"Misleading Fantasy" that Scotland has no problem with racism

Published: 8 May 2018

The belief that Scotland is immune to racism and ‘culturally different’ to England is a ‘misleading fantasy’, MSPs on the Cross-Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia will be told.

The belief that Scotland is immune to racism and ‘culturally different’ to England is a ‘misleading fantasy’, MSPs on the Cross-Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia will be told.

A new book, edited by experts from the University of Glasgow, will be launched at the meeting on Wednesday 9 May 2018; it dismisses the idea there is ‘no problem here’ regarding racism in Scotland.

It claims Brexit has given this ‘myth’ a ‘new lease of life’ with a sense of ‘Scottish exceptionalism’ – that people in Scotland are different from the English.

The book argues ‘a better Scotland will only be built by confronting the evil of racism rather than pretending it does not exist’.

No Problem Here: Understanding Racism in Scotland’ book cover 700

The book, ‘No Problem Here: Understanding Racism in Scotland’ , includes:

  • Analysis revealing the per capita rate of murders with a known or suspected race element in Scotland was higher than in the rest of the UK between 2000 and 2013 (1.8 murders per million people compared to 1.3).*
  • Data highlighting that black and minority ethnic (BAME) applicants for large public sector organisations have a 1.1 per cent chance of being appointed, compared to 8.1 per cent for their white counterparts.**
  • Reports of discrimination towards BAME groups when using public transport and health care in Scotland.***
  • Warnings that racism against Catholics from Irish backgrounds is not taken seriously enough because it is classed as ‘sectarianism’ rather than racism.****

Anas Sarwar, chair of the Cross-Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia, said: “Scotland is an open and diverse country, but we should never allow our national pride to blind us to the fact that good and bad people live everywhere. In recent years we have seen the rise of Scottish exceptionalism – the idea that somehow just because we are Scottish and live in Scotland we’re less intolerant than our neighbours.

“It is not talking Scotland down to expose this myth. We cannot hope to eradicate everyday sexism and homophobia, everyday racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, unless we acknowledge that it exists in our workplaces, university and college campuses and playgrounds across the country.

“Our task is to make the unconscious bias conscious, so that people can challenge themselves and then as a country we can aim to defeat prejudice in the long-term.”

Neil Davidson, lecturer in sociology with the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Glasgow and one of the editors of No Problem Here, said: “The idea that there is 'no problem', or at least much less of a problem, has grown for three reasons. One is that the Irish-Catholic presence - the largest ever migrant group to settle in Scotland - tends to be discussed in the context of ‘sectarianism’, a concept which treats Catholics and Protestants as equivalent and ignore the racism directed towards the former.

“The second is the relatively small size of the migration to Scotland from the Indian sub-continent and especially from the Caribbean - which did not mean that migrants did not suffer racism, just that it was much less visible than in Birmingham or London.

“Finally, the movements for devolution and independence have involved the idea that Scotland is 'culturally' different from England, and that part of this difference involves the Scots being more 'welcoming', 'tolerant' and so on. The editors and contributors to our book think these are misleading fantasies, which ignore the historical experience of Irish Catholics and the contemporary experience of Muslims, Roma and other BAME groups. 

“Whatever our views on Scottish independence, a better Scotland will only be built by confronting the evil of racism rather than pretending it does not exist.”

Carol Young, senior policy officer for the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER), writes in the book: "There’s a perception that Scotland has less of a problem with racism than other areas of the UK, perhaps best summed up by the phrase ‘we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns’."

“But regardless of popular opinion, the statistics suggest otherwise. Between 2000 and 2013, the per capita rate of murders with a known or suspected racist element in Scotland was higher than in the rest of the UK – 1.8 murders per million people in the population compared to 1.3.* In 2013–2014, 4,807 racist incidents were recorded by police in Scotland. That’s the equivalent of 92 incidents every week, without accounting for the many cases that go unreported.

“You could be white skinned, and still identifiably minority ethnic in many circumstances. Skin tone has not protected Jewish people, Irish people, Gypsy/Traveller communities or new European migrants from racism.”

*Carol Young - Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, Ten true things we need to say about racism in Scotland. Glasgow: CRER, 2015;

Further excerpts from No Problem Here: Racism in Scotland, by Neil Davidson (Author, Editor), Minna Liinpaa (Editor), Maureen McBride (Editor), Satnam Virdee (Editor). Published by Luath Press:-

Jatin Haria: “For all other sectors [apart from the NHS], the disparity between the percentage of applicants from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds and the percentage subsequently shortlisted was stark (for example, in Police Forces, 27.8 per cent of white applicants were shortlisted, but only 19.4 per cent of non-White applicants were). The inequality of outcomes for black and minority ethnic short-listed candidates being appointed compared to their white counterparts was even more blatant. It would be reasonable to assume that candidates who have been shortlisted have met the minimum requirements of the person specification for advertised posts, so certain factors (e.g. experience or qualification requirements) can be discounted for in attempting to explain the difference in outcomes. But there must be reasons as to why, for example, as our research found, only 17.7 per cent of race, ethnicity and employment in Scotland non-white people interviewed for local authority jobs were appointed, compared to a figure of 31.9 per cent for white interviewees. The compounded disparity between white and non-white applicants who are shortlisted and then appointed leads to a situation where (according to the 2011/12 data) 7.1 per cent of all white applicants for public sector posts went on to be appointed, but where only 4.4 per cent of non-white applicants got appointed. This figure is at its starkest in large public sector organisations – where Black and minority ethnic applicants only had a 1.1 per cent chance of being subsequently appointed, compared to 8.1 per cent for their white counterparts. Even within local authorities, white applicants are almost three times more likely to be successful in securing a post than non-white applicants – 6.1 per cent compared to 2.1 per cent.' ... 'The figures showing white applicants in some public bodies are almost three times more likely to be successful in securing a post than non-white applicants clearly show that the positive action that is in place is in fact positive discrimination in favour of white people! That is the problem.”

**Jatin Haria - Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, State of the Nation 2014: Employment. Glasgow: CRER, 2014.
'165 organisations were surveyed, using Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation; we understood that employment data for most education authorities, community justice authorities and licensing boards were combined with the local council data so these were not separately approached.' The research also drew on the 2011 Census and the SPICe Briefing, Ethnicity and Employment. Edinburgh: Scottish Parliament, 2015.

***Nasar Meer: '... Scotland has more of a problem with racial discrimination than some UK data would have us believe – to the extent that UK wide surveys can be misleading in telling a story about Scotland. The areas in which BAME groups are reporting experiencing discrimination is not restricted to a single area: e.g., the labour market, but includes the use of public transport and health care. There is clearly a significant problem of under-reporting, yet the striking finding is that this is not about alienation but instead more about BAME groups in Scotland living with and negotiating race across the social field. If a Scottish approach is to develop beyond progressive political rhetoric (which is not without value), then it should begin with ensuring that existing statutory commitments are more consistently put into practice, especially in terms of the Equality Duty, not least by making full operational use of existing instruments.'

****Maureen McBride: “It could be argued that claims of anti-Irish racism (both historically and today) are not taken seriously because race is still very much seen as being aligned to colour differences, despite the challenge to the black-white dichotomy for understanding racism in more recent years…
“Research suggests that Irish Catholics in Scotland are highly unlikely to experience structural discrimination or widespread prejudice on account of their perceived ‘race’ in the way that, for example, African Americans in the United States or British Muslims still experience...

“However, if this concern leads us to neglect the lived experiences of a minority group because of their apparent ‘whiteness’, there is the potential that we create or reinforce ‘hierarchies of oppression’…

“It is… possible (and likely) that intolerance and prejudice do not disappear even if the mechanisms for preserving economic advantage are no longer there. The residual prejudice may not be sufficient to reproduce structures of domination, but may play out in other ways, affecting the everyday lives of Catholics from Irish backgrounds.

“The rest of this chapter will explore some examples of this. In early 2011, a campaign of hate towards certain high-profile figures in Scotland was the subject of intense media focus. Neil Lennon, the then Celtic manager, received death threats and, along with two Celtic players (also Catholics from Northern Ireland), received bullets in the post."

First published: 8 May 2018

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