Dungavel: Scotland’s Shame

In recent days, the question over how to handle refugees and asylum seekers has reached a boiling point. With the far right in ascendance all over the world- from Hungary and Poland, to the USA and UK- and refugees from war, famine and climate change likely to increase, it seems that the victims of circumstance are going to be left in an increasingly hostile world with nowhere to go.

In the US, Trump’s nativist rhetoric might be shocking to some, but far more damaging to immigrant communities have been institutions like ICE that have existed for longer than Trump’s administration has allowed him to put his rhetoric into practice; founded under Bush Jr, later expanded and used by Obama to enforce mass deportations of groups like the Haitian community, under Trump ICE has been accused of enacting sterilisation of immigrant women in concentration camps. A disgusting practice that is currently being investigated by the US government, but hardly surprising considering Trump’s own comments on refugees and asylum seekers, all in the backdrop of the USA’s long history of bigotry.

This isn’t to say that the American public are, to a number, happy with the policy of their government; cries of “Abolish ICE” have been heard at protests across America, and an attack on an ICE facility was carried out in 2019.

In the UK the debate over what to do with asylum seekers is being answered by the Tory party, an organisation with it own long history of racism that had attempted to rebrand as a modern party under David Cameron, but now led by Boris Johnston, a man prone to bigoted statements that won his election with a manifesto that specifically targeted British Roma by promising to seize their property. Perhaps a party winning an election on a promise to target an ethnic group that was a prime target during the holocaust should have raised more of an alarm among the public, but now this party is the one in charge of determining the UKs policy concerning asylum seekers.

The answers these amoral ghouls are coming up with are as suitably evil as you would imagine: Priti Patel considering shipping asylum seekers to Ascension– an island in the South Atlantic with a population of just over 800, that’s closer to Brazil and Nigeria than it is to the home isle- was a particularly egregious highlight. Being around 6400 kilometres from the UK, the primary reason this was argued against wasn’t on the moral grounds of turning an island in the middle of nowhere into a concentration camp, but instead the costs involved in the morally vacant venture.

The idea of having offshore detention centres to process migrants is heavily inspired by the Australian system of processing migrants, and the idea itself appears to be gaining traction in the UK, despite the failure of the Ascension plan. The idea itself is not without controversy with any such plan meaning the UK would need to withdraw from both the UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights to avoid violating the law. The fact that a policy that is widely detracted as based on racism and denying basic human rights violations is being calmly debated simply because another English speaking nation has already put it into practice demonstrates just how far into xenophobia the UK has fallen.

What then about Scotland? We have always portrayed ourselves as the more humanitarian part of the union but how much does that really hold up to inspection? These tensions between those who want to welcome immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees and those who would instead embrace xenophobia definitely exist in our own nation. One saving caveat, at least, is that our government is not seeking to ignite these tensions for political gain. For example, after the tragic attack in June this year by asylum seeker Badreddin Abadlla Adam the Scottish government’s response was to challenge the Home Office for the way it had been treating asylum seekers.

Nicola Sturgeon even chimed into the debate down south around the possibility of offshore detention centres by saying that “They [Westminster] can rest assured that any proposal to treat human beings like cattle in a holding pen will be met with the strongest possible opposition from me”. Is this true however? 

In South Lanarkshire, near Strathaven exists Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre. This facility is operating on Scottish soil, for profit by a private company in the name of the Home Office, housing those who have had their asylum pleas rejected, while they wait for deportation. Currently the capacity of the site has been reduced from 249 to 125 at the start of the year, but this might already be too little too late. A recent outbreak of Covid-19 has resulted in fresh calls to close the facility by refugee rights groups, who say the facility has a history of poor treatment for the people it houses, evidenced recently by the death of a man in the facility in 2017. With detention already putting a strain on a person’s physical and mental health one can only imagine the stress a covid outbreak could cause in a facility like this. I would also like to remind readers that these people haven’t broken any laws, they have simply been denied asylum by the Home Office, and that nearly two fifths of the people housed in this facility are reported as being vulnerable. At the time of writing the Home Office have not released the numbers of those infected by and who might have died from Covid-19 at this facility, and even refuses to give exact numbers on the total number of people held there currently.

If Scotland wants to maintain its reputation and self image as a land of tolerance and understanding we have to confront the reality of Dungavel, because a tolerant society can not tolerate a facility like this on its own soil.

Corruption, Bribery and Sports Entertainment

As an outside spectator it can be baffling to look at what is happening in the United States in regards to the Covid-19 outbreak; there has been corruption and incompetence at every turn. From senators selling stocks ahead of the virus hitting while at the same time reassuring citizens that this won’t be a big deal, to Trump predictably making more and more outlandish claims at briefings, that are then eaten up by his cult of followers, as though he were an embattled messianic figure protesting against the lockdown measures that have been put in place to save their lives. The stories that come out of the states have been so ridiculous and unbelievable that many of them are talked about at the time and then forgotten.  Encapsulating the corruption at the heart of U.S governance, exposing their system as nothing more than an oligarchy, has been the news of the WWE’s involvement in the state of Florida.

On the 3rd of April Florida became one of the last few states to issue a stay-at-home order to protect people from the pandemic. Many argued this came far too late, especially when people were still allowed to travel to the state for their spring break holidays even after the first cases had been reported in the U.S. Originally when the lock down was instated the sport of Professional Wrestling, quite rightly, did not make the list of “Essential Media”. This was reserved for news outlets and radio, anything that could help inform people on the latest news and developments with the virus.

Not long after, Ron DeSantis the Republican governor of Florida decided to change his mind and deemed the WWE an “essential business”. A strange decision, but one that he defended in a press briefing; here is his rambling explanation word for word –

“I think people are chomping at the bit. I mean, if you think about it, we’ve never had a period like this in modern American history where you’ve had such little new content, particularly in the sporting realm. I mean, people are watching, we’re watching, like, reruns from the early 2000’s, watching Tom Brady do the Super Bowl then, which is neat because he’s gonna be in Tampa and I think they have a chance to win a Super Bowl this year. But I think people, to be able to have some light at the tunnel, see that things may get back on a better course – I think from just a psychological perspective I think is a good thing.”

He really sounds like someone that has his priorities right. God forbid you get bored of the telly while avoiding a horrible respiratory disease.

The legitimacy of this decision has been brought into question, not only for its obvious stupidity, but because it came after a Super-Pac chaired by Vince McMahon’s wife Linda that supports Donald Trump pledged to spend $18.5 million in the state of Florida. Amongst the decision, that I’m sure had nothing to do with the very generous donation from the Trump supporting Super-PAC, it was also revealed that a member of staff at WWE had also tested positive for the virus. Anywhere else this would be enough to close the business and send all staff into self-isolation but not at WWE. The show, it would seem, must go on.

If the political ties between Trump and the McMahons weren’t obvious enough, Trump then named Vince McMahon as one of a number of business leaders now part of a group that would advise Trump on how to relax social distancing measures and get the economy back up and running. Really think about that. The government of the United States is taking advice on when to relax social distancing measures from business owners. The people that stand to make the most money for the least amount of risk to themselves if the stay-at-home orders are lifted.

So, the WWE is declared essential and the employees are then compelled to travel and flout social distancing rules so as to still earn their wages. What next?

On the 15th of April WWE announced that as part of necessary cost reductions due to the coronavirus they will be firing a lot of talent and furloughing a large proportion of their behind the scenes crew. This was announced at the same time they made the following statement –

“WWE has substantial financial resources, both available cash and debt capacity, which currently total more than $0.5 billion, to manage the challenges ahead. The fundamentals of the Company’s business remain strong… Management continues to believe the Company is well positioned to take full advantage of the changing media landscape and increasing value of live sports rights over the longer term.”

To understand the extent to which this is a slimy decision on behalf of the WWE management you first need to understand that for years WWE has been signing as much talent as they can to contracts to keep them from working at other companies. Now that they might take a slight hit to their profit margins- and despite they’re huge wealth reserves- they have decided to fire these wrestlers at a time when there is nowhere else for them to go for work, all while the staff that they did keep on have to risk their lives to produce a televised product.

The chain of events here definitely tells a story. One of corporate greed, bribery and downright apathy to the well being of employees. One story amongst many that paint the Trump administration as even more incompetent and spiteful than before. A true oligarchy that has constantly put profits ahead of the well being of its people and has just enough fascist characteristics that Trump has built a cult of personality around himself with followers that will do whatever he says. With Trump now suggesting that perhaps we should inject people with disinfectant we can only hope that at least some of his acolytes may begin to question his judgement.