Covid-19: BAME Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:31 pm on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities) 4:31 pm, 18th June 2020

I encourage anybody here or watching at home who missed the opening speech by Dawn Butler to catch up on it, because that would be very worthwhile. It was a really interesting and informative speech.

I have been self-certifying. The fact that I am here is an indication of how strongly I feel about this subject matter. I speak as the SNP’s women and equalities spokes- person in Westminster, as the MP for Glasgow North East—one of the most ethnically diverse constituencies in Scotland—and as an ally. I have no illusion: I will not and should not be leading a campaign against racism; I should be supporting those who experience racism. That is not me, and it is never going to be me.

This report has brought into sharp focus the institutional racism that exists on these islands, so race and racism are what I want to look at. I will focus on three main things. First, I will say something about Scotland, the SNP and race. Secondly, I want to look back in time and cover a bit of history. The third and final thing I will talk about is what I am going to do about it, how I am going to be an ally and how I am going to support BAME leaders in the fight against racism.

Starting with Scotland and the SNP, here are the good bits. The SNP Government and Parliament clearly stood last week in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The SNP Government have put equality and human rights at the heart of their response to coronavirus, and Nicola Sturgeon today announced further analysis of the impact on people from BAME communities in Scotland. Christine Jardine is not in her place, but she mentioned the National Records of Scotland figures. So far, the Scottish Government have looked at figures for those who are very sick with covid-19 and in hospital, and an expansion of that was announced today.

The SNP provided the first Muslim Member of the Scottish Parliament, the late, great Bashir Ahmad; I cannot look at my colleagues here, because we will all get emotional. Political leaders in Scotland have long spoken positively and often about migrant communities in Scotland, and that has an impact on the population. They did it when it was not popular to do it, but it does rub off on the population, and this Government might want to take note of that.

I turn now to the not-so-good bits. As a party, we have not built on Bashir Ahmad’s legacy. We have one BAME Member of the Scottish Parliament: Humza Yousaf. He is the Justice Secretary, and he is doing a brilliant job. But even he, speaking in the Black Lives Matter debate in the Scottish Parliament last week, checked his own privilege and noted that there are no BAME women in the Scottish Parliament. That is odd, because I know so many who would do a fantastic job in that Parliament. He did that in a very honest speech, in which he also listed all the areas of public life where white people are at the top—I am struggling to think of one where they were not—and I was absolutely horrified.

Humza Yousaf also recently ordered a public inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh, whose family have waited five years to know how he died in police custody, and he instructed the inquiry to look at whether race played a part. Sheku’s family should not have had to wait five years for that inquiry to be announced, so we do have things that we have to face up to in Scotland.

Looking to the future, I feel a little more positive than I once did. A week ago last Monday, the SNP’s black, Asian and minority ethnic convenor organised a Zoom meeting. At two days’ notice, 127 BAME people signed up for it, 22 SNP MPs—we only invited SNP MPs, so do not worry; we are not competing—12 SNP MSPs and 12 councillors. That was at two days’ notice, and our job was to listen. We were not allowed to speak other than to say our names. Our job was to listen to everybody and hear what they had to say, and we will be building on that—or they will be building on that, and we will be supporting.

I wish to look a little at the history, which I talked about. There are a number of petitions and campaigns about teaching black history in schools. I have long supported that—in fact, I have spoken about it in this place—and I will explain why. I am confident that this is one very significant way to eradicate racism. Children are not born racist, and when they first become aware of it they find it very difficult to understand. It is not their instinct to be racist, and then they are taught it. If they go through nursery and school with positive role models from all ethnicities, and if their school books reflect those positive role models, they are far less likely to be able to be taught to be racist.

I have spoken to teachers who care deeply about this matter who told me that schools already teach about racism, as they should, but it others people and it portrays those classmates as victims. That is not to say that people are not victims of racism, but there is so much more that we could be doing to stop it in the first place. One of those things is looking at a positive role models in history and demonstrating that the ethnicity of the people who built these islands and this world is many and varied. One of them, whom I talk about a lot and who now has a statue across the road, is Mary Seacole.

The third and final thing that I want to cover— Oh, I have more time than I thought, so actually I will talk about positive images.