Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 18th March 2015.

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Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I am delighted to be able to speak in this important debate. I thank Jean Urquhart for lodging the motion and, if I may say so, for delivering an eloquent speech in introducing it. The Scottish Government will support her motion and all the amendments.

It is important that, from all sides of the chamber, we send a loud and clear message from this Parliament about the need for diversity, the need to treat immigrants properly and the need to treat one another fairly. As Jean Urquhart finished up by saying, at the end of the day we all live together on this planet. Scotland has been described by Tom Devine, our most eminent historian, as a mongrel nation, and that is the kind of spirit in which we are conducting the debate.

I start by emphasising the Scottish Government’s view that diversity is a strength and something that should be celebrated and welcomed. Scotland is becoming a more ethnically diverse country. The emergence of an increasingly multi-ethnic population has been warmly welcomed by the Scottish Government for a number of reasons. It helps with the growth and prosperity of our country and gives rise to a younger workforce, many members of which have international connections, which in turn boosts innovation and enterprise. More important, it enriches our culture, creates a more diverse Scotland and helps to ensure that our dynamic, progressive country continues to evolve.

Our work to create an equal Scotland reflects that diversity. We want to ensure that all people who live here can flourish, regardless of race, religion or any other differentiating characteristic. Despite the cuts that we have suffered in recent years, between 2012 and 2015 we have provided more than £60 million of funding from the equality budget to help tackle inequality and discrimination. More than £8 million of that money supports initiatives that address issues of racial equality.

Celebratory events such as last year’s multicultural homecoming programme and this week’s Islam awareness week provide us all with fantastic opportunities to meet and learn about one another and, even more important—as Jean Urquhart said—to learn from one another. They help to dispel ignorance, to break down stereotypes and to challenge and change attitudes by celebrating equality and diversity.

Scotland is a multifaith and multicultural country. There is no place for prejudice or discrimination, either in Scotland or in any other part of the world. Everyone without exception deserves to be treated fairly and to be able to achieve their potential in the place where they live. Like Jean Urquhart, we challenge the claims that were made in last week’s BBC Scotland poll that suggested that attitudes to immigration are similar on both sides of the border. I think that there is clear evidence that a much more tolerant approach is taken in Scotland than in other parts of the UK.

Scotland needs immigrants because of our ageing population and to fill skills gaps. It is not simply a case of welcoming immigrants; we need them. We were able temporarily—as an exception to reserved work permit rules—to allow people who graduated from Scottish universities to remain in Scotland for a short period to get work experience. That highlights the importance of the Scottish Government being able to set a different policy on immigration to meet the needs of Scotland. We would like a similar plan to be instated by the UK Government.

We will always welcome people who want to come and live in Scotland. We know that minority ethnic people still experience barriers or negative attitudes that result in unequal opportunities, and that racism and discrimination come in many shapes and forms. None of us can afford to be complacent about the outstanding challenges that we face, given that such backward attitudes still exist to some degree. Racial discrimination and harassment are still too common an experience for minority ethnic people in Scotland today. That treatment can range from verbal abuse to sickening acts of extreme violence.

David Coburn MEP’s shameful comparing of Humza Yousaf to the convicted terrorist Abu Hamza is nothing short of disgraceful. [Applause.] His totally unacceptable smear cannot be excused as UKIP banter or a joke. It is racist, it is Islamophobic, it is just plain wrong and it has rightly been condemned by all parties in the Parliament. I therefore hope that the amendment in my name about David Coburn will be agreed to unanimously. David Coburn does not represent the views of the Scottish people, and I think that, as an MEP for Scotland, he should seriously consider his position. There is no place in Scotland or elsewhere for the depiction of Muslim people as terrorists.

I also very much welcome Jean Urquhart’s comments about xenophobia and particularly the launch of her not my xenophobia campaign. It is too easy for the media and politicians to make xenophobic and deeply offensive comments without being called to account for them, and this campaign can make a great contribution to tackling the issue by highlighting such comments and forcing those who make them to face up to what they have done. I very much hope that that will make them think about the consequences of their actions and make them change their future behaviour.

In our work to develop a new strategic approach to race equality in Scotland, one of our priorities will be to tackle discrimination and hate crime to ensure that everyone is free to fulfil their potential. We will focus on shifting negative attitudes, celebrating the different contributions that people make in Scotland, fostering good relations and tackling discrimination, racism and hate crime.

I hope that my opening remarks have made clear the central importance of race equality and Scotland’s diverse communities to the Scottish Government. However, although we have made some good progress, there is much more that needs to be done. I welcome opportunities such as this to progress this important work, and I look forward to continuing to work in partnership with our key stakeholders, including all parties in this chamber, and communities over the coming year.

I move amendment S4M-12677.2, to insert at end:

“, and unites in condemning the recent comments by David Coburn MEP”.