by Margaret Woods
I recently spent an extraordinary evening at the Citizen’s Theatre. To a packed audience the National Theatre of Scotland performed “Glasgow Girls – The Musical” – the inspiring true story of how a number of schools students at Drumchapel High School ran a campaign to prevent their friends being deported. It portrayed just one part of the story of twelve years of resistance in Scotland to the Westminster government’s vicious racist immigration laws.
From the moment people seeking asylum were dispersed to Glasgow, made to sign in weekly at the Home Office, dawn raided in their homes, detained at Dungavel and often deported, sometimes after months of enforced destitution, people have gathered round to befriend and help their new neighbours from the many war zones, dictatorships and trouble spots of the world.
As their treatment at the hands of the British Government became more brutal and oppressive and the demonstrations grew larger, people began to reflect on what sort of state, what sort of society could do this to other human beings. Why in 21st century Scotland are we witnessing sights in our own streets more associated with 20th century European regimes which we all hoped had gone forever.
As Scotland moves towards a referendum on Independence we must all start to decide what we want for the future. What kind of society do we want to live in? What should a new Scotland actually look like?
Scotland’s history is one of both immigration and emigration. Few of its citizens are untouched by this. A recent academic study looking in-depth at DNA in the Scottish population concluded that Scotland is one of the most diverse in the world in terms of its genetic inheritance. Since humans moved out of Africa, people have made their way towards Scotland and settled here (though clearly not for the weather, as we are all fond of commenting!)
In this sense the country’s long history, combined with the experience of families through the last few generations, as well as a long established sense of solidarity built up through the trade union movement’s fight against poverty and deprivation, lie the roots of the outrage which has brought together people of different religions, political parties and none to oppose Westminster’s asylum and immigration laws.
Some of us can trace family who left here centuries ago to seek a better life elsewhere. Some of us have family who left here within the last century for the same reason, as poverty and unemployment swept the land. Some of us can trace family who arrived here from other countries centuries ago, some within the last two or three generations, some only last month, as poverty, war and famine swept their countries of origin.
In a globalised world of increasing instability, frequent wars and financial crises ripping the world economic system, austerity and punishment of the poor is the answer of most governments and financial institutions. The movement of people following work, safety and a better life can only be expected to intensify. In Scotland we must decide what our policy will be.
The Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees want the current immigration laws to be completely repealed. It has the support of numerous trade union branches as well as that of many organisations within civil and religious society as well as some politicians. It has instigated major campaigns to defend people against arrest, detention, eviction, destitution and deportation.
It has worked closely with ordinary people across the city, often in the most deprived parts of Glasgow to defend refugees’ rights. We mounted the biggest demonstration held outside a detention centre in Britain at Dungavel during the G8 protests of 2005. In June we organised a demonstration of more than a thousand people, backed by the STUC, to protest at the eviction and destitution of people refused asylum.
We have been proud to work with the Glasgow Girls and other school students across the city as they organise to defend their friends. We are quite clear that people who seek safety and a better life here should be welcomed. They bring with them enormous talent and energy which can only benefit our society of course but they should be welcome in principle because Scotland should be a beacon in the world in terms of support for human rights. The only kind of society worth living in is one which values all human beings, eschews torture, oppression and extra judicial murder – a society which extends solidarity and the hand of friendship to others. The interests of the working class people and the poor of Scotland and those from elsewhere are indivisible.
Together we can fight the poverty, deprivation, emiseration and violence being meted out to us as the world’s rich try to make us pay for their crisis. This means that we have to resist attempts to divide us by means of racism and Islamophobia and unite to claim what is rightfully ours. I mentioned that the Campaign is broad based with people from different political backgrounds who wish to welcome and defend refugees. As a socialist I intend to vote for independence but further to that I personally believe in a world without borders and immigration controls which I would contend are always racist. This is the vision of a future world which I have cherished since I was a school student myself.
I hope that you will attend the Radical Independence Conference and that you will come and discuss these ideas with me and the other campaigners in this workshop. Saturday 24th November is also the occasion of the St Andrew’s Day demonstration against racism and fascism called annually by the STUC in response to attempts by Nazis to take over St Andrew’s day and claim it for their own.
As always, the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees will march proudly with our banner, joined by refugees and other supporters as we unite with the trade union movement to say that racists and Nazis will never be tolerated in Scotland and that this country’s future lies in welcoming those who wish to live here and contribute to building a better safer country and world for all of us and the children who will come after us.
Please, at the conference, pick up our postcard demanding an end to indefinite detention under asylum and immigration law and send it to Theresa May, and join us at the Sheriff Court on Tuesday 4 December for the evidence hearing on human rights to stop evictions of asylum seekers.
Margaret Woods is Trade Union Organiser for Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees
* * *
Times and details for all the Radical Indy Conference sessions, including Margaret’s workshop, can be found here.