SPSC Statement, 1 August 2023
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) welcomes the decision of the Scottish Government to recommend to the Scottish Parliament to refuse to give consent to the UK’s Anti-Boycott (Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters)) Bill following an SPSC campaign that included letters to the First Minister by constituents.
When the Bill was tabled by the Tory government at Westminster, SPSC wrote to urge Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf to refuse consent to the Bill under the Sewel Convention should it be passed at Westminster. Four days later, the Scottish Government lodged a ‘legislative consent memorandum’ encouraging the Scottish Parliament to refuse consent to the Bill.
The Anti-Boycott Bill was first raised in the 2019 Queen’s Speech for Boris Johnson’s government as ‘Boycotts by Public Institutions’. It is clearly aimed as an attack on the ongoing success of the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, a campaign called for by Palestinian civil society. SPSC immediately launched a petition to the Scottish Parliament opposing the Bill in Scotland.
SPSC highlighted that a key aim of this Bill is to protect the apartheid state of Israel, an ally of the UK government, drawing attention to the value and urgent need for BDS as a non-violent means of isolating Israel while it continues to violate international law and Palestinian human rights.
In response to SPSC’s petition, the Scottish Government confirmed “we do not wish to mandate how Scottish public institutions, organisations or individuals approach this issue [Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel]. We would, therefore, strongly encourage the UK Government to develop their legislation in a manner which restricts the scope of application, and respect the autonomy of Scottish institutions in making decision on this issue”.
The Scottish Government is following through on this by lodging the legislative consent memorandum.
‘The UK Government’s approach to apartheid government in South Africa, refusing to condemn it when others were actively boycotting it, demonstrates the danger inherent in this restriction. We are rightly proud of those in Scotland who took a stand against apartheid. Under the provisions of this Bill, many of them would have been silenced. For a Government to outlaw the expression of ideas different to its own is wholly unjustifiable and entirely incompatible with the notion that we live in a functioning democracy.’
Although clearly aimed at the BDS campaign for Palestinian human rights, the Bill would affect public bodies’ decisions to divest from international companies complicit in climate change, the arms trade and modern slavery. The Bill would infringe on devolution and the Scottish Government’s jurisdiction over Scottish public bodies. For ethical, legal and democratic reasons, public bodies in Scotland need to retain the ability to participate in BDS.
The Anti-Boycott Bill is a clear attempt by the UK government to back Israel’s apartheid regime and its murderous persecution of the Palestinian people at a time when the killing of Palestinians by Israeli settlers and occupation forces has reached unprecedented levels. The Scottish Government is right to take a stand against consenting to such an iniquitous piece of legislation.