John’s speech on hate crimes against Polish migrants

2015-10-04-jf-speaking-hate-crimes-against-polish-migrantsJohn Finnie spoke in the Scottish Parliament debate on hate crimes against Polish immigrants on Tuesday 5 October, challenging the rising tide of xenophobic rhetoric and making it clear that Poles – and immigrants from all over the world – are welcome in Scotland.

To watch John’s speech on the Scottish Parliament website, click here.

I congratulate Kenny Gibson on bringing this highly pertinent debate to the Parliament.

“Hate crime” is an ugly term, but it graphically describes what I think that Kenny Gibson called acting out “dangerous and prejudicial views”. There must be—and I am delighted that there is—unanimity in the Parliament about how we address it.

I will not rehearse all the historical references, which are well established and have been mentioned by other members. The references to the second world war resonated with me, because of the affection that my father and his brothers had for the Polish people who joined in the fight against fascism. We know that 16,000 families settled in the UK at the end of the war, who contributed greatly to our country. Who were those people? They were the parents of classmates, and they were joined—certainly where I am from, in Lochaber—by many people from the Baltic states.

There has been recent migration to Scotland and the UK, and some 7 per cent of Scotland’s population was born outwith the UK. It is pertinent that Poland became a member of the EU in May 2004 and it is estimated that 44,000 Polish people migrated to the UK each year between 2004 and 2012. As members said, Polish people constitute the largest group of residents of Scotland who were born outwith the UK.

Anne White, professor of Polish studies at University College London, has written about the pattern of Polish migration to the UK. It is interesting that it tends to be young families who migrate, rather than young single migrants, who return to Poland after several years. Many parents move to the UK for a year or two before they bring their children over, and many Polish migrants start their own businesses after a few years. Anne White has written:

“this is a generation of Poles at home in the UK.”

There are certainly a great number who are at home in the Highlands and Islands, and long may that be the case.

Members talked about EU migrants’ contribution to the UK economy. Figures that I have for 2000 to 2011 suggest that the contribution was £20 billion. EU migrants are 43 per cent less likely to be in receipt of benefits and 7 per cent less likely to live in social housing than UK-born people. As members said, they are also likely to be more highly educated.

There are some disturbing figures. In a poll in 2015, in advance of the referendum, 23 per cent of Polish respondents said that they had experienced discrimination, and 23 per cent of those people felt that that had happened on more than one occasion—of course, discrimination will be underreported, given people’s fear of retaliation and victimisation in the workplace. There is also the fees issue, which prevents people from taking up employment cases.

Kenny Gibson talked about poisonous reporting, and the motion refers to “irresponsible and shameful reporting”. I take issue with my Conservative colleague in that regard: I do not think that such reporting was just on the fringes, and I would ask to what end it was being used. We have all seen collages made up of lurid headlines from the Daily Express and the Daily Mail. I do not doubt for a second that those headlines passed some legal test, but they did not pass the moral test and they certainly caused me great offence. The EU certainly does not offend Mr Dacre, the owner of the Daily Mail sufficiently to stop him claiming a quarter of a million pounds in EU funds for his sporting estates here.

The EU referendum was characterised by lies, distortions and threats. Racism needs to be challenged at all times, including—as we have heard about—the graffiti and the stickers that have gone up. We need to be cautious not to be complacent in Scotland—the far right is on the rise across Europe and Scotland is no different. As many previous speakers have said, I stand in solidarity with Polish people. In fact, I stand in solidarity with all people and I say to them, “Fàilte a h-uile duine”. You are all very welcome.

On one partisan point, the Green Party European campaign had the tag line of a just and welcoming Scotland, which I am sure that everyone would subscribe to. I add to that tag line: a safe and secure Scotland for our Polish residents.

John condemns Czech Deputy PM’s anti-Roma ‘parasite’ comments

John Finnie with Gypsy Traveller activist Roseanna McPhee
John Finnie with Gypsy Traveller activist Kathy McGuigan

In two separate incidents over the last week, the Czech Republic’s Deputy Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, has appeared to deny or even condone the imprisonment of Czech Roma people in a concentration camp by occupying Nazi forces, and – on a visit to the camp itself – described Romani people as “parasites”.

John Finnie has written to Mr Babiš, condemning his comments and demanding both an apology and policy changes to alleviate the severe discrimination suffered by Romani people in the Czech Republic.

There are at least 3,000 Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland. There is a distinctive Highland Traveller tradition, while Romani people have been part of the Scottish community, especially in the Lowlands, for more than 500 years. Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland are subject to far more prejudice than any other ethnic group – the 2010 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that a 37% of people would be upset if a close family member married a Gypsy/Traveller, and 46% said a Gypsy/Traveller is unsuitable for employment as a primary school teacher.

John told the Czech Minister that it was his duty, on behalf of Gypsy/Travellers in the Highlands and Islands, to challenge the racist propaganda – such as Mr Babiš’s comments – that generates these hateful attitudes.

You can read John’s letter to Andrej Babiš below – click to view as a PDF.

Dear Mr Babiš, Like very many people around the world, I was appalled by your recent comments regarding Roma people in the Czech Republic. Your claim that the camp at Lety was not a concentration camp but merely a “work camp” not only desecrates the memory of the 300 Roma who died there and the 500 who were transported from Lety to Auschwitz, but propagates the corrosive, racist slur that Romani people are lazy, unproductive or criminal and warrant fascistic treatment. By prefacing these comments with the words “there were times when all Roma worked,” you not only reinforce that slander, but suggest your approval of the atrocity committed against Romani people at Lety. At best, these comments deny of the extent of the Holocaust; many will wonder whether in fact they represent sympathy with the Holocaust. On your recent visit to Lety, ostensibly to apologise for the above comments, you described members of the Roma community as “parasites”. I am sure you are aware that the use of dehumanising language such as this, casting Romani people as vermin, is an indispensable component of the xenophobic propaganda that underpins both the Nazi Holocaust and the present-day persecution of Roma. The horrific prejudice and discrimination faced by Romani people, and the related ill-treatment of other Gypsy/Traveller people, causes great hardship, misery and injustice, not just in the Czech Republic but across Europe, including here in Scotland. Racist and degrading comments such as yours are the building blocks of this hatred. On behalf of my Gypsy/Traveller constituents, and in solidarity with that community across Europe and beyond, I request that you make a full and unqualified apology for your racist remarks, desist from making any such remarks in the future, and adopt policies that dismantle the structural discrimination suffered by Czech Romani people. Yours sincerely, John Finnie MSP

Scottish Recording Centre surveillance breaches human rights

John Finnie - Amnesty InternationalJohn Finnie has questioned the Cabinet Secretary for Justice about the latest revelations of the use of mass surveillance by Scottish police.

Documents released by US whistleblower Edward Snowden show that a policing body called the Scottish Recording Centre was given access to swathes of communications data including phone activity, internet histories and social media behaviour.

John is the Scottish Greens spokesperson on Justice, and a former police officer himself.

He said:

“This sort of blanket surveillance is out of proportion, inefficient and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Cabinet Secretary today attempted to give the impression that all policing activities in Scotland are proportional and that interceptions are independently approved but as we know that is not always the case.

“There is clearly a culture of bulk collection of data that needs reined in. I will continue to challenge such over-reaching activities.”

You can read John’s exchange with the Justice Minister in the Scottish Parliament Official Report, or watch it on YouTube.

Human rights warning over Snoopers’ Charter

John Finnie - Amnesty InternationalJohn Finnie has issued a warning to the UK Government that the Scottish Parliament cannot consent to the Investigatory Powers Bill unless it is made compatible with human rights.

The Investigatory Powers Bill would give powers to government agencies to conduct blanket surveillance, collecting personal data – such as emails, internet histories and phone records – on millions of people who are not under any suspicion of a crime.

John said the Greens oppose the “draconian” proposals, and expressed his disappointment that the Bill passed its final vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday, with support from Conservative and Labour MPs including Scotland’s Ian Murray and David Mundell. The Green, SNP, Plaid Cymru and SDLP MPs voted against the Bill, which now moves on to the House of Lords.

In a Scottish Parliament motion, John warned that these powers could breach the right to respect for private and family life guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), leaving the MSPs with no choice but to withhold permission for the parts of the Bill that affect devolved responsibilities such as policing.

The UK Parliament does not legislate with regard to devolved matters without the approval of the Scottish Parliament, which is given by means of a “legislative consent motion”, put forward by the Scottish Government and approved by MSPs.

But under the 1998 Scotland Act that created the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood cannot take any action, including making a legislative consent motion, that conflicts with the ECHR.

John said:

“It’s a matter of pride for Scotland that human rights are absolutely at the centre of our constitution. Neither the Scottish Parliament nor the Scottish Government can do anything that is incompatible with the rights laid out in the ECHR.

“The draconian Investigatory Powers Bill appears to be utterly at odds with the right to privacy, giving government agencies the power to carry out bulk electronic surveillance on millions of people at once, without even suspecting them of a crime.

“The powers in the Bill include being able to read your emails, search your internet history, view your phone records and track your location, all on the say-so of a UK minister with no independent judicial approval.

“It is very disappointing that this frightening law has received the support of not only the UK Government but also the Labour Party. I am grateful to the Green, SNP, Plaid and SDLP MPs who voted against.

“The Scottish Parliament will soon be asked to consent to this Bill legislating on our devolved responsibilities, like policing. If at that time the Bill is still incompatible with our human rights, Holyrood will have no choice but to say no.”

John’s Scottish Parliament motion reads:

Motion S5M-00393: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 08/06/2016

Investigatory Powers Bill

That the Parliament regrets the decision of the House of Commons to give a third reading to the Investigatory Powers Bill; understands that it has been supported by the Conservative and Labour parties, while the Green, Scottish National and Liberal Democrat parties have opposed it; believes that it mandates the bulk collection and retention of personal data, including internet and telephone records and location information, on persons who are not suspected of any crime; urges the House of Lords to approve amendments that would ensure that surveillance is targeted, proportionate and carried out under independent judicial authorisation; notes that, in accordance with the Sewel convention, the UK Parliament does not legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, and reminds the UK Government that the Scottish Parliament cannot take any action, including making a legislative consent motion, that is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

MSPs back John’s call to ban UK spying on Holyrood

John Finnie - Amnesty InternationalMSPs from across the Scottish Parliament are supporting John Finnie’s has call for David Cameron to include Holyrood in the ban on spying on parliamentarians.

Since 1966, security agencies have been banned from tapping the phones or reading the emails of MPs, under a convention called the “Wilson Doctrine” after the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.

However, it emerged last week that GCHQ, the UK’s main communications surveillance agency, recently dropped the Scottish Parliament from its interpretation of the ban, freeing it to spy on MSPs calls and emails. The new GCHQ policy also excludes the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies, and the European Parliament. MI5 and MI6 don’t appear ever to have recognised devolved legislatures’ right to the protection of the Wilson Doctrine.

The change in policy was revealed by lawyers acting for the Green Party parliamentarians Caroline Lucas and Jenny Jones in their case against GCHQ at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. The pair are challenging the legality of GCHQ’s Tempora programme, which applies blanket surveillance to all electronic communications data in the UK.

John has lodged a Scottish Parliament motion asking the Prime Minister to ensure intelligence agencies respect the ban, and to extend it to include the devolved and European parliaments. It says:

Motion S4M-13854: The Wilson Doctrine

That the Parliament requests that the Prime Minister instructs all intelligence-gathering agencies, including GCHQ, MI5 and MI6, to adhere to the spirit of the Wilson Doctrine by prohibiting phone-tapping and electronic surveillance of parliamentarians, including members of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the European Parliament

Seventeen other MSPs have already added their names to the motion, including Scottish Greens co-convenor Patrick Harvie, SNP chief whip Bill Kidd and Labour leadership candidate Ken Macintosh.

John said:

“The Wilson Doctrine is an important safeguard of the freedom and independence of parliament from state power. It helps defend us all against the risk of security agencies blurring the line between protecting the interests of the nation, and protecting the interests of the government.

“David Cameron has promised respect for devolution; that means he has to recognise the right of MSPs, Welsh AMs and Northern Irish MLAs to the same protection as MPs. If he respects democracy in general, he must make sure that protection is a strong as the day it was created in 1966.

“From surveillance cameras on every corner to GCHQ’s massive trawling of emails, phone calls and texts, the people of the UK are some of the most spied on in the world. The present government is determined to go further, with David Cameron proposing a draconian ban on the encryption that keeps our data secure on the internet.

“I applaud Caroline Lucas for taking on the Big Brother culture, and for her success in bringing GCHQ in front of a court to defend its mass surveillance. Her tenacity has already brought to light this Holyrood-shaped hole in our tattered safeguards against abuse of power. I’m sure we’ll learn a lot more as the case goes on.”

John is the convenor of the Cross-Party Group on Human Rights, and a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee. He has written to its Convenor, Christine Grahame, to ask that the Home Secretary is called to the Committee to face questioning about the surveillance of MSPs.

John Hears School Pupils on Children’s Right to Education

“Let us pick up our books and pens, they are the most valuable weapons”

Primary 7 pupils of St Eunan’s Primary School, Clydebank

 

Yesterday I had the real pleasure of hosting the Primary 7s from St Eunan’s in Clydebank at the Scottish Parliament. Of course, Clydebank isn’t in the Highlands and Islands region I represent, but I also serve as Convenor of Holyrood’s Cross-Party Group on Human Rights, and the pupils were here for a particular reason; to call for the realisation of Article 28 to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – the right to an education.

Having studied human rights in class, the children decided they couldn’t just learn about the many ways those rights are not respected – they had to do something. So they founded their own campaign, Education for Every Child Everywhere.

They have visited other primary schools, secondary schools, and two universities to campaign for the global right to education, and now they were bringing that campaign to Holyrood.

Along with Gil Paterson, the constituency MSP for Clydebank and Milngavie, and Annabel Goldie, one of the regional MSPs for the West of Scotland, I was inspired and captivated by the pupils’ presentation.

Brilliantly informed and passionate, the class explained that although Article 28 guarantees the right to a free primary education for all children, an estimated 50 million children do not receive one. They demonstrated that the problem is especially bad for girls, with 33 million fewer girls than boys attending school worldwide.

 

St Eunan's Primary

 

The explained the barriers to education that underpin this crisis – poverty and war. They told us that nearly half the world’s population lives on less than £1.60 per day, and 150 million children are in child labour, with 1 in 4 of those doing jobs that are dangerous or harmful to their health. War makes it unsafe for many children to travel to school – for example, we learned, 3 million children in Syria and neighbouring areas are prevented from going to school by the wars between the Syrian regime, ISIS, and other forces. And of course, some children are even forced to go to war: there are around 250,000 child soldiers worldwide. I was struck by the banal obscenity of why children are so popular as fighters “we are easy to brainwash, and we don’t need much food,” one P7 told us.

Their presentation was expertly researched, but it was anything but dry facts. The children brought a passion and empathy that is so often missing from the Committee Rooms of Holyrood. They understand the children they are standing alongside as brothers and sisters, not just statistics. When they recited what they wanted to be when they grew up – a pilot, a scientist, a vet – they asked “why are my dreams a reality, and theirs an unreachable aspiration?” And they displayed that passion through a prayer and a song, both written especially for the campaign.

But this visit was not a counsel of despair, it was a hopeful demand for change. “All of these things are upsetting,” one girl said, “but a feeling will not get a child into school. We need to turn our words into actions.”

The children of St Eunan’s carried banners with the face of Nobel Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai, who defied Taliban gunmen in her determination to get education for herself and for all children. They are inspired by Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. And they know exactly where the responsibility lies. As they pointed out, not only does Article 28 declare that children have a right to education, it demands that wealthy countries should help poorer ones achieve that right.

Primary 7 of St Eunan’s came to the Scottish Parliament because it is a place of power, and they want those in power to act. They’ve certainly inspired me to redouble my efforts to stop powerful countries like ours sponsoring or supplying the wars that stand between children and the education they deserve, and to investigate what more the Scottish Parliament can do to assist children in places like Syria.

This blog post can’t do the children’s achievement justice; if you had been there you would have, like me, scrambled to sign their petition there and then. But if even a fraction of these pupil’s passion, determination and expectation has made it onto the screen, I’m sure you’ll sign it now. Please do add your name to St Eunan’s call for Education for Every Child Everywhere at: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/education-every-child-everywhere

 

Scots police to investigate CIA torture

John Finnie - Amnesty InternationalLord Advocate Frank Mulholland has ordered police to investigate whether the shocking US Senate report on the CIA’s programme of kidnapping and torture could lead to criminal charges in Scotland, after John raised the issue in a formal parliamentary question.

John pressed for an update on Police Scotland’s 18-month-long investigation into the use of Scottish airports by CIA ‘rendition’ flights, and asked that the evidence of the shocking US Senate report released yesterday be taken into consideration.

Mr Mulholland ordered Police Scotland to reopen the investigation into rendition flights in June last year, but little information on the progress of the inquiry has been forthcoming, leading John to question whether it has been given sufficient priority. He said today:

“If there were any doubt, the Senate report confirms that the CIA operated a brutally violent, international criminal enterprise over the seven years from September the 11th. Even for someone who has been following the widespread abuse of human rights in the name of the ‘War on Terror’, the details revealed in this document are shocking and upsetting.

“Even the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee now concludes that the United States, through the CIA, is guilty of torture.

“I hope this report and the explicit evidence it contains will now spur the Scottish authorities to make more progress in the criminal inquiry into the CIA’s use of Scottish airports as part of kidnap and torture programme. This is not an historic investigation; the overwhelming likelihood is that very many of those responsible continue to be active, and some responsible for the political direction of the Agency still hold very senior office in the United States.

“Given the Senate Committee’s conclusion that CIA leaders lied about their activities to policymakers, there is no reason to be complacent about the possibility that these crimes continue in some form.

“Today, International Human Rights Day, marks the one-year anniversary of the Scottish National Action Plan which Nicola Sturgeon launched with intention of making Scotland a ‘beacon’ of human rights. We owe it to ourselves, to the international community and most importantly to the CIA’s victims to live up to that ambition in our investigation of these terrible crimes.”

Torture anywhere in the world is a crime in Scots law under the terms of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, the same law that allowed Augusto Pinochet to be arrested in the UK for torture carried out in Chile. There are additionally a variety of criminal offences which may have been committed on Scottish soil by virtue of the use of Scottish airports to refuel CIA aircraft.

John’s question, lodged at Holyrood this morning, reads:

Question S4W-23608: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 10/12/2014

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the answer to question S4O-02812 by the Lord Advocate on 22 January 2014 (Official Report, c. 26845), what progress has been made by the investigation on the use of Scotland’s airports for rendition flights and whether the terms of the investigation will be amended in light of the publication of the US Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence’s report, Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

John is the Convenor of the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group on Human Rights. This evening, he will be hosting a reception, jointly with Amnesty International, reflecting on the first year of the Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights and on the human rights situation in Scotland and around the world. The event will be addressed by Humza Yousaf MSP, the Minister for External Affairs and International Development.