Following the senseless death of George Floyd and the protests which have followed in the United States and elsewhere I have been contacted by a large number of constituents asking for my views on the matter.
I can state clearly and unequivocally that Black Lives Matter.
Coming as it does, at a time when Covid-19 has affected black and minority ethnic communities both here in Scotland and elsewhere, George Floyd’s death demonstrates another systemic inequality that is faced by people of colour in the United States, and also shone a light on the issues the face in Scotland.
Given these circumstances, I fully support the protests in US cities, and those we have seen closer to home, in Glasgow for example. These protests will continue to be necessary for as long as these systemic inequalities exist and I express full solidarity with those who have taken to the streets – and the right to freedom of expression and of assembly is enshrined in Human Rights legislation and constitutions around the world.
There can therefore be no justification for the unnecessary and sometimes brutal way these protests have been dealt with by the forces of order in the United States, which have certainly crossed the line into ‘Unconstitutional’ territory.
While the overwhelming majority of the forces of law and order here and in the United States undertake their duties – even under such stressful circumstances – within the regulations, the prevalence of material showing disproportionate use of force and arbitrary arrests suggests that there has been an institutional failure in many police forces that needs to be urgently addressed.
In that sense, I fully support the initiative shown by the SNP Westminster Group Leader, Ian Blackford MP, in calling on the Prime Minister to temporarily block the export of UK-made materiel that could be used for the purposes of internal repression such as tear gas and plastic bullets – powers which already exist for the UK Government.
I have signed Early Day Motion 525 in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign, tabled by my SNP colleagues Anne McLaughlin MP and Kirsten Oswald MP; and signed a letter from Labour MP Dawn Butler calling for a suspension of exports of materiel that could be used for internal repression: and I look forward to a government response on both issues.
This is not the only example of the links between us here and the protests. Many people have rightfully highlighted the history of slavery and profiteering from chattel in Scotland, and I am entirely supportive of better educating our young people in this often neglected episode of our history. And while West Dunbartonshire may have fewer visible links with slavery than neighbouring communities such as Glasgow and Inverclyde, I do not doubt for a moment that it nevertheless profited from ancillary services around those industries that were built on the horrors of slavery.
Modern Scotland also is not free either from the issues that are raised by the Black Lives Matter protests, and we must do better. Whether it is in politics, where there have been alarmingly few elected representatives from BAME communities, or indeed in policing, where the issue of deaths of black men in police custody has also been raised, we can and must do better. I fully support the Scottish Government in their announcement to hold an enquiry into the tragic death of Sheku Bayoh.
The recent death of Belly Mujinga was a tragedy, and our thoughts remain with her family at this time. Frontline workers, whether they are in public transport or in supermarkets, deserve our full support and protection from these unspeakable acts of physical violence, and I would like to understand why the UK Government did not seek to proceed with charges against the individual in this case. In Scotland, the Scottish Government is in ongoing conversations with Transport workers and their Unions to ensure that frontline workers should be able to go to work in confidence.
I hope the above assures you of my commitment to tackling discrimination in this country and that I will endeavour to use my influence to ensure that the message ‘Black Lives Matter’ will be front and centre in the House of Commons.