Police were forced to order the release of the two men

Protest halts deportation

Alastair Thomas celebrates the thwarting of the home office’s Immigration Enforcement goons in Glasgow

There were incredible scenes on May 13 in Glasgow’s south side, when an impromptu act of defiance against the home office’s Immigration Enforcement (IE) eventually resulted in two detained men being allowed back into their community.

At approximately 9.40am IE raided the home of Sumit Sehdev and Lakhvir Singh in Pollokshields. The chef and mechanic have been described by the press as Indian nationals living in the UK for over a decade, allegedly without leave to remain (‘conditional right of residence’). As chance would have it, the van - emblazoned with the words “Immigration Enforcement” - was spotted in time by a local resident and member of Glasgow’s No Evictions campaign.

No Evictions is a grassroots, direct-action network that grew over the summer of 2020 in response to inhumane housing practices by the home office’s corporate partners (Serco and Mears), who are responsible for accommodating asylum-seekers in the Glasgow area. By 9.50 a member of the network had the courage to slide under the van and wound his limbs around the axel. The van, with Singh and Sehdev inside it, could not move.

Before much longer, a crowd of local residents had assembled chanting “Let them go”, and “No justice, no peace”. The appeal was no doubt broadened by a stand-up comic (who presumably lives in the area) tweeting about the action, and within an hour resistance to the raid was ‘trending’ and national media began to take an interest.

As the crowd swelled, so did the ranks of Police Scotland. Initially they were honest enough to admit being called in to “support” their IE colleagues. Three people were arrested early on, before the action had attracted more folk than police really knew how to handle.

Despite the later portrayal by larger media outlets, there was indeed a gradual escalation by police of increasingly aggressive tactics toward protestors, including donning riot gear and a mounted unit assembling nearby. Protestors were able to remain calm and hold their ground. A mosque on the street threw open its doors and started helping distribute food and water, as did activists at a bus stop - the goods being supplied by local shops.

Nicola Sturgeon, who happens to be the constituency MSP for the area - and, of course, was recently re-elected as first minister, following the Scottish National Party’s victory in the May 6 parliamentary elections - was soon voicing her opposition to the IE tactics via social media. How terrible, she thought, that they could do something like this on the holy day of Eid al-Fitr, in the middle of Glasgow’s Muslim community, during a pandemic. She would rather Scotland had its own immigration policy!

After an apparent diplomatic stand-off between Humza Yousaf, Scottish justice secretary (and MSP for a neighbouring Glasgow constituency), and home office ministers - none of whom could deign to make themselves available to speak to a rebellious Scot like Yousaf - release of the men was eventually secured, perhaps by the direct intervention of the Scottish government.

IE is an executive body of the ‘reserved’ home office, whereas Police Scotland is controlled by the Scottish government. Though formally separated from the political will of Scottish ministers, it would take an especially stupid and daring chief constable to ignore their wishes. This compares favourably with similar actions that have taken place over the years in London, but with broadly less success1: where the Met and IE alike answer only to the home secretary, political accountability is monopolised.

I have probably never witnessed a moment as powerful as when the van’s back doors were finally flung open at 5.30pm, and Singh and Sehdev were released into the custody of famous human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar. They were walked under a police cordon to another nearby mosque for safety. As both men are apparently Sikh, this does resonate a level of local community ‘cohesion’.

Though disproportionately younger than the broader Glasgow population, protestors did appear to represent most sections of Glasgow’s south side: from young girls in hijabs bearing homemade signs saying, “Home office, this is our home”, to the English-accented students and graduates, to lifelong Glaswegians, who were obviously taken aback by the day’s unforetold events. Someone flew a Palestinian flag, kids pulled faces at the crowd from their tenements, and a Scottish Socialist Party banner was held up.

From the mosque’s front steps, Anwar railed against the “racists in the home office and the fucking Tories”; he and Mohammad Asif of the Afghan Human Rights Foundation promised the 1,000-strong crowd that things would be different in an independent Scotland. The crowd erupted - having only minutes beforehand chanted “No borders, no nations, stop deportations”!

The two men were finally heard and gave sincere thanks to everyone present.

Political opposition

No doubt the usual suspects will be quick to valorise the inherent beauty of the “spontaneous” street protest. The “van man” who successfully prevented the IE vehicle from getting away has himself said it was only “because our neighbourhoods already put in the work to organise and share information” that the detention was reversed.2 Indeed. Without the No Evictions campaign’s presence on Glasgow south side’s streets, who knows what could have happened?

Other commentators parroted their “pride” in being Glaswegian or even Scottish. It has been easily overlooked that, sadly, another man was in fact detained by IE elsewhere in Glasgow that day - without community resistance, not to mention Scotland’s longer history of brutalising migrants.

During the height of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, Pollokshields was an area of the city with some of the most visible banners of solidarity hung from residents’ locked-down homes. Perhaps pride in ‘the Shields’ would be more reasonable.

Sehdev and Singh have since been served notice by their private landlord, who apparently does not want anything to do with all that immigration malarkey. Hopefully locals will rise in their support again.

Sturgeon, Yousaf and local MP Alison Thewliss (apparently present during the protests) won the most political capital on the day. The SNP’s particular brand of ‘anti-politics’3 allows it to claim credit for wanting to do things “differently” without, years on, ever giving any programmatic explanation as to how.

It took barely 48 hours for the Labour Party to find these events as another excuse to cannibalise itself. Unite’s man on the party’s national executive committee, Howard Beckett, was formally suspended for tweeting that it should be the home secretary, Priti Patel, who gets deported instead of refugees. Only Keir Starmer’s Labour could turn a momentous anti-racist success into an accusation of racism! (The semantics of ‘racism’, ‘chauvinism’ and the politics of Twitter need not be discussed here.)

Communists would abolish the home office and all immigration controls. We want a society in which ‘freedom of movement of people’ is a tenet so inviolable that the words take on the meaning of a mere descriptive phrase, as though one of Newton’s laws.

Communists, too, are for a system of ‘law’ that is democratic, fair and professes no power of arbitrary detention. We fight vehemently against laws that are arbitrary by their very nature.4

Communists also know that to get this society we need to proactively agitate to defend our class, but we also need to build an organisation capable of beginning that revolutionary transformation.

  1. See lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/june/in-walworth.↩︎

  2. glasgowtimes.co.uk/news/19303180.kenmure-streets-van-man-speaks-protest-pollokshields.↩︎

  3. conter.co.uk/blog/2021/5/6/holyrood-2021-what-comes-after-scottish-anti-politics.↩︎

  4. freemovement.org.uk/the-glasgow-immigration-raid-was-arbitrary-as-are-all-such-raids.↩︎