Heartening though it was to see the community rally to prevent the deportation of two Afghan men, the Scottish government’s impotence was cruelly exposed and the police role in immigration issues will require consideration and sensitive handling.
I doubt very much that it was orchestrated deliberately by the Home Office. In my experience, these things are more often accidental or clumsy, rather than deliberate.
But it was an early portent of things to come. The First Minister wasn’t allowed any time to bask in the glory of her election victory. Instead an early message was sent about “know yer place Jock”.
Immigration is, of course, a reserved matter and the power of Westminster was again shown with neither deference, nor even a “by your leave”, to the First Minister.
For it was in her constituency, home to a large immigrant community, and on Eid, a sacred date for Muslims. None of that caused even a momentary pause for thought by the UK Border Force.
On they pressed and a police service largely posted missing at some previous Glasgow events was on hand and in considerable force, as horses and riot vehicles showed.
It was to all intents and purposes the political tanks on the First Minister’s lawn. Reports that frantic calls by her and the Justice Secretary were largely ignored seem accurate.
After all, it’s always been that way. On issues reserved to Westminster, UK departments refuse to correspond with MSPs, even if they’re ministers. Belatedly having an opportunity to express outrage or concern to a UK minister is no comfort, as a deaf ear will be turned or if not, at most, a reminder given of who runs what.
It was a clear reminder to Nicola Sturgeon that she might have won an election, but the UK’s still in charge.
But where does that leave the SNP administration? If even a phone call won’t be taken by a department, so much for Boris blinking and giving in to demands for a section 30 order to allow a second independence referendum.
It’s an early repudiation of any respect agenda and sets the tone for the Prime Minister’s discussions with the devolved governments. There’s good reason for further devolution of powers from London, not just to Scotland and Wales but the English regions. But as the events in her own constituency show, the First Minister’s in office but not in charge.
And where stands policing? Laws whether from Holyrood or Westminster require to be enforced. But what happens when there’s a clear policy divide between governments?
Maybe it’s time the Scottish Police Authority intervened. The Justice Secretary cannot direct the Chief Constable and rightly so, but the SPA hold him to account.
UK Border Force officers are entitled to protection but, as at Kenmure Street, public safety’s an override.
The SPA appointed to ensure good governance but also to address political issues such as this. Perhaps it’s time they interceded to oversee protocols; policing requires it.
Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian