The Spectacle of Kenmure Street

Something just didn’t seem right about the scenes we saw on the south side of Glasgow last week. As I surfed through all the video footage posted on social media about the ‘Battle of Kenmure Street’, what struck me was how far from spontaneous this seven hour stand-off seemed. Not just a bit staged but all carefully choreographed was how it came across, especially when captured from above by drones. The UK Border Agency enforcement van surrounded by a perfectly positioned squad of Police Scotland officers who pushed back the crowd with almost balletic precision and co-ordination. The all-too-neat and photogenic placards proclaiming ‘Refugees Are Welcome’. This was more the sort of creatively directed protest scenes you might see in a TV drama than on a news bulletin. Then I realised that’s what it might be – a slick co-production brought to all our varied screens by the Scottish Government and the police force it ultimately, and increasingly, commands.

Scene Two: the First Minister makes frantic calls to the Home Office to register her disgust at “doing this on Eid, in the heart of our Muslim community, and in the midst of a serious Covid outbreak” – even though the two Indian immigrants arrested for deportment were Sikhs and the social distancing rules were ripped up by the demonstrators, not the border guards. Not an entirely appropriate response to the actual events that unfolded. While the community uprising in Pollokshields no doubt quickly gathered its own natural, mass momentum, the rapid response of the FM and the Justice Secretary (to whom a nationally unified police force reports as to no other politician in Scottish – or British – history) seemed very prepared.

Personally, I don’t think either Nicola Sturgeon or Humza Yousaf were totally horrified by the scenes played out in Pollockshields. I believe they both would have both looked upon them with some partisan glee. When it drove into one of the most combustible parts of Clydeside, that immigration van met a perfectly-executed political ambush. The fact that it did so in Nicola Sturgeon’s constituency gave her added justification for loudly denouncing this country’s “appalling asylum and immigration policy.” It was as if she was reading from a prepared script – possibly because she was. 

We live in Scotland, as elsewhere, in the society of the spectacle

Much as I am inclined to use a guid Scots word like stushie or stramash, I consciously describe what occurred in Kenmure Street as a spectacle. Those at all familiar with the Situationist writings of the modern French philosopher Guy Debord will be familiar with his most famous concept the “society of the spectacle”. I believe the following observations are as relevant to Sturgeon’s Scotland as to anywhere in our increasingly media-controlled world:

Spectacular government, which now possesses all the means necessary to falsify the whole of production and perception, is the absolute master of memories just as it is the unfettered master of plans which will shape the most distant future…The flow of images carries everything before it, and it is similarly someone else who controls at will this simplified summary of the sensible world; who decides where the flow will lead as well as the rhythm of what should be shown, like some perpetual, arbitrary surprise, leaving no time for reflection, and entirely independent of what the spectator might understand or think of it.

Make no mistake, all those electronically captured images from the Spectacle of Kenmure Street will be carefully stored in the Scottish Ministry of Truth by our political masters and their massive spin machine – until they have served their political purpose. They will be strategically reactivated in our national public memory when our Nat chieftains are endeavouring to extract a spectacular concession from the Anglo-British state – separate control of immigration. By so doing, the Sturgeon regime would not only enhance its powers but might also (at least temporarily) placate those who feel it hasn’t made a single inch of progress towards Scottish independence. If all goes to plan – or, rather, script – this will occur after the Prime Minister’s promised summit with the leaders of all three devolved administrations to discuss “our shared challenges and how we can work together in the coming months and years to overcome them”.

Immigration will be used to test Boris’s commitment to Team UK

Any lingering doubts about what will be Ms Sturgeon’s agenda at this four nation conclave were dispelled when I picked up the Sunday Times and spotted a column headlined ‘Immigration policy will test Johnson’s commitment to teamwork.’ It came as no surprise that the author was Kevin Pringle, for many years the SNP’s chief spinmeister. The key passage in his article was this:

Current Home Office policy is not the only way to run an immigration system, and it is far from the best way. If the prime minister wants to show that he is genuine in his proposal to work with devolved administrations, he should start by ensuring that immigration policy in Scotland reflects the demographic needs and political attitudes that predominate here. 

Echoing this was another lengthy piece in the same edition headlined ‘Partnership of equals will teach people to love Union’. That one was penned by Michael Keating, Professor of Politics at Aberdeen University, and the key sections were these:

Westminster can’t wait out the fervour for a referendum. It must share power to win hearts…What could be more helpful to the unionist cause would be a more thorough rethinking of the Union itself….Instead of a hierarchical system in which Westminster “lends” power to Scotland, the Union might be seen as a partnership of equals.

Ceding power over immigration would be the most dramatic way of doing what this prof advocates. No nation can really claim to exercise anything close to sovereignty unless it controls its own borders. Nor, without some say over who gets to visit or stay within its territorial boundaries, can a country ever begin to confront the monumental challenges of an ageing population or the limitations to economic regeneration posed by severe skill shortages in parts of the labour market.

Gaining control of immigration could have some painful consequences

Is it practically feasible to devolve control of immigration to one only part of the United Kingdom? Absolutely, although it could have some dire consequences – especially when you consider this SNP Government’s record of screwing up almost everything for which it is currently responsible. Just ask any Québécois politician. Alone out of all of Canada’s ten provinces, Québec has been permitted to set its own bespoke criteria for selecting immigrants. Originally designed to reverse outward migration to investment magnets such as Toronto, the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration (MIFI) has always made a special effort to attract French-speaking immigrants in order to consolidate La Belle Province’s distinct cultural identity. Initially most of the francophone influx stemmed from Europe, but in recent years more have arrived from North Africa. One upshot has been sharp tension, especially in Montréal, over the amount of assimilation necessary. Hostilities reached a peak two years ago when the Québec government proposed to ban the wearing of veils by its Muslim employees.

Controlling immigration in a comparatively prosperous economy can be a constant nightmare, as any of the many former UK home secretaries can attest. To his credit, Kevin Pringle openly recognises this fact, acknowledging in his Sunday column that “such a development wouldn’t necessarily be pain-free for SNP ministers, as it would draw them into making decisions in what is a difficult, controversial area.” Devolving control of immigration from the Home Office to St Andrew’s House could bring some extremely tough judgement calls and excruciating dilemmas down the line for first ministers and and whoever they appoint as Cabinet Secretary for Immigration, Integration and Inclusivity (or some such PC ministerial portfolio). Don’t be surprised if we one day see repeats of the drama in Kenmure Street – but with Scottish, not home office, ministers cast as the arch villains. Maybe even, on occasions, hundreds of Scots amassed in the streets and creating a very hostile environment for unwanted immigrants.

19 thoughts on “The Spectacle of Kenmure Street

  1. I too wondered about the very neat signs, even a sheet hanging out of a window with a neatly written message. You do wonder how that could be in the urgency of the moment. My daughter says she was first alerted to what was happening by Instagram messages saying ‘get down to Pollockshields’.

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  2. That is a different take on events and quite thought-provoking.

    I’d be amazed if the whole thing was orchestrated from the start – although anything is possible given very recent history – but it is quite possible, probable even, that the powers that be in Scotland recognised quickly the opportunity that the emerging stand-off created.

    We’ll see but I’ll be watching developments closely and with an eye to what might transpire at the upcoming ‘Four Nations” summit.

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    1. When the Home Office decide to carry out detentions they contact the local police to arrange the date and details. We’ll never know who made the decision here but senior police and therefore politicians would have known in advance.

      Anyone doubting that this was stage managed by the SNP is kidding themselves on.

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  3. Interesting. I’m increasingly moving towards believing there is a joint UK/SNP plan to devolve more in contentious and difficult areas (immigration would fit that bill, as would further tinkering with benefits), but without any more genuine independence in required areas like fiscal and economic control. This will dampen down calls for genuine independence as many, especially with the cult-like behaviour around the current SNP, will see it as “more devolution” or “closer to federalism” while in fact it will merely hamper the Scottish Government and make life harder, as well as giving many more opportunities for opposition. As you say, it’s very easy to imagine – especially after George Square on Saturday – the anti-immigration demos further down the line. Any crowd can be whipped up by those keen to do it, especially with government support. The current SNP seems to be very much part of the UK government’s agenda for killing off independence rather than part of the indy movement.

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    1. How could the UK devolve immigration to Scotland without a functioning and policed border being in place? That makes no sense whatsoever. As immigration has proved even throughout our time in the EU, those arriving do not choose Scotland as their place to reside. Net migration for 2019 was only 20,000. Westminster would be rightly concerned about Scottish arrivals simply heading heading south – especially when the tag of “No one is illegal” is bandied around.

      More say on benefits? The FM declined to accept the 2016 further devolved powers on social security – stating Scotland’s institutions ‘weren’t yet ready’. Now pushed back again, to 2024. This, from a Party which claims it could implement indy within 2 years of a Yes vote.

      Devo-max has no more legs to it than Indy does.

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      1. As far as I know, there exists no hard border between Québec and the provinces on its borders, which include Ontario. That’s not to say the current SNP Government could handle immigration as competently as its Québecois counterparts. As you say, the Sturgeon regime hasn’t been able to cope with the social security powers that were devolved to them. I plan to post about that soon.

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  4. I was told that there is a group of people dedicated to the control of the immigration controllers and that the fellow under the van was the first to get there and was able to put a halt to the proceedings until the other members had been alerted.
    The one problem for me was that the police didn’t appear perturbed.

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  5. Fascinating take on this. I did wonder about the fortuitousness of it being Sturgeon’s constituency and the way the crowd seemed to have advance warning of events. But I didn’t think Queen Nikla capable of such carefully staged spectacle and its political strategy. She hasn’t shown much evidence of political or intellectual prowess in the past.
    Though she has, however, shown a willingness to deceive and manipulate public opinion when it suits her.
    And she does like nothing more than an opportunity to pose and primp herself as ‘defending’ Scottish interests from the ‘evil’ tories, even if it usually means doing absolutely nothing other than commandeering the news bulletins. She spurns opportunities to actually do things, or take courageous steps to frustrate Westminster, in her timid, genuflecting way. Always easier to play a part than actually take a risk of commitment, especially as you might divide some of your support, which you calibrate with ‘all things to all people’ methodical positioning.
    So I will be very interested to see how this plays out and if you are on to something here.

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  6. If Sturgeon held this much influence over ordinary people Alex Salmond’s jury would have sent him to prison.

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    1. So you’re suggesting she (or the cabal surrounding her) sought to determine the outcome of that trial? If so, that would indicate she’s someone capable of doing pretty much anything to retain or enhance the power she possesses, wouldn’t it?

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  7. Very interesting take on things.
    I doubt though that nicola is clever enough for such a stunt, much less to make a success of it. However it does all seem too convenient.
    I am enjoying your blog very much.
    As an ex SNP supporter ,now an avowed unionist, its refreshing to get a well written and intelligent take on our constitution.

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      1. Or simply converting to agnostic, having been disillusioned with unionism and now the dynastic tendencies of a one party independent state.

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  8. The optics of this case are at odds with the detention earlier the same day of another asylum seeker at the city council Rodney St homeless assessment centre. No organised protest saved this person, the theory being that they didn’t have the same community connections as the Kenmure two who had been made aware of what to do in this situation by community activists.

    It may be that these activists mobilised a well rehearsed plan to get people on the street which also involves politicians in the chain. There were certainly elements like the police response that appear coordinated.

    It does seem that both sides were happy with the outcome. The SNP tried to take kudos and moral high ground for the civilised display of community action and the unionists got their law breaking excuse for the rangers rampage.

    Looks like we are set for 5 years of pantomime. Devolving some unpopular powers like immigration could be a shrewd move by teamUK. After 19 years of devolved SNP rule and given enough unpopular rope to hang themselves the prospect of another term may not be so enticing for the soft yes electorate. The hard yes have already moved to Alba. At some point a day of reckoning must come for the SNP over their domestic record but where do the ex Labour voters who moved en mass to the SNP go? Back to Labour looks unlikely.

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  9. I thought the Kenmure Street Theatre was absolutely fascinating, and, personally, believe it was orchestrated by the FM as a PR stunt promoting her views on how Scotland needs immigrants. The fact it was on her patch was just WAY too convenient. Personally, I have lived as an immigrant in other countries before. If I had just outstayed my visa and decided I couldn’t be bothered leaving, I would not have had the gall to expect people on the street to save me from deportation! The two Indian gentlemen in question were here illegally. A spokeswoman for them (one gentleman seemed to speak little English, despite having been here for 13 years, and spoke in his native language – how he can operate in an English-speaking country was interesting to contemplate) said they (apparently) had ‘no recourse to public funds.’ And yet they had public funds expended on them in the whole stand-off with the police.

    They stay in Scotland but obviously work under the counter, paying no taxes, and thus contributing nothing whatsoever financially to the country they illegally live in. Their kind of immigrant undercuts indigenous workers. They can use the NHS, roads, buildings, legal aid institutions, Citizen’s Advice (they are apparently getting legal representation now – from whom, and who is paying?), police force…and do not get charged a penny. These are not the kind of people we need here, with no respect for helping in the upkeep of the country, or bothering obeying immigration laws. What this whole debacle said was that Scotland welcomes illegal immigrants, so flock up here and don’t bother with the legalities, because nobody really cares. Plus it gave the narcissist FM a wee chance to play the Morally Superior Scottish Politician, as tiresome usual. All this is a really, really dangerous and stupid road to go down. I am not saying do not let immigrants in. But at least regulate it, so we have some idea of who is here contributing, and who is not.

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