Lessons from the Kenmure Street Siege

The defeat inflicted on Britain’s Home Office on Kenmure Street may prove a crucial turning point for Scotland.

In the years since the independence referendum, many of us have felt a frustrated impotence. The mass movement we built in those years, the largest Scotland had seen since the Poll Tax, largely fizzled. The Yes movement channeled its energy into political parties, and those parties are limited by their need to be electable. They ask us to vote, to campaign for votes, but as players of the parliamentary game they cannot change its rules.

The victory on Kenmure Street shows once again that the power of the people, united and organised, can change the rules. Legally, Britain held all the cards here. Immigration law is reserved to Westminster. Home office enforcement officers are employed by Westminster. Immigrants are seized and taken to detention centres all the time, and it rarely makes the news.

But on this occasion, the power of the people, of the self-conscious and self-organised working class, turned the legal situation on its head. Two decades of organising by the Unity Centre meant that many members of the community knew immediately what had to be done. Deep links, on- and offline, meant that the call for support spread like wildfire, with hundreds assembling in the first few hours. The crowd was disciplined: any move forward by the police was met with mass sit-downs and bike barricades.

After an 8 hour standoff, the Home Office was forced to stand down. In the space opened by direct action, the words of progressive politicians and lawyers could start to have meaning.

All of this took place at the intersection of class politics and constitutional politics. The British state was trying to implement an unpopular policy. The Scottish state, subject, opposed it impotently. But the people, organised and united, bodies on the line, made the opposition real, and were victorious.

The coming years will see an increasingly authoritarian Tory government trying to impose its right wing politics on Scotland’s institutions, and a decaying capitalism trying to squeeze the last pennies from an exhausted and impoverished population. The SNP and the Greens aren’t going to save us. But each time we organise, and fight, and win, a little more authority slips from Britain’s grasp, and a progressive independent Scotland comes a little closer.

Comments (18)

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  1. Daniel Raphael says:

    Brilliant action, useful and morale-boosting essay. The ultimate paragraph is a beacon. As Seattle’s own exemplar and workingclass champion, Kshama Sawant, is fond of saying at rallies: “When we fight, we win!”


  2. Dougie Blackwood says:

    Do you remember the campaign against warrant sales, led by Tommy Sherridan? In the end it won and the people can win if they are organised.

  3. Jim Ferguson says:

    The Home Office aren’t going away. Next time they’ll be better prepared and more brutal: this was probably a dress rehearsal, and the Muslim holy day chosen to cause greatest offence and mobilisation. Of course they’d have loved to have gotten away with it this time, but they’ve now seen what tactics etc the communities have had to offer. They will have learned a lot from this, and sadly, they will be back. Next time an even bigger and smarter resistance must await them. People are incredibly creative and the British can be resisted again, but it if and when they do come again it will be rougher. And they’ll probably import some police from elsewhere to do the worst of it. As you rightly argue success relies on peoples’ direct action as reliance on politicians, however well meaning, won’t do the job.
    A very heartening success! Yes to that.

    1. lindsay simpson says:

      Indeed, points well made.
      It is surely time to admit that direct action is the only thing the British state apparatus fears but we need the leaders and organisers, as so well demonstrated in Kenmure Street, to know we will support them, the next move by the despised Home Office has to be met by us foot soldiers in even greater mass opposition.
      We have the power in our own actions, it is time we use it.

  4. Tom Ultuous says:

    That standoff was great to see. Patel’s already insisting the two men will be removed. Meanwhile her Scottish troops are insisting the standoff crowd that turned up in breach of covid rules justified the 15,000 last Saturday. Don’t put it beyond Nazi Patel to rally said troops.

  5. Antoine Bisset says:

    The law was broken by Police Scotland and Rentamob. Two “students” who had illegally overstayed their student visas by ten years were freed by what was pretty much a Lynch mob. These are the plain facts. Dress it up any way you like. Do any of supporters of this action, participants, onlookers, fellow travellers, think that the lynch mobs of the US thought that they were doing the wrong thing? Of course not. Mob rule is the antithesis of civilisation. Is that the vision of Scotland that these people have? Is it a vision shared by subscribers to this blog?
    What next? Popular drug dealers, gangsters and rapists to be freed by mob action?

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      I wouldn’t worry, Antoine. This is masturbatory fantasy. There was no ‘siege’, the only ‘working class’ in evidence were the police officers, and the population of Scotland isn’t ‘exhausted’ or ‘impoverished’.

      1. John Learmonth says:


        Didn’t see any women on this march, as for people from the LGBTQ community not a word
        I wonder why?

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          There were plenty of women there when I hirpled across from my son’s flat in Westmoreland Street to see what all the shouting was about.

          As the vast majority of the rammie were wearing masks, I couldn’t venture an opinion as to how many other ‘others’ were there, though. But the gathering was large enough to justify the assumption that it was fairly a representative sample of the myriad identities that comprise the general population in yon neck of the woods.

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            It was also the first ‘dawn raid’ I’ve seen at the back of half-nine in the morning.

            The thing I’m taking away from the whole incident is the hyperbole it’s generated. That and the subsequent marginalisation of the two main protagonists, Lakhvir Singh and Sumit Sehdev, in the political mythologising of the event.

    2. Tom Ultuous says:

      It was a peaceful protest. No one was hung from a bridge much to the disappointment of Patel.

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        It was indeed a peaceful protest

    3. Wul says:


      Read a little bit of British history and you will find that many of the freedoms and rights you enjoy today were won by “mobs” protesting about unfair, unjust or inhumane treatment of your fellow countrymen. FFS wake up man.

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        Quite right, Wul! But those were the days before ballot boxes and universal suffrage.

        1. Tom Ultuous says:

          and Rupert Murdoch.

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            And mass media, indeed, Tom.

    4. Malky says:

      Another unionist on the wrong side of history. The article is a terrific take on a piece of inspirational undertaken in the name if what’s good and decent.

      1. Claire Milne says:

        To be clear, I agree with Antoine on most points. But I have honest questions to those who disagree with him. I do not know the answers to these questions in advance. I am listening to the answers.
        1. The comments seem full of the idea that if Scotland had Independance, immigration officers would not have been arresting the men in Pollokshields. Why do you think that? The SNP White Paper on immigration – published before Indyref2014 says that Scotland intends to establish a points based immigration system broadly the same as the UK one. It also says immigration policy will greatly reflect UK policy – the only suggested changes are that Scotland may want to increase immigration quotas. Therefore in an Indy Scotland these men would still be deported, and immigration officers sent to deport them.
        2. The crowd chanted “Refugees are welcome here.” Brilliant sentiment! And the ex-refugees and settled immigrants who are my friends are also glad of it. But having researched the two men that immigration officers came looking for – it seems they aren’t refugees. Nor are they immigrants. One or both of them have been living in Scotland for 10 years “without leave to remain” – legalese for illegally. Apparently they came on student visa’s. One national broadsheets reports one or bo

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