Why have SNP MPs nominated a forced labour programme for the Nobel Peace Prize?

Why have SNP MPs nominated a forced labour programme for the Nobel Peace Prize?

by Peter Young
article from Wednesday 24, February, 2021

IS IT POSSIBLE to find a more unsuitable candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize than a forced labour programme of a communist state that is used to fund its efforts to repress its own citizenry and support like-minded dictatorshipsabroad? 

Why then have three prominent SNP MPs joined with all seven Sinn Fein MPs as well as Jeremy Corbyn and a host of others on the hard left to nominate Cuba’s notorious ‘slave doctor’ programme for the prize? 

These prominent SNP MPs, Kenny McAskill, Angus MacNeil and Chris Stephens, are not ill-informed juniors who can be persuaded to sign up to any old cause without checking it. MacAskill served as Scotland’s justice secretary for seven years, and MacNeil, in Parliament since 2005, is Chairman of the International Trade Committee. Stephens, amazingly, is Shadow SNP Spokesperson for Fair Work and Employment. 

They should all know that Cuba’s medical exports are not some altruistic humanitarian endeavour but actually the main means by which the Cuban communist party keeps its bankrupt state afloat. In 2018, the last year in which the communist state published official data, its social and health service exports earned $6.4 billion – more than twice tourism revenues

The export of doctors started in the 1960s and by 2005 had become Cuba’s main source of revenue. 

Only in 2010 did the communists reveal the state secret that their regime was actually paid for these services, but falsely claimed the objective was to fund the country’s health system. However, as the specialist research organisation Cuba Archive has revealed, in 2018 only 1.5 per cent ($96.9 million) of those medical export revenues were invested in health and social assistance in the country, despite a collapse of the Cuban healthcare system.  

In fact diverting medical resources abroad has contributed to the massive underinvestment in Cuba’s health system, which suffers from decaying and unhygienic facilities and a lack of basic medical supplies and equipment. Many medicines such as antibiotics are unavailable, as admitted by the country’s own Minister for Health. Patients seeking antibiotics and painkillers are told to rest instead. One family doctor has said his first task of the day is to get 3 buckets of water for use in his clinic. 

In contrast to the £64,786 average base salary of a British GP, doctors in Cuba earn the pitiful amount of £620 per annum, barely enough to survive.  Many therefore succumb to pressure or coercion from the state to participate in overseas ‘medical missions’ where they can earn a hard currency “bonus” of around US$50-$200 monthly, which is deposited into an account in a Cuban state bank, only accessible when they return to Cuba at the end of the ‘mission’. This $50-$200 per month accounts for only 5-20 per cent of the amount that the Cuban state is paid by the host country in unusual and generally secret contracts. The rest is used to prop up the Cuban regime. A survey of doctors sent overseas revealed that many went because they feared retaliation by Cuban authorities. Others said they joined in the hope of leaving the country or of obtaining access to food, such as meat, which they cannot afford to buy with their salaries in Cuba. 

As Human Rights Watch has recently documented, the doctors are basically treated as prisoners while overseas, facing criminal penalties if they “abandon” their jobs, being disciplined for being “friends” with people who hold “hostile or contrary views to the Cuban revolution,” and forced to undertake political and intelligence duties. They are not allowed to bring their families with them who are effectively held hostage in Cuba. Their freedom of movement and expression is controlled. In November 2019, the UN special rapporteurs on contemporary forms of slavery used the words ‘forced labour’ to describe the scheme.  

As SNP Spokesperson for Fair Work and Employment does Chris Stephens think that these terms are fair? 

622 Cuban medics have filed a case against Cuba at the International Criminal Court stating that they are subject to modern slavery. "It's slavery! " a doctor serving in Venezuela testified, "because exploitation you can accept or not, for whatever reason. But not slavery: it's like being a prisoner. And there I felt enslaved. We were slaves!" 

This is the system described by Kenny MacAskill MP in his Nobel Prize nomination as “humanity and medicine in essence and at its finest”. 

Is it appropriate for the SNP to keep the Whip for supporters of a totalitarian communist state, which imprisons and tortures opponents, prevents free expressionbans independent trade unionsdiscriminates against gays and lesbians and only allows communists to serve in parliament? Angus MacNeil is a long-standing fan of Cuba.  He described Fidel Castro as “a nationalist symbol of regional pride and defiance against the gringo superpower.” 

It is reasonable to conclude that the SNP supporters of the Cuban dictatorship would favour the imposition of a similar system in Scotland. Take elections to parliament for example. In Cuba these involve confirmation of individuals selected by communist party organisations, based on criteria such as their “merit, patriotism, ethical values and revolutionary history.” Would the SNP favour such an approach in Scotland? 

Let’s take justice, a subject that Mr MacAskill should be familiar with. 

The judiciary in Cuba is directly subordinate to the Communist-controlled National Assembly and the Communist Party, which can remove or appoint judges at any time. Judicial decisions are dominated by political considerations, and there is no separation of powers between the judicial system, the Communist Party, and the Council of State. 

Cuban law provides for a maximum four-year preventive detention of individuals not charged with an actual crime, with a subjective determination of “pre-criminal dangerousness,” defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms.” The regime uses such detention to silence peaceful political opponents.  Many Cuban human rights groups have published lists of persons they consider as political prisoners who are imprisoned under the “pre-criminal dangerousness” provision of the law. 

Imprisoning people who they think could be dangerous to them might be a useful policy in an SNP-run state, but does the SNP support such measures?  The party’s toleration of MPs who are supporters of this system suggests at the least the SNP is unclear, particularly given that Chris Stephens is the party Spokesperson on Employment Rights.  

Clarity is needed from the SNP leadership as to whether supporters of totalitarianism are welcome in the party and whether the SNP favours any of the features of the Cuban system.  

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Peter Young is former Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute.

Photo image by by sezerozger from Adobe Stock 

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