The Queen warned Scottish voters to "think carefully". Photo: Getty
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Scottish referendum: how the Queen was asked to intervene amid fears of a Yes vote

The Guardian reveals the negotiations that led to the Queen's intervention ahead of the Scottish independence vote.

A few days before the Scottish independence referendum, the Queen warned Scottish voters to "think very carefully about the future". It was the first time she had expressed a view on the vote, and came after reports that she had "a great deal of concern" about the prospect of a Yes vote, following narrowing polls.

The Guardian, which is telling the behind-the-scenes story of "how the Union was saved", reveals the delicate negotiations behind the monarch's intervention.

Its reporting uncovers that when the Queen spoke publicly, it was after she had been urged by senior Whitehall officials who were acting on David Cameron's concerns about the Yes camp developing a rapid last-minute momentum. The government figures suggested the Palace that it would be helpful to the No cause for the Queen to intervene.

The conversations took place between the Cabinet Secretary very close to the Prime Minister, Sir Jeremy Heywood, and Sir Christopher Geidt, the Queen's Private Secretary. They initially discussed the wisdom of the Queen speaking out at all, considering how meticulously impartial she has been throughout her reign. The Guardian reports that "the Queen was minded to speak out", which meant the two negotiators then had to work out a way in which she could do so, in the most neutral way possible.

The report also reveals that the PM had discussed the upcoming referendum with the monarch during a stay at Balmoral a week before she spoke publicly. On the last day of his stay, the shock YouGov poll that was the first to put the Yes side ahead, by 51 per cent to 49 per cent, was published. 

This revealing inside take on the build-up to the referendum quotes a Whitehall source, who explains how delicately the Queen's comments were planned:

She knew exactly what she was doing, which is, there are two possible responses on the referendum. [They are] either: one, you buy into this is a fantastic festival of democracy, or two, you suggest this is a decision filled with foreboding. So by saying I hope people will think carefully you imply the second. So if they’d said: ‘What do you think of the referendum ma’am?’ and she’d said: ‘Oh it’s lovely’, that would be very different. Without her taking a side, it cast just the right element of doubt over the nature of the decision.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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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.