By Erik Geddes
Photograph by Stuart Maxwell
Anger over the treatment of Glasgow’s asylum community saw a crowd of 500 people burn letters outside the UK Border Agency (UKBA) on Saturday 20 November.
Earlier in November Glasgow City Council’s (GCC) contract to house 600 families – around 1300 people – was terminated by the UKBA.
This was followed by a letter from the UKBA telling asylum seekers staying in property provided by GCC that they could be moved elsewhere in Scotland with three to five days’ notice.
A stay of execution has been granted which means that no evictions will commence until early February 2011 and the amount of notice has been put up to 14 days.
However, the outrage at what is widely recognised as callous behaviour by the UKBA remains as strong as the will to reverse the policy. The contract between the UKBA and the GCC was worth £10 million annually and it remains unclear how the 1300 asylum seekers, until now provided for by the GCC, will be housed. Y People and the Angel Group are the two other, main private bodies providing homes for asylum seekers in Glasgow
The asylum seekers at the protest on Saturday 20 November were backed by cross party political support, the STUC, several voluntary organisations, many faith groups and churches and ordinary Glaswegians.
On Thursday 18 November, pupils from Lourdes Secondary School in Cardonald, handed a petition with 1000 signatures to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond which called for asylum seekers to be allowed to stay in the city.
Mr Salmond wasn’t present at the rally but passed on his support from Holyrood.
Johann Lamont, Member of Scottish Parliament for Glasgow Pollock, highlighted the responsibility of Glasgow Westminster MPs, who are expected to meet with Immigration Minister Damien Green this week.
She said: ‘The critical role is for MPs in Glasgow. They have managed to get a temporary stop on any evictions.
‘Today’s demonstration shows the public support but we need top level political pressure too.’
She added: ‘I’m proud to be part of the success story and the only city in Scotland that did take dispersal of asylum seekers and it’s vital that we continue to embrace that.’
The UKBA explained their decision in a press release: ‘Despite UK Border Agency offering an increase on what are, already, the highest accommodation charges in the UK outside London, we were unable to reach an agreement with Glasgow City Council.’
Glasgow City Council said they regretted the breakdown of the contract. Despite many months of negotiation they were adament that the standard of accommodation offer to asylum seekers had to be the same as for any other homeless person in the city. The UKBA was not prepared to pay the price that GCC required to continue that level of accommodation and of support services. Glasgow has 40 people providing support services and it is unclear if those jobs would be included with any new accommodation provider.
Not on the platform, but at the back of the crowd, was former Scottish Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan. Mr Sheridan – currently on trial for perjury at the High Court in Glasgow – looked tired but took time out to tell LOCAL NEWS GLASGOW: ‘These are ordinary men and women who have fled torture from all the corners of the earth. It’s a basic tenet of humanity that you offer some solace and support to the most vulnerable in society.’
Robina Qureshi, Director of Positive Action in Housing, gave a rousing speech to say that the situation was inhuman and the process of mass evacuation of people had to be stopped. She dropped a match into a drum to light the fire. Hundreds of asylum seekers then, bravely, went forward to consign their letter of removal to the flames.
Ian Davidson was returned, again, as MP for Glasgow South West. The hardworking Labour and Co-operative Party candidate increased his share of the vote from 60% in 2005 to 62.5% this time with 19,863 votes cast. SNP’s Chris Stephens got 5,192; Isabel Nelson, Lib Dem took 2,870; Maya Henderson Forrest, Conservative fielded 2,084; Tommy Sheridan of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition took 931 votes and David Orr, British National Party, received 841.
The sitting tenant in Glasgow South-West is the Labour and Co-operative Party’s Ian Davidson. He took 60% of the vote in 2005 with a handsome majority of 13,896 and looks set to retain his place in the House of Commons through some very active campaigning in the area. He did not come out unscathed from the MP expenses scandal. It emerged that he paid a friend £5,000 to renovate his flat, and had £1,500 worth of furniture delivered to his Glasgow home. He claimed that this was later driven to his London flat. He also claimed £6,000 in fees to help him to find a flat.
Chris Stephens is the SNP candidate for Glasgow South West. He is a Unison trade union activist. The SNP have an uphill struggle, having only polled 15% of the votes in the 2005 election. However, with Nicola Sturgeon as the SNP’s Glasgow talisman, there just may be a bounce effect for the party on May 6.
Maya Forrest is the Conservative candidate for Glasgow South West. The original candidate, Heather MacLeod, stood down at a late stage in the process.
Standing for the newly formed Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is the one and only Tommy Sheridan.
Love him or loath him, it’s hard to ignore him. The veteran Poll Tax fighter is due to stand trial for perjury in September 2010, in relation to the infamous News of the World defamation case. However, STUSC aim to unite the left vote and have links to the Public and Commercial Services union.
Isabel Nelson is standing for the Liberal Democrats. She came second to Mohammed Sarwar in Glasgow Central in 2005. She works as an IT consultant and has four children and six grandchildren. She has campaigned against damp housing and given evidence to Glasgow City Council and to two House of Commons Select Committees investigating the extent of fuel poverty in the UK.
A coalition of socialist parties and groups which is preparing to contest the forthcoming general election is to hold an inaugural rally in Langside Halls.
The Scottish Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition (STUSC) will announce its slate of candidates at the meeting on March 31 at 7.30pm. The UK-wide organisation includes Bob Crow, General Secretary of railworkers’ union RMT, Jane Godrich, National Secretary of the PCS civil servants’ union, Solidarity, International Socialists and Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
The coalition has a number of candidates in place for the general election. Veteran campaigner and co-convenor of Solidarity, Tommy Sheridan, is standing in Glasgow South-West. Angela McCormack of the SWP will be vying for Glasgow North, while Solidarity’s Graham Campbell will stand for Glasgow North-East on the STUSC ticket.
Brian Smith, Branch Secretary of Glasgow Unison, is standing in Glasgow South.
STUSC says British people face a ‘ruling class offensive’ and offers a ‘clear left-wing alternative to policies of public sector cuts, privatisation, militarism and environmental degradation’.
Philip Stott, STUSC spokesman, said the coalition is standing in 50 seats across the UK, 10 of them in Scotland, to ‘ensure voters have an alternative to the business parties’.
Voters would look at those mainstream parties with a ‘strong mood of lesser evilism in mind’, said Philip, adding that he hoped that not only would STUSC have an impact in May 2010, but ‘would look to deepen its support base and aim for the Scottish parliamentary elections’ in 2011.