Selling off Scotland

'I'm amazed that an SNP government would be so intent on turning our country into some kind of heath

I'm at home. This doesn't happen. I'm never at home. I never have time to look in all my cupboards and dust. (As it turns out, there's quite a lot stored in my dust.) I've been in my own flat for almost two weeks. Good God, this is unheard of and had I not been strapped into my big black typing chair and imaginary places for almost all of this - I did have an outing to Perth for a reading - I would probably be deep into cabin fever by now.

Then again, I may have just spent the small and larger hours of every day battering out allworkandnoplaymakesJackadullboy over and over. I'm not really in a position to judge. I have an impossible amount of work to do and in order to finish the short stories, the newspaper bits, the emails, the drama fragments and treatments and films to which I have committed myself (quite possibly to no avail) I have to behave impossibly - which is to say, by not sleeping, typing, eating toast, typing, doing Tai Chi and (I didn't know people genuinely did this) pulling my hair out and typing. My chair is surrounded by a ring of fallen hair, scribbled-over manuscripts and discarded mugs. And, strangely, I'm having the time of my life. It's exhilarating: all this pacing and typing and puzzling and skin-of-the-teeth deadlines and shouting at my walls - and when I meet real live people in the streets on the way to buy more toasting bread I TEND TO SPEAK VERY LOUDLY AND FAST BECAUSE OF THE CAFFEINE. I may have a stroke quite soon.

And, of course, I'm entirely pleased by the election results in the US. For the first time in three presidential races, a majority of the American states has voted for a Democrat and actually ended up getting one. Who knows by what margin he really won, given the shameless voter purges and rigged ballot machines?

The senate race has also been dirty and dodgy: for example - oops - 50,000 suspected Democrat voters have been reported as blocked from voting in Georgia. Ain't democracy a grand thing? But I'm still cheery - despite the possibilities of Republican philibusters to come - any man who mentions giving a puppy to children in his presidential acceptance speech is okay by me. And if I see that puppy crapping on the Whitehouse lawn I will believe those campaign promises and good feelings for at least a month or two. And I will be able to ignore the never-ending references to the Kennedy brothers whenever Obama appears. We all know these are just mediaspeak for "We think you're going to be shoot in the head soon. Sorry. And sorry for unsubtly suggesting this so very, very often. But it will be a great story. For us. Not so good for you, or your kids, or your wife, or that puppy. Is the puppy cute ? Will it be in the funeral cortege?"

Oddly a UK pal of mine wrote me an email on Wednesday morning that mentioned being "exhausted by hope" after watching Obama's victory. How appalling is it that we should find hope exhausting - even when it's second-hand?

Less of a big huzzah when I found out that my local Scottish politicians have just decided to bend over and let Donald Trump do whatever he wants with a huge and rather lovely chunk of Aberdeenshire.

I'm amazed that an SNP government would be so intent on turning our country into some kind of heathery play park for the super rich and plausible. Not that Trump is that plausible - if we wanted to get into bed with a millionaire couldn't we have picked one the other millionaires didn't laugh at? - one whose millions were a little more, shall we say, convincing and whose current business schemes were not rumoured to be quite so dependent on future business schemes in what looks horribly like an over-leveraged and apocalyptic chain of fiscal dominos. And what have we just learned about those, boys and girls ? Nothing apparently. So, well done, Mr. Salmond. Next time I see your noble visage and melting brown eyes I shall hear the delicious and perfectly sane Mel Gibson's voice yelling,"They will never take our freedom!" Yeah, right. We'll just sell it them for pocket change and promises and a couple of photo ops. Can I see that puppy now, please? - I'm getting depressed.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.