By Alieu Ceesay
The election season is upon us with one of the first hustings being Govanhill and Crosshill Community Council`s event on Monday16 April at Samaritan House in Coplaw Street.
Prospective candidates – aiming for one of the four seats in Southside Central ward – were quizzed by the public. Among the issues raised were social care, crime, privatising of council services, fuel poverty, benefits and the local economy.
The meeting was chaired by Iain MacInnes the Community Council`s Secretary, who called on the candidates to fight for the local community and to oppose all forms of privatisation in the city. He said: ‘There is a national debt but the austerity crisis is contrived. The need for the punitive, austerity measures being imposed on communities across the country, is a fallacy.’ He also questioned why so few resisted the ‘unsound, illogical economic orthodoxy.’
Moira Crawford, Green Party candidate, said that if elected on Thursday 3 May she would campaign for a city-owned energy company which would sell its surplus to the National Grid and use it to improve the City’s housing for the benefit of people. She also promised to work with residents and community organisations.
Labour Candidate Dr Soryia Siddique said she would fight for the building and refurbishment of local primary schools and the provision of up to five months of additional care for all three years olds as well as the creation of 1000 jobs each year for young people.
Anne Marie Millar has served the area as a Labour councillor for nine years and is now standing as an Independent candidate. She claimed her efforts achieved an investment of £13 million in housing for Govanhill. She promised to continue to work with residents, community organisations and the police to make neighbourhoods and streets safer and address knife crime and domestic violence; anti social behaviour and the regulation of private landlords. Although the crime rate has fallen the fear of crime still remains, she said.
Jahangir Hanif, SNP, who is seeking re-election to the Council, said it was time for regime change at the City Chambers. He pointed to the SNP’s successful campaign which halved the cost of chauffeured cars for councillors. He berated Labour’s record on ‘the state of our roads’ and was sure his party, ‘as the new majority,’ would do much better on infrastructure.
He added: ‘We will be campaigning to keep council tax frozen to help hard pressed households and for the council to do more to help local businesses create new jobs for young people.’
Robert McIlroy, Conservative, who is standing in Newlands and Auldburn ward represented local candidate Thomas Connor. The Conservative party would fight for weekly bin collections instead of fortnightly ones. ‘Waste must not be left uncollected for a long time,’ he said. He also advocated investment in roads and pavements.
William Bonnor, Scottish Socialist Party, emphasised the democratic accountability of the Council. ‘Local people should be consulted on the issues affecting them,’ he contended.
David Jago, Liberal Democrat, said rules must be enforced to ensure that private landlords are better regulated. In addition, he called for more money for housing.
Gavin Mc Nae, local resident, highlighted that none of the candidates had given recognition to the Community Council for mounting a sustained campaign on slum housing in the area.
Iain MacInnes told this reporter that it was the Community Council’s efforts that led to the Scottish Government taking notice of the dire housing problem. In March 2010, Housing and Communities Minister, Alex Neil said ‘hit squads’ could be set up to tackle Govanhill’s poverty and housing issues. Iain said: ‘this was translated into a ‘task force’ by Labour’s then Councillor, Anne Marie Millar. Through that, a hub was created to coordinate acute housing problems. But this put the issue into the doldrums. After being treated as a political football, the hub seems to be back on track.’
Iain said that the Community Council would continue to: ‘Campaign on housing in particular and on other relevant issues brought to our notice.’
One person asked if the panel would join him in opposing the current care ‘personalisation’ plans being presented as choice when, in reality, they were being used, cynically, to create cuts to services for vulnerable people and their families.
A question relating to the Commonwealth Games was: ‘How do the candidates feel about Glasgow hosting the ‘public relations’ front line for some of the countries which have abysmal human rights records?’
A member of the public said that money could be saved by abandoning the opening and closing ceremonies at the Commonwealth Games. ‘The money could be used to reinstate services cut by the Council. She went on: ‘The ‘Games are really about land deals and building contracts; there is little by way of a sustainable legacy for the people of Glasgow.’
In a whirlwind day in London, representatives of the Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia made ‘useful progress’, according to Vice Chair Austin Sheridan.
Through Westminster MP Anas Sarwar, who has kept his pre-election promise to support the Campaign, Austin Sheridan, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) and committee members Alieu Ceesay and Grace Franklin met with Parliamentary coordinator for Human Rights, Nicole Piche, Paul Welch who is team leader for the West Africa desk and Agnes Annels from the Foreign Commonwealth Office Human Rights department.
The Campaign updated the officials on their events, past and future, to tell people in Scotland about the increasing number of Gambians ‘disappearing’ in the Gambia, or who are imprisoned and tortured because they say something which offends the President.
They include journalists, opposition party leaders and many ordinary citizens.
The Scottish Campaign is backed by the National Union of Journalists and Amnesty International which has published a report on the situation in the West Africa country which is a popular holiday destination.
A further meeting in the offices of Amnesty International enabled the Scottish Campaign to see where their work fitted into the 17 cities around the world which are also active in pressing for Human Rights to be restored in the Gambia. Until recently, Gambia had a Constitution and a Legislature which protected its citizens. But increasingly draconian laws and edicts from the President’s Palace – including the activating of the death penalty this month – have brought fear to the nation. The legal system has been corrupted with mercenary judges from Nigeria hired by the President to impose his will.
Currently the President Yahya Jammeh, is encouraging hereditary Chiefs to campaign for him to be made King of Gambia.
The Scottish Campaign’s next public meeting will be in Edinburgh on Thursday 16 December at the Justice and Peace Centre and hosted by that organisation.
In the Scottish Parliament, Patrick Harvie MSP has put forward a motion condemning the catalogue of human rights abuses in Gambia including the case of the missing journalist Ebrima Manneh and urges government pressure to be put on the Gambian Government in defence of human rights. By Thursday 18 November, fifteen MSPs had signed the motion.
Patrick Harvie, Scottish Green Party leader and MSP for Glasgow, has pledged to support the newly formed Scottish Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia (SCHRG).
Patrick met SCHRG Chair Arthur West, and other campaign members, in his Glasgow office on Monday 1 November. Arthur told Patrick that the the campaign was set up in September this year ‘in response to a critical human rights situation in Gambia where problems include enforced disappearances, extra-judicial execution and detention without trial.’
He added: ‘We are currently affiliating with Trade Unions and voluntary organisations as well as contacting MPs, MSPs and MEPs to solicit their support about the the situation in Gambia. We are anxious to get as much support as we can.’
Patrick, Vice Convenor of the Cross Party Committee on Human Rights in the Scottish Parliament, pledged to put a motion to Hollyrood concerning the plight of Gambia and its people and to push for the issue to be raised in Westminister.
Said Patrick: ‘Major international human rights organisations have highlighted the catalogue of human rights abuses in Gambia, including torture, secret detention, lack of fair trials, and more. It’s vital that we in Scotland should support people from Gambia who are living here, as well as put pressure on the UK Government to make sure that international concern is brought to bear in defence of human rights.
‘We wouldn’t accept harassment of democratic activists, killing of journalists, threats to kill people for being gay, or any of these other abuses in this country – we should be equally unwilling to accept them around the world.’
Alieu Ceesay, SCHRG Information Officer and exiled Gambian Journalist, told Patrick of human rights violation, torture, and unexplained dissapearancs in the Gambia. SCHRG believes that the Gambian Government are implicit in these crimes. Said Alieu: ‘In Gambia today, fear rules and all public protests have stopped. Self censorship of the media has become the rule rather than the exception.The human rights community in the country is very weak and opposition voices, though once vibrant, have been silenced by threats and violence.’
SCHRG has appealed to the Scottish Government to call on the Gambia government to protect and respect the human rights of the Gambian people.
Glasgow is one of 16 centres around the world which will highlight human rights abuse in the Gambia on Thursday 22 July.
Gambian born journalist, Alieu Ceesay, is leading the Glasgow campaign through the National Union of Journalists and Amnesty International.
Said Alieu: ‘We will hold a vigil at the Donald Dewar statue in Buchanan Street and invite passers -by to sign a petition,’
Added Alieu: ‘Currently, there is a harrowing human rights situation for Gambian people. Citizens are arrested daily. People disappear. There are summary executions, detention without trial, curtailment of civil liberties and a compromised judiciary. Ebrima Manneh, a journalist who worked with me on the same daily newspaper was arrested by security agents in July 2006 and has never been seen again. Deyda Hydara, the editor and co-proprietor of another daily paper was shot dead and in July of last year, six of my colleagues were jailed on charges of sedition for simply criticising the President in print ‘
The well-documented facts are listed in reports by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations.
Already, newly elected Westminster MP Anas Sarwar, has taken an interest in Alieu’s campaign. Last year, when the NUJ held a similar vigil, he attended the event and subsequently, when he was campaigning to be elected, he promised to help. Said Mr Sarwar: ‘I will raise this in Westminster and will bring it before the International Development Select Committee.’ Elected by Labour MPs as one of the dozen people on the influential cross-party committee, Mr Sarwar will have a powerful say in its work of scrutinising expenditure, administration and policy of the Department for International Development. That Department has an office in Gambia and recently invested £3million in development projects there. The situation has also been recognised by the Commonwealth of which Gambia is a member. At the last Heads of Commonwealth meeting – in Trinidad earlier this year – a synchronised campaign by its Human Rights committee, successfully embarrassed Gambian President Yaya Jammeh into not attending but sending his Foreign Minister,Ousman Jammeh, instead.