Desperately seeking sanctuary in an Inhospitable State
The first problem here is that unlawful eviction actions, carried out in Scotland, on the basis of Westminster’s legislation, severely undermines fundamental and historic protections enshrined in Scots Law. The second, is that housing is ‘devolved’ to the Scottish Parliament, while immigration is ‘reserved’ to Westminster. Joe Eramsus investigates.
In the true spirit of Glasgow’s radical tradition, the tenants’ organisation Living Rent are currently involved in a campaign of direct action to stop the planned evictions of 300 asylum seekers, by Serco Group PLC. This important campaign has attracted widespread support from a range of activists right across the city.
Community-minded legal organisations such as Latta Law, Govan Law Centre, Shelter and the Legal Services Agency (LSA) have all pledged to continue to lodge legal challenges to each and every eviction notice issued by Serco, and have been successful in obtaining interim interdicts in all cases brought to their attention to date, which amount to around 80 individual cases. Unfortunately, at least five cases have so far slipped through their legal net, as the campaigning groups did not appear to have been informed of the impending eviction proceedings, with the tenants perhaps assuming little could be done to prevent it.
Serco is a multi-national company, a FTSE top 250, which manages over 500 services contracts worldwide, operating in the UK and Europe, North America, Asia Pacific and the Middle East. It won a Home Office contract in 2012 to house asylum seekers, while their claims were being assessed. However, it lost the most recent tender for this work to the Mears Group, who will commence responsibilities for asylum seeker accommodation as of September 2019. In the meantime, Serco decided to announce that they commence evicting 300 of their Glasgow tenants who they claim have ‘failed’ in their attempts to be granted asylum in the UK. Originally set for the summer of 2018, these evictions had been postponed due to a range of legal challenges in addition to political pressures exerted from a broad section of the community. Serco have stated that they will now re-commence their evictions by instigating around 30 lock-changes a week.
These evictions take place within a much broader legislative context. The Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016, the central pillars of the then Home Secretary, Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment for immigrants’, which set out to criminalise both immigrants and also the general public, if they fail to comply with its prescriptions. This is relevant to Glasgow’s asylum seekers because the 2014 Act makes it a criminal offence to let accommodation to any person who does not have ‘the Right to Rent’. This means that anyone who has not been officially granted ‘leave to remain’ is prevented from accessing accommodation anywhere within the UK. The 2016 Act has not yet been enacted by the Secretary of State for Scotland, so for the time being it only applies to England and Wales. The 2014 Act criminalises landlord actions and imposes a fine, while the 2016 Act extends that punishment to five- years imprisonment for non-compliance. It is not just landlords who can potentially be criminalised, as the Act also criminalises any bank workers who, for example, allows undocumented migrants to open bank accounts, as well as driving instructors who give driving lessons to people who do not have ‘leave to remain’. The implications of this legislation are not well known, but are clearly very significant:
- Britain’s borders are no longer restricted to airports or sea ports, but now include every inch of public and private space across the UK. Through the process of potential criminalisation, the UK government has, in effect, turned the entire population into Border Guards, responsible through the threat of imprisonment or a fine, for the actual ‘policing’ of immigration within the unbounded national border that now exists everywhere.
- Both Immigration Acts foster ‘racist’ practices, that damage community cohesion and weaken social solidarity. Research by the University of St. Andrews has shown that these Acts make people wary of dealing with anyone they think may be ‘foreign’. The evidence shows that landlords are much less likely to consider letting a property to anyone with a foreign name, or who has an accent, or even the appearance that is not ‘obviously’ British. ‘Legal’ migrants in this country have a hard-enough time finding suitable accommodation as it is, but these Immigration Acts have made that a lot worse.
- Punitive Acts that seek to criminalise the public for non-compliance in State-sponsored forms of racial oppression have ideological functions that not only assist the powerful in exercising its domination, but which allow the State to further encroach on the lives of its citizens. The State increasingly becomes a surveillance state, a punitive State, a paternal State. In short, the ‘Nanny State’ of the Fordist-Keynesian period that saw the birth of the NHS, social housing and full employment, as well as unprecedented levels of immigration to the UK, has steadily been replaced by the ‘Daddy State’, one that seeks to discipline and punish rather than provide assistance and care.
What are the implications then, for Glasgow’s asylum seekers, who face lock changes at the hands of Serco and the Home Office? Firstly, Living Rent are right in calling these actions inhumane. The campaigners are also right to demand that Glasgow City Council defy the Home Office and offer those affected emergency accommodation. However, these are but very short-term solutions.
Of one thing we can be absolutely certain; Serco and its contractual successor the Mears Group, care much more about shareholder value than they do about the lives of those they are paid to accommodate. Secondly, the root of the problem lies neither with Serco, nor Glasgow City Council but rather, it is the UK Government at Westminster. Therefore, an effective solution requires the protection of these vulnerable people, here in Scotland, from the authoritarian populist policies of a racist and xenophobic State, while at the same time safeguarding Scotland’s future from the destructive and oppressive Westminster political regime.
Serco, acting under the provisions of the Immigration Act 2014, intend to carry out what in Scotland are called ‘summary evictions’, without following due process. The law in Scotland precludes ‘summary evictions’ and, in fact, deems them to be a criminal offence under Part III Section 22 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984. The core requirements of the law that prevents summary evictions, has a very long history in Scotland. As Advocate Adrian Stalker makes clear, the 40-day notice and the requirement to obtain a decree for eviction from a Sheriff Court date right back to the Act of 1555.
So, with history on his side, Mike Daily of the Govan Law Centre represented two Kurdish women, one from Iraq and the other Iran, against the Home Office and Serco in August 2018, at the Outer House of the Court of Session in Edinburgh. His argument was simply that it is unlawful in Scotland to carry out a ‘summary eviction’. In a 29-page judgement Lord Tyre found in favour of the Home Office saying: “I am satisfied that neither of the pursuers has made out a relevant case for any of the orders sought.”
The Govan Law Centre are set to lodge an appeal.
The first problem here is that unlawful eviction actions, carried out in Scotland, on the basis of Westminster’s legislation, severely undermines fundamental and historic protections enshrined in Scots Law. The second, is that housing is ‘devolved’ to the Scottish Parliament, while immigration is ‘reserved’ to Westminster. Being different countries, in a number of important respects, this produces as these evictions ably illustrate, a range of problems. These actions damage the Scottish economy, given the country relies on immigrant and seasonal labour for sectors such as agriculture, hospitality and tourism. Also, as we have seen, unresolvable tensions are created, when the two laws, and the differing political cultures, conflict.
This brings us onto the second problem, which has the most obvious of solutions. Since the laws that underpin the problems faced by Glasgow’s asylum seekers are generated by Westminster and then implemented by the Home Office in London, then we need to negate, not reform, the power that Westminster and the Home Office has over Scotland. Here we have a situation whereby the protections provided by ancient Scottish laws are being trashed by a Westminster government whose politics are, as have been for many years now, completely antithetical to those held by the vast majority of the Scottish people. There is only one realistic way to properly resolve this matter and that is to ensure every single aspect of the campaign to stop the inhumane lock changes and the forced removal and destitution of asylum seekers is underpinned by an overarching demand for Scottish independence. There is no other long-term solution to this unacceptable situation without it.
A long read version of the article can be found here.