Scotland does have a racism problem. Every country has one. There is, however, clear evidence that Scotland is a more tolerant and welcoming country than most and certainly more so than England.
In the Herald today, former Scottish Labour leader, Anas Sarwar suggests:
‘Scottish ‘myth-making hides’ country’s racism problem’
He has based his piece on a new academic book, ‘No Problem Here: Understanding Racism in Scotland’ which argues that the Remain majority north of the border on Brexit has given the exceptionalism myth a “new lease of life”.
The Herald report says:
‘The vote is routinely cited as evidence Scotland is inherently more welcoming to migrants. However, the book warns against such self-flattery and says a better Scotland “will only be built by confronting the evil of racism rather than pretending it does not exist”. ‘
I don’t pretend racism does not exist, but I do insist it is less typical of Scotland than it is of most other countries and I need no myths because I have the evidence:
First, with regard to anti-Irish sentiment, which the book authors insist is hidden from official statistics on racist attacks, by being classified as sectarianism, there is clear evidence to show that Scotland’s record here is of a far more benign form than found elsewhere even in Europe. For example, the people of Glasgow, in the 1840s, took in roughly 1000 refugees every day, fleeing the Irish Holocaust or the Great Famine as it was known. See this:
‘That so many people of one race could move more or less peacefully to another country where among other things, the religion was diametrically opposed to that of the majority of their own, must surely be a tribute to the Scot’s understanding, forbearance and tolerance. Many unkind things have been said about the lack of such qualities in Glasgow and Central Scotland, yet when compared with other nations where there have been similar displacements, they have certainly prevailed in Scotland. The ingredients for violence were all there, but it was never to erupt. Yet there were moments of open hostility, times of tension and trepidation when the bubble almost burst but didn’t.’
These words are from ‘Irish: A Remarkable Saga of a Nation and a City’ by John Burrowes (Mainstream Publishing, 2003, page 129). In ‘other nations’, he includes notably the USA where anti-Irish violence was widespread. I’ve only just finished reading it, after reading two other Christmas book token purchases – a History of the Balkans and a History of the Arabs. I read it last because I thought I knew more about its content than the others. I did know more, in a general sense, of what was in the story, but I hadn’t known the sheer scale and intensity of the migration. I found, reading the other two books, among much interesting detail, that the histories of the Balkans and of the Arabs were saturated with waves of blood-letting, with staggering cruelty and with endless suffering of the innocents, especially women and children.
Second, the current facts of racism in the UK are clear:
‘There were 3,349 [hate crime] charges reported [in Scotland] in 2016-17, 10 percent fewer than in 2015-16, and the lowest number reported since 2003-04.’
Remember these figures include anti-semitism (17), racism and attacks against English, East Europeans, catholics and presumably protestants too.
In England and Wales, however:
‘Hate crimes have rocketed by almost a third in the UK in the past year, with unprecedented spikes around the EU referendum and terror attacks recorded by police. New figures released by the Home Office confirm victims’ reports of a dramatic increase in incidents motivated by attackers’ hostility towards their race, nationality, religion or other factors. Data from police forces across England and Wales showed there were almost 80,400 hate crimes recorded in the 2016/17 financial year.’
Moving now to what has become Sarwar’s central concern, since he lost the Scottish Labour leadership contest, Islamophobia in Scotland.
Third, see this extract from a Scottish Government research survey in 2011:
‘In addition, Hussain and Miller (2004) argue that Muslims in Scotland are more likely to identify themselves as Scottish than Muslims in England are to identify as English (Hussain and Miller 2004, 2006). In their study, comparing experiences of Islamophobia and Anglophobia in Scotland, Hussain and Miller established that the Muslims interviewed found it very easy to identify with Scotland. They suggest this could be explained partly because their religious identity is seen as cultural and not territorial. This finding is supported by research conducted by Masud (2005) into the experiences of Muslims across Britain after the London bombings in 2005. In this research conducted across Scotland, “it was widely acknowledged and appreciated that compared with other parts of the country, especially England, Scotland was a tolerant place” (Masud 2005).’
Fourth, 1.8% of the prison population in Scotland is Muslim. This is broadly in proportion to the 1.45% of Scottish population which is Muslim, and in significant contrast to the very large figure of 13% for Muslim prisoners in England and Wales.
Fifth, notably, although Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are still over-represented in more deprived areas of Scotland, they are less likely to be living in such areas in Scotland than they are in England.
Sixth, Muslims in Scotland are fast becoming a highly-educated population – currently exceeding the total population figure for ‘degree level and above’ education by 10 percentage points.
Seventh, almost 1 in 3 (31%) of the Muslim population is ‘economically active’ full-time – whether as an employee, or self-employed. For the population as-a-whole, the figure is 51%. It is notable that both of these percentages are higher than the corresponding figures for England and Wales which are 19.8% for Muslims and 34.9% for the overall population
Eighth, comparisons with the Muslim population in England and Wales suggest that Muslims in Scotland are somewhat socio-economically better off.
Ninth, Transport Minister Humza Yousaf, MSP for Glasgow Pollok, first took his oath of allegiance in English and then in Urdu in the Scottish Parliament. Not something you can imagine in France.
Finally, see this:
‘Good community relations mean young Muslims in Scotland eschew extremism Unlike in England, there is mutual respect between the Scottish government, the Muslim communities and the police’
I think that’s enough evidence to dispose of Sarwar’s claim.
He may, however, have been the victim of racism within the Scottish Labour party. I have no evidence to contradict that notion.