Most work carried out under the UK Government’s ‘Prevent‘ counter terrorism strategy in Scotland is aimed at tackling sectarian and extreme right wing ideologies, according to a leaked email seen by The Ferret.
In a reply to concerns raised by staff over a Prevent workshop last September, City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) said in an email that “Scottish Government and Police Scotland have taken a very different approach” to England and Wales.
The email acknowledged staff concerns over Prevent “promoting islamophobia” and said: “Ironically in Scotland, the majority of work by Prevent is carried out tackling sectarian and extreme right wing ideologies.”
In response, critics said that the focus of Prevent in Scotland – as outlined in the email – was “scandalous” and that focusing on sectarianism risks doing “great harm” to society. But both CEC and the Scottish Government have insisted that Prevent does not target any particular group.
The Prevent scheme was established as part of the UK Government’s counter-terrorism policy to combat radicalisation and extremism, with public sector employees and educational institutions obliged to report suspicious behaviour.
But critics say it unfairly targets muslims and promotes islamaphobia. Prevent has been opposed by some Scottish organisations including the EIS, the teaching union, who said it threatened trust between teachers and pupils.
CEC’s leaked email said that although Prevent is part of the UK Government’s strategy for countering terrorism and extremism, the way it is put into action is devolved to the Scottish Government.
It added: “The Scottish Government and Police Scotland have taken a very different approach to how they implement it, you could say learning the lessons from England and Wales, and the council is no different.
“This approach follows a model based around the safeguarding of vulnerable people already promoted through the vast array of public protection processes the council provides. This workshop is purely there to allow our staff to have a level of awareness about this potential pathway to crime in addition to those already there such as through gangs, drugs, alcohol abuse etc.”
The email went on to say that CEC’s workshop focuses on “the underlying vulnerabilities and susceptibilities that we have a duty to recognise for all of our vulnerable clients”.
It added: “These could lead to any form of crime or harm to those individuals and certainly does not promote ‘how to identify a terrorist’ as that simply is not what this is about.”
Commenting on the email, Jim Slaven, of the James Connelly Society a working class organisation in Scotland with links to Ireland, said that such an approach does nothing to address “Scotland’s long standing problems with sectarianism and anti Irish racism”. He called for an immediate end to Prevent.
Slaven added that the definition being used by Prevent in Scotland is “instrumental in targeting specific groups and communities”.
He continued: “Politicians and senior police officers are quick to say Prevent is not aimed at the muslim community without offering clarity on who and what is being targeted in a Scottish context.
“For the Scottish Government to be quietly using the conflict in Ireland as a pretext for targeting the Irish community with Prevent, 20 years after the final IRA ceasefire, is scandalous. This repressive programme is also being disproportionately targeted at working class communities.”
Slaven added: “In fact it underlines the state’s reluctance to acknowledge their own role in these problems and their continued willingness to criminalise communities.”
Richard Haley, of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, also raised concerns and said the approach of Prevent is, at best, “ineffective”.
He added: “Whatever the council is targeting, the policy is poisoned by the way that Prevent downplays the political roots of terrorism and so-called ‘extremism’ and focuses on psychological and personal issues.
“This is no way to counter the reactionary, xenophobic and racist ideas that are gaining ground across Europe, and may gain ground in Scotland too. It will at best be ineffective. If applied to the issues surrounding protestant-catholic sectarianism in Scotland, it risks doing great harm to our society.”
Haley said that the growth of the far-right is “driven by islamophobia” and that, in his view, Prevent and related policing strategies are deterring muslims from participating in political activities that are not police-approved.
“It’s therefore very difficult for muslims to join with others in progressive, grassroots campaigns against racism and islamophobia,” he said, adding that the effect is that civil society’s capacity to resist the growth of the far-right is “holed below the waterline”.
“It’s a double-whammy, because at the same time as undermining the struggle against islamophobia, Prevent actively promotes an islamophobic culture of suspicion towards muslims,” he said.
Haley claimed that CEC’s email reveals that the council is not carrying out its statutory duty with regards to Prevent.
He said: “The council states that the aims of Prevent are now a statutory duty. It also states that a Prevent workshop, presumably provided for council staff, deals with vulnerabilities that ‘could lead to any form of crime or harm to those individuals and certainly does not promote ‘how to identify a terrorist’.”
Haley added that the email from the council – if it is an accurate reflection of official policy – suggests that CEC is instead engaging in some “additional activities”.
He said that he suspects that the real purpose of Prevent activity in Scotland is “just to use any convenient activities as a screen for building the networks, infrastructure and habits needed to monitor and supervise its traditional target, the muslim community”.
This is the community, he continued, that the government “associates with terrorism”, and especially with what it calls “international terrorism.”
However, CEC denied that specific groups were being targeted.
A council spokesperson, said: “The guidance for specified Scottish authorities on their duty regarding the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 is to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.
“The Prevent Duty Guidance for Scotland references the threat from all risks of terrorism and includes several examples but does not target any particular group. We train appropriate staff on a standard training product, which was developed by the Home Office.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said that any suggestion that any particular community is specifically targeted by its delivery of the counter-terrorism strategy is “completely unfounded”.
The spokesperson added: “We are committed to working with communities and partner agencies to safeguard vulnerable individuals from radicalisation – and a concerted effort has been made to position Prevent in a Scottish context, reflecting the specific challenges faced in Scotland.
“In Scotland we work to address all forms of violent extremist activity, no matter what the ideology, and the focus is on the early identification of risk.”
The Times Educational Supplement (TES) revealed recently that since April 2015, there have been 131 referrals under the Prevent scheme. About half of the above referrals involved people under the age of 19 years old including a child aged just nine years old.
In January, The Ferret revealed that just three people in Scotland had been referred into the Prevent scheme since it began.
But new figures published by the TES just three months later, claimed that 131 people had been involved in the programme, suggesting that the scheme has seen a considerable growth in referrals in 2017.