Scotland politics

Scotland's tolerance reputation 'a myth'

Refugees welcome protestors Image copyright PA
Image caption The book's authors accept that the political debate around immigration in Scotland is generally "healthier" than at Westminster

The belief that Scotland is more welcoming to immigrants than the rest of the UK is a "misleading fantasy", the authors of a new book have claimed.

The academics behind the book point to discrimination against Irish Catholics over the past 200 years as evidence.

And they argue that similar discrimination is continuing against eastern Europeans, gypsy/travellers, Muslims and other ethnic groups.

They will present their findings to a committee of MSPs on Wednesday.

The authors of No Problem Here: Understanding Racism in Scotland claim black and minority ethnic (BAME) applicants for large public sector organisations had a 1.1% chance of being appointed, compared to 8.1% for their white counterparts.

And they said Scotland had a higher rate of murders that were known or suspected to have a racist element than the rest of the UK, at 1.8 murders per million people compared to 1.3 between 2000 and the 2013.

But they argue that Scotland's vote to remain in the European Union in the 2016 referendum has given the "myth" that the country is not racist a "new lease of life".

Neil Davidson, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Glasgow and one of the book's editors, said he believed there were three major reasons why this "myth" had been created.

  • Firstly, discrimination against Irish Catholics - the largest group to have migrated to Scotland - has historically been classed as "sectarianism" rather than "racism".
  • Mr Davidson also said far fewer people from the Indian subcontinent and the Caribbean had migrated to Scotland than to England after World War Two, meaning racism towards them was "less visible" and "tended to feed the idea that there wasn't a problem here".
  • And finally, he said the movements for devolution and independence have promoted "Scottish exceptionalism" - the idea that the country is "culturally different" from England, with one of those differences being that "we are not racist and a lot of English people are".

Speaking to the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Davidson said the book aimed to address the "fantasy" that "somehow Scotland is different in this respect".

He added: "Just take one figure - in the year 2013/14 there were just under 5,000 racial attacks in Scotland. That is about 92 a week, and as we demonstrate in the book there's a massive under-reporting of these kind of incidents."

Crime statistics

However, official crime statistics published last year said there were 3,349 racial offences reported in Scotland in 2016/17 - 10% fewer than the previous year and the lowest number since 2003/04.

But the number of racial offences in England and Wales increased from 35,944 in 2011/12 to 68,685 in 2016/17.

Mr Davidson acknowledged that the political debate around immigration at Holyrood was "healthier" than that at Westminster, with a much more welcoming attitude to migrants from all of the major parties.

But he said that this did not mean that problems did not exist in wider Scottish society, and claimed there were still "institutional barriers" to black and ethnic minority people getting certain kinds of jobs.

He added: "Our findings would suggest there is still hostility to migrants in certain parts of Scotland and that is not necessarily to do with skin colour - it is often directed towards eastern Europeans who are white, of course, just as the Irish Catholics were 200 years ago."

He will present the book's findings to Holyrood's Cross-Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia on Wednesday.

Labour MSP Anas Sarwar, the group's chairman, said Scotland was an open and diverse country, but that national pride should not "blind us to the fact that good and bad people live everywhere.

He added: "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."

SNP MSP Ivan McKee, the deputy convener of the group, said: "We have never shied away from the fact that Scotland is no more immune from Islamophobia and racism than anywhere else and that this serious problem must be tackled head-on.

"We need to keep standing up against racism in all its forms across Scotland."

And Scottish Conservative equalities spokeswoman Annie Wells warned against a "head-in-the-sand approach" to racism which "breeds complacency and resentment".

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