Scottish Government must think again on Prevent

SACC Press Release

SACC recently asked for the Scottish Government's response to our Open Letter expressing concerns over the UK Government's 'Prevent' programme. The Scottish Government's response is disappointing. SACC is calling for a debate on the issue in the Scottish Parliament. We urge people in Scotland not to cooperate with this anti-democratic programme, and we support the decision by the students' and lecturers' unions to boycott it.

Prevent is the "hearts and minds" strand of the UK Government's 'Contest' counter-terrorism strategy and is said be intended to prevent people turning to terrorism. It is Islamophobic, manipulative and anti-democratic. It views Muslims who criticise British wars from an Islamic perspective as "Islamist extremists." It is more likely to drive people to terrorism than to keep them from it.

The "Prevent Duty Guidance" which came into force on 1 July under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 places local authorities, schools and the NHS under a statutory obligation to implement 'Prevent'. The Scottish version of the guidance was issued jointly by the Scottish and UK Governments.

A similar obligation will be placed on universities and further education institution once the Westminster Parliament approves supplementary guidance placed before it on 16 July. The delay in applying the "Prevent Duty Guidance" to universities and colleges is a result of disagreement between Lib Dems and Tories in the last days of the Coalition Government.

The Scottish Government's response to our letter fails to acknowledge the problems that we and other organisations have highlighted or to set out any plans to mitigate them. It seeks to perpetuate the myth that Prevent 'safeguards' the people it targets.

The Scottish Government says that it has worked to ensure that the guidance is balanced, appropriate and reflects the Scottish context. Yet the key elements of it are identical to the guidance issued for England and Wales. It includes statements that we and other organisations find blatantly islamophobic. The differences between the Scottish and English guidance are mostly concerned with administrative detail.

The Scottish Government says that the Prevent strategy for Scotland  is not solely focussed on Muslim communities but also covers Northern Ireland related terrorist groups. If this is meant seriously, it is very bad news. Any attempt to police political discourse over the politics of northern Ireland, in the way that Prevent  polices discussion of the Middle East, would be deeply destructive of political and community life in Scotland and would be likely to backfire badly.

The Scottish Government emphasises its involvement in drawing up the guidance and accepts that the guidance relates not only to counter-terrorism policy  - which is reserved to Westminster - but also to devolved functions. Yet the guidance has not been discussed by the Scottish Parliament, as the Sewell Convention would seem to require.

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:

"Prevent has been imposed on Scotland by the Westminster Government. The Prevent Duty Guidance for Scotland has been copied from the guidance for England and Wales, with a little bit of adjustment to dovetail it to the Scottish bureaucratic machinery, plus a little bit of dangerous candy relating to Northern Ireland. No Scottish MP participated in the Commons debate on the Prevent Duty Guidance for Scotland. So it's odd that the official who replied to our Open Letter seems keen to take ownership of this cack-handed policy on behalf of the Scottish Government. And it's odd, in view of the Islamophobic nature of Prevent and its domination by the security and intelligence apparatus, that he works for the Scottish Government's Equality Unit.

Prevent is fundamentally wrong. It's also wrong that it has been spirited into Scottish public life without any debate in the Scottish Parliament. There must be a debate about it at Holyrood. And people in Scotland - especially students and those who work in the public sector - must take a stand against it."

SACC supports the stand taken against 'Prevent' by the NUS and the UCU. We encourage other unions to take a similar stand, and to make a commitment to support people who find themselves in difficulty because they have refused to cooperate with Prevent in their workplace. We encourage everyone to refuse to cooperate with Prevent.