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.

Political Context

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.

Legislative Context

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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’s to be done?

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.

Comments (7)

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  1. Frank says:

    “Here we have a situation whereby the protections provided by ancient Scottish laws are being trashed by a Westminster government”
    Question – Could you explain what these “ancient Scottish laws” are and when was the last time any authority recognised or enforced them?

    There is only one realistic way to properly resolve this matter – – – – is underpinned by an overarching demand for Scottish independence.
    Question – Are you suggesting that an Independent Scotland should have borders that are wide open to anyone from anywhere that wants to come here?
    If so do you really believe that is what “the vast majority of the Scottish people” want?

    1. john says:

      Exactly Frank .

    2. Joe Erasmus says:

      Frank – Protection from summary eviction (the requirement of a 40 day notice, requirement to obtain a decree from a Sheriff court etc. have been prescribed in SCOTTISH statute since, as the article clearly says, 1555. Failure to carry out an eviction ‘lawfully’ has been since then, and is still to this very day, a criminal offence under Scots Law. No one is talking about ‘open borders’. The point of the article is straight-forward and simple. Scotland’s laws have protected tenants from summary eviction since 1555, recent Westminster legislation trashes these protections. There is a solution to this problem and you know what that solution is.

      Florian Albert – The phrase ‘hostile environment for immigrants’, is not in quotation marks. It is in single commas to show that it is a politically constructed, rhetorical concept. Have a look at this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_Office_hostile_environment_policy

      1. Frank says:

        This statute of 1555 doesn’t say what you claim. While it mentions legality there is no definition of what that means, it could quite simply be serving the notice in the presence of two or more witnesses. There is certainly no mention of Sheriffs or Magistrates, nor of 40 days. It concerns an agreement between a Landowner and the holder of a lease or tack and the breach of that agreement by the leaseholder. If the lease holder refuses to move by a certain date (Whitsun) then he is in “violent possession” and under the common law can then be removed by force.

        If you read your Scottish history you will see that the common people had no rights, so far as their position as tenants went they were “tenants at will” and could be evicted at any time on the whim of the landlord. An example of this is to be found in William Lithgow’s poem of1633 (Prebble. Lion in the North page 235) where he says –

        “- – – – But only that the landlords set their land
        From year to year, and so from hand to hand:
        They change and flit their tenants as they please,
        And will not give them lease, tacks, times nor ease
        To prosper and to thrive – – – – “

        While that referred to the lowland Scot the Highland clearances are a later example. The only occasions officers of the law were involved was when the tenants resisted eviction, then they got the full weight of the law – often on their heads. In the early 1960s I was told by two older workmates and from their personal experience that in the 1930s when they had worked in company towns (steel and coal) you could lose your job for the slightest infringement of company rules (including where you did your shopping) you could be fired on the spot and evicted from your tied house. No sheriffs or 40 days involved, you were out.

        Anyhow, regarding the asylum seekers, These people have been through the legal process and have been refused asylum, as a result they have no right to be here and so have no right to housing or benefits.

        You never mentioned open borders? The EU has waves of “refugees” coming from the East and from the South and once they are in the EU and get the right to stay, and most will, they will then have the right to come here, and they will apparently also have the right to send for their families. Most of these people are not refugees, they are being sent to the EU, and it is all well organised and financed with several ships belonging to NGOs waiting to “rescue” them. Our borders are in effect open to the world.

        1. Joe Erasmus says:

          Frank – I don’t think you’re looking at the right Act, or the right part of the Act. Here it is – Concerning the warning of tenants, chapter 12
          https://www.rps.ac.uk/trans/A1555/6/13

          “…lawful warning being made at anytime within the year forty days before the feast of Whitsunday [May/June]”

          The term ‘Sheriff’ is referred to 6 times.

          Although this was the forerunner of what we would call protection from summary eviction, it was not designed to protect only the tenant as as it wasn’t in the landlord’s interest for the land to be left waste as Jim Hunter rightly points out in his work on the Sutherland Clearances.

          1. Frank says:

            Joe – In that I was looking in the wrong place, you were right. I got the information from Wikipedia and the identical from Oxford University. In both cases it only gave what appears to be the first part of the statute.

            However, it doesn’t take away from what I said, that the statute concerned an agreement between two – what will I call them – toffs? The common folk had no such agreements as is obvious from the examples I gave – and there are lots more. Too many folk have a romantic opinion of pre-union Scotland but there was nothing romantic about it, it a “Feudal Tyranny”.

            Back to the original topic – Laying aside fanciful notions about medieval laws, these “refugees” have had a fair hearing under existing law and have been refused asylum. So what are you going to do, use endless amounts of taxpayers money to mount endless appeals?

  2. florian albert says:

    “Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment for immigrants’ ”

    Since the last four words are in quotation marks, can you give me the date for this quotation ?

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