
“This government believes that regardless of where they come from and why, any child living in Scotland should receive care, protection and education. We recognise our responsibility for all children in Scotland and our obligations under the UN Convention on the rights of the child”.
During the referendum debate we often talk about uniquely Scottish values and there has been some challenge to the assertion that we do have a distinguishing set of Social Justice or equality values. Indeed in an article in the Guardian in 2013, Blair McDougall said:
“The constant message from the anti-UK campaign is that English values are different from Scottish values. This is not, my opposite number says, a matter of “right versus left, it is a matter of right versus wrong.” The implication is that someone born Dumfries has the right values but someone in Carlisle lacks them.”
As in most things, Mr McDougall misses the point. Values, whether they be Scottish or Old Labour Socialist values have no borders or boundaries. They can be shared across Nations, borders and continents. However, when a Nation is deprived of the opportunity to express, promote and legislate for those values because of a democratic deficit then this becomes a matter of the utmost importance to the future of that Nation.
Scotland is a country of compassion, of fairness and takes its international obligations to asylum seekers and refugees very seriously indeed. No area more easily demonstrates that than immigration and asylum which have brought Scottish values to the fore.
From those values, campaigns like that of the Glasgow girls’ flourished. That campaign against dawn raids was an inspiration to our country. Those young women took their protest to the door of the Home Office to say that dawn raids were not wanted and not expected in Scotland.
Our values have also shaped policies such as the Scottish guardianship service, which is highly important for unaccompanied young people, many of whom have been trafficked.
We have managed so much with the limited powers of devolution but independence can make a huge change in the policy area. At the European and External Relations Committee on 15 May, we examined the citizenship and immigration proposals of the White Paper. At committee Gary Christie of the Scottish Refugee Council said,
“We welcomed the proposal in the white paper to create a separate asylum agency; it is what we suggested should happen if Scotland voted yes. The rationale behind the proposal was about creating specialism and expertise and trying to move away from the culture of disbelief in respect of which we would criticise quite a lot of Home Office decision making, to a culture of protection.”—[Official Report, European and External Relations Committee, 15 May 2014; c 2036.]
His words are welcome in their hope for an Independent Scottish solution but what a damning indictment of the current UK treatment of asylum seekers.
In a debate last week in the Parliament Humza Yousaf said:
“We want to give asylum seekers the right to work. That will not encourage more economic migration—asylum seekers could do that right now—but it will take asylum seekers out of the black market. More than that, it will humanise them by giving them the dignity of work that they deserve. It will also tackle the misconception that asylum seekers are scrounging off the system or taking our benefits, when they are actually working and contributing to our society.
I am especially proud of our proposal to end dawn raids. The Glasgow girls, who have been mentioned throughout the debate, are the best of our country. Successive Governments have tried to end the practice of dawn raids, with Jack McConnell providing an example of that. I do not for a minute doubt Jack McConnell’s sincerity—I very much respect it—in trying to end the practice of dawn raids, but it showed the absolute failure of devolution. A Labour First Minister appealed to a Labour UK Government and a Labour Prime Minister to end dawn raids, but was humiliated by a member of his own party and sent back from London to Scotland saying that dawn raids would continue, regardless. That is an absolute failure of devolution, not a success of devolution.
The proposal to close down Dungavel is one of the aspects of the white paper of which I am most proud; that pride is shared by all SNP members. Alison McInnes said that child detention should be the very last resort, but I think that it should be no resort; it should not be the first resort or the last. We can never justify the detention of children, who have committed no crime, so it will be a proud moment when we close down Dungavel.”
A few years ago I asked my teenage son to come to Dungavel with me to meet Friends of Refugees Ayrshire and members of the Truth and Justice movement in Scotland. This was met with a degree of teenage ‘meh’ ; but we went and we tearfully sang Hamish Henderson’s “Freedom Come All Ye”. I hope that Scotland’s Independent hoose, will be a hoose where ‘a’ the bairns o’ Adam will find breid, barley-bree and painted room.’
Jimmy Halliday’s contributions to the Cause
Jimmy Halliday – lifetime Nationalist
To put matters into context, in 1955 the SNP contested only two Parliamentary seats in Scotland. Dr Robert McIntyre fought Perth and East Perthshire and Jimmy Halliday fought Stirling and Falkirk Burghs. Jimmy then became the youngest ever SNP Chairman and served 1956-70; in 1956 the entire SNP Conference delegates were photographed on the steps of the Allan Water Hotel, Bridge of Allan.
There will be a Referendum for Scottish Independence this year, which was unthinkable in the dark days of 1955. Jimmy died on 3rd January 2013 at the age of 85, and we will be publishing all his articles in the Scots Independent, all those we have electronic input for. It is anticipated we will publish a book with all his contributions over many years but this will have to wait until after the Referendum.
Censorship alive and well in some Scottish schools
The librarian is not asked to become a proprietor, but a custodian
If the Scottish government gets its way 16-year olds will be eligible to vote in the forthcoming Referendum. Even if this proposal is not accepted, people currently at school will certainly be voting in the elections due in 2010 and 2011. An informed electorate is much to be desired, and so it is that the SI maintains in memory of Robert McIntyre a fund to provide to schools free of charge each issue of the paper. To cater for teachers and pupils with a particular specialist purpose, we send copies to Modern Studies departments. For others in the school communities, with less academic incentive but perhaps a general interest, we send copies to school libraries.
Let me now take you into our confidence about the responses to our service.
We cannot be fully informed as to the effective use of our materials but we have had many appreciative comments from staff and senior pupils in the Modern Studies sector. This reaction is gratifying, because teachers of the subject are more likely to be themselves interested in politics, and frequently not at all in sympathy with our point of view. They must however, have agreed with us that identity of opinion is not necessary when we promote discussion of political issues. To their credit we have had no expressions of hostility or rejection from these teachers.
You may share our concern when I report to you that we have met with a few signs of these emotions from school librarians. We are trying to understand the reasons for this difference in attitudes because no explanations have been offered.
From one school came the request to “cancel our free subscription” — a comical reminder of the old joke about the disappointed theatre patron who demanded the return of his complimentary ticket. Still, this letter tends to prove that cost to the school can play no part in prompting refusal of the paper.
Another writer explained that the department which had used the paper had ceased to do so. Quite true no doubt, but why assume that a library copy is intended for only one department? What about study periods? Library periods? Must the termination of one course require the withdrawal of the SI from all pupils? Some of them might even wonder where it has gone.
Other responses have been rather more confrontational. “Please remove us from your mailing list, as we do not want the Scots Independent newspaper. Thank you.” Just who exactly “we” were, or why “we” did not want the paper remained wholly unexplained. The writer of the letter, and the Head Teacher, who confirmed her decision, must both fail, or refuse, to recognise that the intended recipient is not the librarian nor the school’s administrations but the pupils, on whose behalf all members of the school staff are in positions of trust, intellectual as well as moral and physical.
On seeking to encourage second thoughts we learned that “no use has been made of it”. Now, a publication which is signed or stamped in and out over a library desk can certainly be traced, and its circulation known. In the case of a small publication, most appropriately left on open access for random readers, no such qualification can be made, and should therefore not be asserted.
What can prompt these few correspondents to find our offerings so unwelcome? And why does this rejection come from librarians rather from teachers? Are we offending librarians by appearing to intrude upon their space or status, or by appearing to question their monopoly of selection? Annoyance would be wholly understandable if the paper was being thrust upon the librarian personally but it is not. The librarian is not asked to become a proprietor, but a custodian on behalf of the pupils. Reading is a voluntary activity, and the librarian in particular has the important and honourable role of facilitator.
We must hope that we are not encountering simple partisan bias. One refusenik found our very name distasteful. “Scots Independent” implied bias, he shuddered. After all he had never heard of a paper called “Scots Dependent” We could have some fun arguing about that gem of logic, but bias in its purest and truest form is insidious. The SI sails under no false colours and dons no disguises. Dislike us and our arguments as you wish but do not stoop to censorship, especially when society entrusts you with the stimulation of young minds.
There was a time when our message could be dismissed as coming from a handful of eccentrics. The seeds disseminated from that handful have sprouted publicly elected representatives at all levels, local authorities administered by these representatives, and we all live in a country governed by their leaders. It is absurd to act as though the message which they share should be placed upon some index of forbidden thought and, in its written form, locked away from the young.