Liberal values in UK and EU are under threat with repressive legislation, scapegoating of minorities and odious border regimes – Kenny MacAskill MP

A dark cloud hangs over our democracy and it’s not restricted to actions abroad taken by totalitarian or authoritarian regimes.

Pope Francis meets refugees at a reception centre on the island of Lesbos during a visit to Greece, when he called for better treatment of migrants by European countries (Picture: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images)
Pope Francis meets refugees at a reception centre on the island of Lesbos during a visit to Greece, when he called for better treatment of migrants by European countries (Picture: Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images)

Internal repression, as well as brutality, has been a hallmark of China and Russia. It’s grim and worrying, we know all that.

But western democracy was supposed to be not just an alternative but a beacon of hope for those trapped within such regimes. It was about rising above their actions and showing there was a better and fairer way of running your society and acting towards others. For sure, not everything was perfect, but it was still a better way and one that people strived not only to uphold but improve.

It’s not been easy, and mistakes have been made and actions tolerated or ignored that shouldn’t have been. But still the flame that was western democracy burnt bright and the better and fairer world that a world war was fought for was sustained.

Now though it’s being undermined from within as much as challenged from without. It’s also not restricted to a handful of Brexiteer zealots in the UK or a few odious but also democratically elected regimes like Viktor Orban’s in the EU. It’s becoming far more widespread and what’s worse it’s becoming normalised. The lights aren’t going to go out overnight or an iron curtain suddenly descend across the channel or even the EU borders, but it’s a dimming of the candle all the same and its dark and insidious.

Westminster’s now awash with repressive legislation and proposals that are frankly undemocratic. Those by Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, to restrict the powers of judges to challenge government actions strike at the heart of the separation of powers.

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It’s an abuse that ranks along with Trump’s packing of the US Supreme Court with compliant lightweights. It undermines an independent judiciary that’s required in any democracy. Judicial review of ministers’ decisions is a fundamental right that’s even more essential in the absence of a written constitution. Of course, it’s hard for governments but being in power in a democracy is meant to be challenging, not unchallenged.

Priti Patel has usually been the outlier in invoking restrictions that impinge on core beliefs. Sections in the Policing Bill on powers over demonstrations are out of the playbook of those we’ve always sought to disdain in the democratic world.

The scapegoating of minorities such as the traveller community is against values to which we’ve sought to adhere for generations. Compounding that are the actions against immigrants and asylum seekers. A better way this is not, even if steps do need taken. There are ways to protect borders but still mitigate hardship for the desperate.

But before it’s all blamed on Brexit zealots, let’s remember that the EU is also failing. The Orbans have been tolerated and there are border regimes as odious as Patel’s. Thank goodness for Pope Francis.

But more people need to speak out, both in the UK and the EU, before it’s too late. This is about defending the values that are supposed to define us.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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