Prevent - a Constitutional Black Hole

SACC Press Release, 12 October 2016

Responsibility for the operation of the Government's "Prevent" counter-extremism policy in Scotland has slipped into a constitutional black hole. Scotland's democratic representatives at Westminster and Holyrood are averting their eyes from the problem. SACC will be holding a meeting at Glasgow Science Centre on Saturday to draw attention to the issue. The meeting is part of the Ideaspace festival of ideas and is timed to coincide with the SNP Conference.

SACC is calling for the Scottish Government to distance itself from the discredited Prevent strategy and get its logo off the cover of the controversial and islamophobic Prevent guidance issued under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act. We are also calling for the Scottish Parliament to take responsibility for the impact Prevent is having on daily life in Scotland. And we are calling for an immediate moratorium on Prevent training for staff in the education sector in Scotland.

Prevent is focussed around counter-terrorism policy, which is reserved to Westminster. But it is impacting the daily work of Scottish teachers, lecturers, NHS staff and other public sector workers. These are matters for which Holyrood is responsible.

SACC urges the Scottish Government to take steps to ensure that public bodies in Scotland are accountable before the Scottish Parliament for all measures under the Prevent strategy that engage devolved matters, to ensure that in these matters they fully respect their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and any other applicable human rights agreements, and to ensure that they fully respect the aspirations of the people of Scotland towards an inclusive, democratic and open society.

The Prevent Duty Guidance for Scotland, issued under the UK's Counter Terrorism and Security Act (CTSA), has never been debated either by Scottish MPs or by MSPs. Its impact on the daily lives of all who use or work in our public services is growing while our elected representatives remain silent.

The Scottish Parliament must assert its authority over aspects of Prevent that fall within its responsibility.

At the same time, Scotland's representatives at Westminster must challenge the foundations of the UK's Prevent strategy. The strategy is Islamophobic, oppressive, manipulative and destructive of community solidarity against racism and war. It is more likely to drive people towards terrorism than away from it. There is no place in a democratic society for Prevent or any similar policy.

It is unacceptable that the Scottish Government has taken part ownership of this disastrous policy by issuing the Prevent Duty Guidance for Scotland jointly with the UK Government. It is also inappropriate, since the statutory role of Scottish Ministers in drafting the guidance is only consultative.

We hope that the CTSA and the associated Prevent Duty Guidance will be scrapped. If instead the Guidance is re-issued, we urge the Scottish Government to refuse to be named in it in any way that would imply ownership or authorship. The logos of the UK and Scottish Governments appear together on the front cover of the Guidance. The Scottish Government logo is being used to sell Prevent to the people of Scotland. It has to go.

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:

"The Prevent strategy is turning teachers, lecturers, social workers and doctors into police auxiliaries. It's a UK Government strategy. No Scottish MPs took part in the House of Commons debate on the Prevent Duty Guidance in March 2015. But it's being sold to the Scottish people by the Scottish Government. I'm sure that if Theresa May and Amber Rudd came here to present their policy in person, instead of leaving Michael Matheson to do their job for them, opposition to Prevent would be even fiercer than it already is. The Scottish Government has to stop giving cover for the autocrats and islamophobes at Westminster."

Background

Universities, local authorities, schools and health boards in Scotland say that they they are required to implement Prevent under the Counter Terrorism and Act 2015. This is misleading

Section 26 of the CTSA states only that "a specified authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism" but does not prescribe any specific measures that must be taken. The Prevent Duty Guidance states that the phrase due regard ”as used in the Act means that the authorities should place an appropriate amount of weight on the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism when they consider all the other factors relevant to how they carry out their usual functions."

Public authorities in Scotland are not at present giving sufficient attention to all the relevant factors. In particular, they are not taking adequate account of the human rights issues raised by the Prevent strategy. The Prevent training being given to staff doesn't equip staff to balance Prevent properly against their human rights obligations. It promotes a confused and potentially mistaken view of their duty of care and safeguarding responsibilities.

The Scottish Government must take steps to ensure that public authorities in Scotland understand the potential for conflict between Prevent and their responsibilities under human rights law.

These problems  pervade the whole of the public sector, but are particularly well documented in education, thanks to a report published in July by Rights Watch UK. In response to the report  SACC is calling for a moratorium on Prevent training in Scotland's educational institutions. We believe that a moratorium could and should be implemented immediately, without waiting for any change in the UK's Prevent strategy

We await with interest the publication next week of a report by the Open Society Justice Initiative on Prevent in health and education.

We hope that the Scottish Government will distance itself from the UK's Prevent strategy. But in any case, we urge people in Scotland - and especially public sector workers called upon to implement Prevent - to refuse to cooperate with the policy.

 

Notes for Editors

  1. SACC will be holding a fringe meeting entitled The Prevent Strategy - an Abuse of Scotland's Education System at the Glasgow Science Center from 2pm to 3pm on Saturday 15 October. The speakers will be Charlotte Ahmed (Stand Up to Racism Scotland) and Richard Haley (SACC), chaired by Habiba Islam. More information
  2. For the July 2016 report by Rights Watch UK on Prevent in Education, see Preventing Education? Human Rights and UK Counter-Terrorism Policy in Schools. For SACC's response (and our call for a moratorium), see SACC Calls for Moratorium on Counter-Terrorism Training in Scottish Schools.
  3. The report by the Open Society Justice Initiative will be lauched on 19 October, 6pm at a meeting in Committee Room 10, House of Commons hosted by Yasmin Qureshi MP. Speakers will be Lucy Allan MP, Dr Clare Gerada (Former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, member of BMA council), Alex Kenny (Secondary school teacher, member of national executive of the National Union of Teachers, chair of the NUT education and equalities committee) and Amrit Singh (author of the report and  Senior Lawyer, Counter-Terrorism and National Security, Open Society Justice Initiative). Amrit Singh visited Scotland in the summer to take evidence for the report.  The report presents the most comprehensive account to date of how Prevent is being implemented in health and education