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

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Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

We are very happy to support the motion and the other amendments.

The American author, poet and civil rights campaigner Maya Angelou famously noted:

“in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

I do not think that the vast numbers of people who walked the streets of Glasgow during the Commonwealth games and Scotland’s festivals last year could possibility disagree with that, such was the rich display of cultural and social diversity.

In particular, I was struck by what was happening in many of Glasgow’s schools, in which pupils speak a multitude of different languages nowadays. They celebrated diversity and worked towards improving cultural awareness. Indeed, some adults have much to learn from those children, who intuitively reject insularity, prejudice and intolerance of the way that others choose to live their lives.

I note exactly what Jean Urquhart’s motion says and I have every sympathy with her sentiments, especially about the repugnant comments—as the minister has said, they are repugnant—from David Coburn, which have absolutely no place in any democratic society. However, we have to be very careful not to imply that it is all the sections of the media and politicians who are making the inflammatory remarks about immigration and immigrants, because that is not true. Indeed, in recent weeks there have been some measured debates about immigration, which is clearly a very difficult issue. We need to respect that. It is true that there has been some completely unacceptable media sensationalism and a very small minority of politicians have undoubtedly made completely unacceptable remarks over the years, but they are not the majority by any means. That is demonstrated in the Scottish Parliament. We lodged our amendment to provide that balance.

Ken Macintosh rightly said that immigration is a sensitive topic. Anything that we can do to ensure that our debate is based on fact and good-quality evidence is helpful.

The analysis of the 2013 British social attitudes survey showed that the lowest level of racial prejudice in the country was in London, which is the most culturally diverse city in the UK. Furthermore, the survey highlighted that the largest rises in racial prejudice over the previous decade occurred in Scotland and north-east England, which are the areas with the lowest levels of diversity. Indeed, London was the only area with falling racial prejudice over the previous decade. Perhaps that tells us something, but it hides substantial regional variations. We have to be very careful about how we temper the debate.

The main message of the pupils I met in Glasgow was that they were clear that it is usually ignorance about other cultures that leads to intolerance. They were in no doubt whatsoever about the importance of education when it comes to a better understanding and to dismissing the stereotypes that can be so harmful and become the nourishment of the bigots and the racists.

I had the privilege to be in Parliament on Saturday morning to witness the model United Nations, and I was very impressed by the young people who were debating what to do about the current issues in Islam. They spoke with tremendous affection for Islam and their understanding was far greater than that of many who have taken to the newspapers and social media in recent times. There was a genuine understanding about the cohesive society that we are all seeking.

How diverse are our communities in Scotland? The short answer across the board is that they are not particularly diverse. The 2011 census showed a doubling since 2001 of Scotland’s minority ethnic population to 4 per cent, which is less than one third of England and Wales’s ethnic minority population. Of course, that hides the regional disparities.

One of the things that we can do is lead by example. I am absolutely convinced that the reason for bringing the motion to Parliament and the reason why we have had such an unnecessarily inflamed debate about the topic is because people have not been careful about the language that they have used. They have been guilty of an intolerance that has no place in a democratic society.

We have to be mindful of what we are seeking to do. This is perhaps one of the most complicated and complex political issues that we have to deal with. That makes it even more important that, rather than being carried along on a tide of emotion, we speak with tolerance, understanding and the ability to seek out the facts.

We are happy to support the motion and the other amendments.

I move amendment S4M-12677.1, to leave out from “in the media” to end and insert:

“within some quarters of the media and politics toward immigration and immigrants; is concerned about the divisive impact of such attitudes, especially during election campaigns; notes that the Scottish population is comprised of a rich mix of peoples and cultures from all over the world who are an integral part of the Scottish identity, and therefore believes that there should be recognition of the very real and positive contribution made by immigrants from all over the world to Scottish society, culture and history.”