This week has been
one of those where I’ve found myself sympathising with people in
real and desperate need and then fuming with anger about politicians
who seem to want to just make political capital out of suffering.
I was at Dungavel at
the weekend – a detention centre where asylum seekers whose cases
have been rejected are held before being removed from the country.
These people are facing some of the most difficult times of their
lives – many are petrified that the return to their homeland will
mean their death, others are worried about persecution, and so on.
Some of these people
want to get married before they go home. The reasons differ, some
just want to know that they are married before they face the
uncertain future back home, for some it is all they have left to
cling to – a hope of a better future even when reality suggests that
this is unlikely, each person has a different story.
doesn’t change their status as asylum seekers, it doesn’t give them
any chance of staying which was denied them without marriage, and
they know this, it’s made clear to them. It used to be that they
went through a standard kind of procedure and the minister or priest
from the local churches or the local registrar would marry them.
The rule has been
changed now and they have to apply to the Home Office for permission
with a non-returnable fee which is substantial. The applications
are routinely refused and the asylum seekers are prevented from
For all the tiny
inconvenience that it would cause officialdom and the relatively
minor disruption to an average day in the centre, surely this small
act of humanity should be allowed? These are people with very
little, herded together in a detention centre which was a jail –
which it could be argued is still a jail – who have not committed
any crime other than being a stranger in most cases, people with
very little in their lives at all, people who can have little hope.
opinion of people whose asylum applications fail and how we should
treat asylum seekers in Scotland, surely no-one can deny that we
should show just a tiny bit more humanity in this respect? We’re
not being asked to do much, just give them a little dignity.
remembrances of the evils of the slave trade should at least have
brought to our minds the point that people should be treated with
humanity, dignity and respect at the very least. This one small
concession to these people’s dignity would cost us next to nothing,
and we should make sure that we deliver it.
To go from there to
the shenanigans of First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) in Parliament
is a jump, but it has a dissonance which is worth noting.
FMQs is an
opportunity every week for MSPs to ask the First Minister to justify
his actions and those of his Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers – a
chance to hold the Government to account. Each of the leaders of
the opposition parties gets a chance to put a range of questions to
the First Minister before the rest of us get a go at him.
In today’s session,
the Labour leader, Wendy Alexander, tried to score political points
over the increase in the numbers of pensioners waiting for central
heating to be installed in their homes. Leaving aside the fact that
the Scottish Government has expanded the categories so that more
people are now entitled (which is why the list has grown), Ms
Alexander never came seeking help for those people, she just came to
play a juvenile game of trying to say that the Government had
failed. A similar ploy was tried the previous week with a man who
absconded from prison and raped a teenage girl – no attempt to make
sure it doesn’t happen again, just an attempt to pin blame on the
The Lib Dem leader,
Nicol Stephen, did something just as distasteful. He brandished a
letter sent from a consultant to a patient telling her why her
treatment could not be scheduled and that her name was being removed
from the waiting list – something which is against the rules which
the SNP Government brought in on December 31st. We
smelled a bit of a rat when we realised that the date had been
scored off the letter – December 21st was what it turned
out to be. The letter was sent before we changed the rules to make
sure this kind of thing couldn’t happen any more. The letter was
sent at the time that rules written by the former Lib Dem and Labour
administration were still in place – and the letter was fine by
I don’t mind
politicians having a go at each other – politics is a rough game –
but at least they should be honest. Another thing, though, is that
politicians should not seek to use people’s problems for political
gain. Politicians should be here to serve the people and should
work to that end, we should be looking to change things like the
conditions asylum seekers are held in and seeing if we can speed up
central heating installation and reform waiting lists and so on, but
it should be done for the sake of the people, not for political
On a far lighter
note, I’m off to the Scotswoman of the Year Awards tonight. I
promise I’ll tell you all about it next week.