Football, someone once said, is a funny old game and this week we have seen the wisdom of that remark. However you don’t expect to get your laughs watching political programmes but recently that is just what has been happening. This week’s Spotlight (only shown in the north and available here on the iPlayer) was all about Scotland’s independence referendum and its possible implications for Ireland, which in BBC land means the six counties. The show involved Ulster Unionist John Laird and Sinn Fein’s Barry McElduff travelling to Scotland to talk to various people and discuss the constitutional future.
I should declare and interest at the outset, in as much as I know Barry McElduff. He is a very funny guy as anyone who has met him or heard him address a meeting will be able to confirm. The programme was interesting and would have given people who watched it a good sense of the discussions which are taking place in Scotland over the future of the UK state. Barry for his part did a good job of maintaining Sinn Fein’s rather bland position of remaining neutral on the issue or as Barry put it ‘I’m not a player in this, I’m just a spectator’.
While I think it was fairly obvious where Barry’s sympathy lay he told us that this decision was for people of Scotland alone to decide. This is clearly a statement of fact and no one is suggesting extending the referendum franchise to County Tyrone. However an independent Scotland would have huge ramifications for the rest of the UK and the nature of the British state and for republicans not to engage in that debate is strange to say the least. Even with Barry telling it I coundn’t see the funny side of this one.
Interestingly (to me anyway) republicanism was never mentioned. Nationalism was discussed at length both in an Irish and Scottish context but not republicanism which seemed odd. The only time it was alluded to was in reference to Ulster Unionist Party leader Tom Elliot’s assertion that Scottish independence currently posed a bigger threat to the future of the union that the IRA. This led the SNP’s Humza Yousef to say it was wrong to compare Scottish independence with the IRA’s ‘terrorist acts of mindless thuggery’.
Humza Yousef provided another piece of comedy gold on TV last week during an appearance on STV’s Scotland Tonight (no link available). In a piece heavily advertised as looking into complaints about police abuse of stop and search powers at airports he was discussing the issue with a cop from Strathclyde police. Like many other people from Scotland’s Irish community I have been detained in this way literally hundreds of times so had a keen interest in the discussion.
After the cop explained the need for such detentions to be done in a ‘culturally sensitive manner’ the presenter asked Humza Yousef what was wrong with police stopping people at Airports. He began by saying he had no problem with it and that he had been stopped himself. He then added that his detention was strange because he regularly visited the US State Department and met other state agencies frequently. The clear implication was that he was a very important person who supported the state and so should not be detained. He went on to say he had even been stopped coming back from a holiday and even once with his wife who, very strangely, he described as ‘a Caucasian’.
The presenter, clearly wondering why the show had taken a Richard and Judy turn, tried to steer the conversation back on subject ( ie not Humza Yousef). ‘Did he think there was institutional racism at work in these detentions at Airports?’ No, he said emphatically, Strathclyde police were doing a ‘brilliant job’. Bemused and clearly giving up on the idea of a debate the presenter asked ‘what could be done to improve the situation?’ Unsurprisingly, and proving that the lack of having anything interesting to say should not get in the way of a TV appearance, Yousef replied detentions should be ‘intelligence led’.
Throughout this vacuous discussion, and the short film which preceded it, it was often repeated that these laws were needed after 9/11 and were part of the ‘War on Terror’. This is absolute rubbish. The legislation which police use in this area is the Terrorism Act (2000). The clue is in the title, it was introduced the year before 9/11 and followed the Prevention of Terrorism Act (1974) which police had previously used for the same purposes at Airports and ferry ports.
Humza Yousef’s work with the US State Department includes being a product of their International Visitors Leadership Programme. Professor Giles Scott-Smith says of the US governments IVLP “The aim over the long term is to build up a loose network of ‘allies’, be they sympathetic listeners or vocal advocates open to co-operative ventures.” So perhaps we should not be too surprised that he wishes to focus on the ‘war on terror’ narrative.
Not once in the whole discussion was the Irish community mentioned despite the fact our community has been targeted (like other communities) by police using this legislation. This is not an issue just for the Muslim community or the Irish community rather it is an issue for anyone concerned about the abuse of police powers. These stop and search detentions have nothing to do with security or the ‘war on terror’. They are examples of harassment and intimidation by the state. The Muslim community are quite right to be upset and angry at this practice. Their genuine concerns should not be used by politicians to justify more of the same under the guise of ‘intelligence led’ detentions. What is needed is a cross community response aimed at achieving transparency and accountability in policing.
PS Unless Humza Yousef met his wife somewhere between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea I would recommend reading a book on whiteness and/or the origins and implications of terms like ‘Caucasian’. I would also suggest he reads it before his wife does or he may find himself single again.