Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 18th March 2015.
First, I thank Jean Urquhart for bringing the motion to Parliament today and for the tone that she set for the debate. I very much welcomed that.
Diversity of the peoples who make up the population of Scotland is for me one of the reasons why our country is such a wonderful and exciting place to live and work. How boring the world would be if we were all the same. Diversity gives us all, as individuals, the chance to gain a new perspective on the lives of others in our own society, as well as on other cultures and societies around the world.
Every one of us in this chamber is different and has had different life experiences; those experiences make us the people we are. Celebrating our differences as well as our common interests helps to unite us all as the people of Scotland.
Within my constituency of Stirling, we have interesting, diverse and thriving Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, African and Polish communities. All those communities have managed to keep their traditions alive while integrating into the increasingly diverse community of Stirling. One of the privileges of being an MSP is being able to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds. On the whole, that has proved to be a pretty positive and nourishing experience for me, but I have had darker and much more negative experiences.
Following Friday prayers recently, I was standing on the pavement outside the Islamic centre in Stirling, chewing the cud with some of my Muslim friends, when a car full of young white males drove by. The obscenities and racist taunts that spewed from the mouths of those young white males made me at once angry and deeply ashamed. Although obviously disturbed by the incident, my Muslim friends shrugged it off because it was not an unusual experience for them, but their reaction served to make me feel even more ashamed.
I have no doubt that the attitudes of those young men will have sprung from ignorance or a lack of education, but that is no excuse for them and their behaviour. Equally I have no doubt that their attitude and behaviours will have been coloured by some media output—I stress the word “some”, as other members have done—that has portrayed Muslim immigrants in particular in a negative fashion.
Of course, the reality is that the Muslim community are as much a part of the rich mosaic of people that makes up Scotland as any other people living among us. The same goes for the people from eastern Europe and, increasingly, Spain who have recently come to Scotland in order to make a new and better life for themselves and their families while, at the same time, contributing significantly to the economic and social wellbeing of Scotland. As Jean Urquhart said, many of our forebears left Scotland to go to the ends of the globe in order to improve their and their families’ lot.
I say to those who want to be involved in racist taunts that those who have chosen to live in Scotland and make it their new home are now our ain folk and we must stand with them as we would with any others. It is our job as politicians, parents, brothers and sisters to ensure that we fight back against prejudice and racism from whichever source it comes.
Liz Smith quoted Dr Maya Angelou, the celebrated American poet and civil right activist, but the full quote is interesting. She said:
“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”
What she was saying is that education and learning are the tools that we need in order to root out our own prejudices and the racism that exists in our society, from whichever poisoned well it draws its strength—and that includes David Coburn, in the context of this debate.
Many organisations do fabulous work across Scotland, particularly with young people, to address preconceptions and mistruths that are often spread in relation to diversity. Much great work is being done, but much more still requires to be done. Let us get on with that, united and together.