Why Scottish folk should also be shouting to #KillTheBill?

Tomorrow, across England and Wales there is a national day of action to #KillTheBill. Among Scottish groups there has been a muted response to the new Police, Crime and Sentencing bill, which has been the subject of waves of protests across England and Wales. The Bill explicitly aims to restrict peaceful protest by giving more powers to police to disrupt protest and arrest protesters.

Many have expressed solidarity with England and Wales. Solidarity with people of colour likely to be disproportionately affected by further expansion of stop and search, as well as other measures within the Bill. Solidarity with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities who will be subject to even greater police enforcement and criminalisation. Solidarity with those in the justice system and their families, who will be subject to even longer harmful, ineffective, prison sentences.

Even so, there is a clear sense among those in Scotland that this is something happening down south – that this does not affect us. Yes, policing is a devolved issue, such that the provisions within the Bill do not – for the most part – apply within Scotland. Some changes will apply here, including changes to road traffic legislation (not devolved) aimed at offering greater protection to police accused of careless or dangerous driving, and giving powers to the police to issue on the spot fixed penalty notices for some minor traffic offences. But any sense that only these, comparatively small, changes affect us is wrong.

In Scotland there is a national day of action for independence tomorrow. Yet despite the wishes of many for independence, Scottish MPs still sit at Westminster. The UK Parliament still has sole responsibility for decisions affecting the whole of the UK on many issues – including those that frequently generate protest. The UK Government enacts racist border control policies that play out in the destitution and desperation of asylum seekers in Glasgow. The UK Government hosts nuclear armed submarines at Faslane. The UK Government provides arms export licenses to Scottish companies to facilitate bombing of families or the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters overseas. The UK Government can send Scottish folk to war.

In recent times, coronavirus has brought movement across the UK to a halt but – in normal times – when the UK Parliament threatens to act in ways we don’t like, we head to London to protest on its doorstep. When we do so, we are subject to this law. By restricting protest near the UK Parliament, this law also keeps us further away.

The Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill facilitates the police to dictate what peaceful protest in England should and shouldn’t look and sound like. The Bill allows the police to set noise limits on protesters, telling us how loudly we can shout. The Bill enables the police to impose conditions and then criminalise us if we are unaware of these conditions, even where our actions would not normally constitute a crime. The Bill enables the police to act on the basis that bystanders may be uneasy or distressed – no matter how distressed or uneasy we are at the events driving us to protest.  

The Bill allows for ten year prison sentences for causing a “serious annoyance” in England. In addition, there are a number of provisions that increases sentence lengths. Some of these use protection of women as a front for doing so – a bitter irony for those women, particularly sex workers and trans women, who have experienced the police and criminal justice system as the threat. Our alarm at police actions has driven recent protests – at violence that has killed women and people of colour. The Bill facilitates the police to disrupt protest against these issues. It offers power to the perpetrators and silences those victims and communities trying to speak out.

The very aim of a protest is to disrupt and draw attention to a claimed injustice – to demand for the arguments to be heard, in an attempt to seek change. The Bill mutes protesters, and in doing so undermines the power of protest. It is deeply antidemocratic. Scottish people should not let Westminster dictate how loudly we can shout at them.

TAKE ACTION

Support the national day of action tomorrow online using the #KillTheBill

Sisters Uncut have a set of brilliant resources and actions you can do over the weekend, wherever you are: https://www.sistersuncut.org/2021/04/01/kill-the-bill-weekend-of-action/ (these were developed for the last day of action, but are still relevant).

There is also a dedicated KillTheBill website, which is a collaboration between different groups organising on this issue, also containing a range of great resources, including advice for those attending demonstrations:

There is a demonstration in The Pavillion Cafe, Edinburgh (as well as Newcastle, and other cities across England).

Sign this on behalf of your organisation: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdxxoAcut2Z3BXU1qeiE824MCXHk7TKlFCDSfgbBoV1AuQ18Q/viewform

Write to your MP and tell them to reject the bill. See template below (but you could also tailor this using information from the excellent resources from Sisters Uncut or the Kill The Bill website):

Dear [Insert MP name – find details here]

I am writing to you regarding the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently going through Parliament. As one of your constituents, I am deeply concerned about the changes being introduced by the Bill, and ask you to speak out on my behalf and use your vote to oppose the Bill. 

Although I recognise that many of the provisions in the Bill do not apply in Scotland, I am concerned (1) about the impact these proposals have on the rights of communities within England and Wales who may be particularly affected by provisions in the Bill, including people of colour (who may be disproportionately affected by further expansion of stop and search, as well as other measures within the Bill); Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities who will be subject to even greater police enforcement and criminalisation; and other groups disproportionately caught up within the justice system in England and Wales, who will be subject to even longer harmful and ineffective prison sentences. I am also concerned (2) that those few provisions in the Bill which do apply in Scotland seek to protect and extend powers to the police. Finally, (3) I am concerned about the impact that these changes will have on my democratic right to protest near the UK Parliament, regarding issues over which the UK Parliament reserves control. These include many issues on which I feel strongly, including [AMEND AS YOU LIKE e.g. inhumane border control policies, arms licences, nuclear weapons, global environmental agreements]. 

The Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill facilitates the police to dictate what peaceful protest in England should and shouldn’t look and sound like. The Bill allows the police to set noise limits on protesters, telling us how loudly we can shout. The Bill enables the police to impose conditions and then criminalise us if we are unaware of these conditions, even where our actions would not normally constitute a crime. The Bill enables the police to act on the basis that bystanders may be uneasy or distressed – no matter how distressed or uneasy we are at the events driving us to protest.

The Bill allows for ten year prison sentences for causing a “serious annoyance”. In addition, there are a number of provisions that increases sentence lengths. Some of these use protection of women as a front for doing so – a bitter irony for those women, particularly sex workers and trans women, who have experienced the police and criminal justice system as the threat. Alarm at police actions has driven recent protests – at violence that has killed women and people of colour. The Bill facilitates the police to silence protest against these very same issues. It offers power to the perpetrators and silences those victims and communities trying to speak out.

The very aim of a protest is to disrupt and draw attention to a claimed injustice – to demand for the arguments to be heard, in an attempt to seek change. The Bill mutes protesters, and in doing so undermines the power of protest. It is deeply antidemocratic.

As your constituent, I hope that you will use both your voice and your vote in Parliament to protect the democratic right to protest.

I look forward to hearing from you on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

[NAME]

[ADDRESS – you need to include this to make clear you are a constituent]

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