Stand Up to Bullying Campaign

– in the Scottish Parliament on 6th September 2016.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The final item is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-00654, in the name of Fulton MacGregor, on the stand up to bullying campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament supports the Stand Up to Bullying campaign, which is run by the charity, Diana Award; recognises that anyone of any age can be affected by bullying and that there is a growing trend of cyberbullying toward young people; is concerned at figures in a recent poll by Vodafone that suggest that 68% of people know someone who has experience cyberbullying and a YouGov poll suggesting that 81% believe that bullying at school is commonplace, and commends the work of charities such as Diana Award in Coatbridge and Chryston and across Scotland in their attempts to stop bullying.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to lead a debate on what is a very important subject, and I thank colleagues from across the parties for supporting my motion congratulating the Diana Award charity for its stand up to bullying campaign. The Diana Award was set up as a legacy to Princess Diana and her belief that young people have the power to change the world for the better. The aim of the organisation is to inspire and recognise social action in young people across Scotland and the United Kingdom. I think that they deserve tremendous credit for the work that they do. We should also note the fantastic work of the Big Lottery Fund, which recently awarded a grant of £50,000 to the Diana Award as part of a larger programme of grants for anti-bullying measures totalling more than £1 million since 2011. I take this opportunity to encourage colleagues to get involved in the #Back2School campaign that is currently being run by the Diana Award. The campaign encourages children and young people never to suffer in silence. Details can, of course, be found on the Diana Award website.

Scotland’s anti-bullying service, respectme, was set up in 2007 by the Scottish Government. It supports local authorities across Scotland in developing anti-bullying policies. They have created a consistent approach to combating bullying across Scotland. In 2015, respectme carried out the largest-ever research into bullying in Scotland and found that 30 per cent of children had experienced some form of bullying in the 2013-14 school year. The findings also showed that 40 per cent of those who had experienced bullying had suffered either partly or wholly online.

It is clear that online bullying is on the rise. Children and young people spend a huge amount of time online and it becomes another world for some. Inhibitions that one might have in person might be forgotten in the virtual world. At a recent meeting with Inspector Andy Thomson from Monklands police, I was encouraged to hear about the child exploitation and online protection project that is being run across Lanarkshire to educate children and young people about the importance of online security. A large focus of that initiative is on making children aware of the dangers of sharing their details and images online. On that note, I congratulate Inspector Thomson and his team on their recent success in being shortlisted in the safer communities awards, in the early intervention and education category, for last night’s awards ceremony. I really hope that that drives the issue into a more national setting.

It is worth noting that bullying can happen to anyone at any age; bullying by adults has probably increased with the rise of social media. We as politicians regularly dismiss attacks as being from keyboard warriors, but if we were to look deeper into it, we would likely see that there are elements of harassment. All parts of society must stand up to bullying and, as members of the Scottish Parliament, we must lead by example and challenge any bullying behaviour that we see or hear. We have to look only as far back as Sunday to see the political editor of a Sunday newspaper making jokes about bullying. Individuals in positions of influence—for example, someone who has a large readership and the ability to get a message to tens of thousands of people of all ages—should be using those positions to educate people on the dangers of bullying, rather than sending out the message that it is something to make jokes about in order to get a few laughs or retweets.

Stonewall Scotland—Scotland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality charity—has made some incredible inroads into the bullying of, and discrimination against, LGBT people in Scotland. However, its research shows that a shocking 99 per cent of children have heard homophobic language at school. It also shows that more than half of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Scotland have suffered homophobic bullying.

There must be a focus on education and we must ensure that everyone—young and old—is aware of the impact that bullying can have. Some people may think that they are just having a laugh or that it is a bit of fun, but research shows that self-harming is on the rise among victims of bullying. We know, as we have seen from recent examples, that in extreme circumstances people can take their own lives as a result of bullying and abuse. Stonewall Scotland’s research suggests that one in four young LGBT people in Scotland has attempted suicide. That is a terrifying statistic, and action must be taken now to stop it.

Half of all suicides among young people are attributed directly to bullying, and bullying victims are two to nine times more likely to attempt suicide. The Scottish Association for Mental Health is Scotland’s mental health charity and works closely with anti-bullying organisations on the impact that bullying can have on victims’ mental health. There is a drive to raise awareness of the effects of bullying, to deliver training to enable adults to spot the signs, and to provide to children and young people training on the impact of their actions. I encourage all schools and youth organisations to get involved.

September is suicide awareness month, and this Saturday is suicide awareness day. I encourage all members to get involved in raising awareness and to wear yellow on Saturday. I have decided to wear my yellow tie today.

The Scottish Government should be commended on the action that it has taken since 2007 in combating bullying across the country. The campaigns to raise awareness are having great success, but there is still more to be done.

As I mentioned, bullying and harassment are increasingly moving to online settings, which means that bullying is even harder to notice when the victim does not speak out. Projects such as the one that is run by Inspector Thomson, which I mentioned, are a great example of the work that is being done and should be replicated across the country.

The message must be clear and it must be loud: bullying is not acceptable. If you experience it or see someone else being bullied, speak out: tell someone and never suffer in silence.

I will finish with respectme’s mission statement. It is a powerful message that everyone should note:

“You don’t have to like me…agree with me…or enjoy doing the same things I do…But you have to respect me!”

Photo of Annie Wells Annie Wells Conservative

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate today and to raise awareness of the credible stand up to bullying campaign.

It is easy to think of bullying in a very set way. I am sure that the image that springs to most people’s minds is of the school bully harassing his or her peers outside the school gates. Although that undoubtedly occurs and we should be doing everything that we can to stop it, I want to highlight—as the previous member did—the effects that bullying has on people of all ages and backgrounds.

In recent years, bullying has taken on new forms through social media and the internet. I was deeply disturbed to learn back in July about the death of a young girl from Glasgow—Britney Mazzoncini—who as a result of cyberbullying took her own life at the age of just 16. Another Glasgow teenager attempted to take his own life only last month as a result of online bullying.

Time and again, I hear jibes and comments to the effect that victims of cyberbullying should simply turn off their computers. Fulton MacGregor referred in his speech to that attitude, which I find frustrating—as, I am sure, many others do. The simpler solution is that bullying should not occur in the first place.

I am pleased that Police Scotland is taking steps to tackle bullying. It put out a statement last month warning parents that they must prepare their children for the dangers of bullying, and referred them to a number of useful websites including respectme.org.uk, getsafeonline.org and thinkuknow.co.uk. The statement assured them that internet trolls would be traced and prosecuted for their actions online. However, I am under no illusions about the fact that more still needs to be done, which is why I support Fulton MacGregor’s motion on raising awareness of cyberbullying.

To link back to my original point, I was pleased to see the efforts of the University of Glasgow, which carried out a notable campaign last year seeking to widen people’s knowledge of bullying and looking at what can be done. The university launched on its campus an anti-bullying campaign to tackle casual discrimination among students and staff. The full stop campaign highlighted offensive comments that were not necessarily deemed to be blatantly offensive by using posters that set out example quotes in isolation.

I turn my attention now to issues around lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex bullying. Members of all parties in the chamber believe that LGBTI bullying must come to an end. As an LGBTI person, I suffered bullying at school. That was quite some time ago when I was 13, but 30 years on we are still speaking about it. How do we make it better? How do we get the situation resolved and put a stop to it?

TIE—time for inclusive education—campaign’s research reported that 64 per cent of LGBT youth reported being bullied as a result of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and that a shocking 37 per cent had attempted suicide at least once as a result of being bullied. To tackle the issue, TIE has called for cross-party working groups. I know that there is cross-party support among members and that, at Glasgow’s pride march a few weeks ago, there was a full show of support. I would like to see the issue being tackled across all parties, and the implementation of LGBT-inclusive education as a legislative matter. TIE’s proposals are great and I would like the topic to be debated in the chamber in the future.

I echo the sentiments that have been shown by everyone in the chamber on the stand up to bullying campaign. I also congratulate Diana Award for its efforts. As with most things, awareness is crucial—I hope that the campaign will go some way to altering mindsets.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you Ms Wells. I call Elaine Smith to be followed by the minister, who will sum up.

[

Interruption

.] I beg your pardon. I have been too quick.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I would be happy to defer to Ms Smith, if you wish, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am sorry. How dare I miss you out?

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I hope that that was not bullying from the chair; I know that it was not.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

It certainly was not.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

The subject is a serious one and, like many other members’ business debates, I expect that there will be no disagreement among members on the issue.

I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on giving us the opportunity to debate such an important subject.

The problem is not confined to Scotland or to these islands; it is an international problem. In the past month, UNICEF released figures that showed that two thirds of young people surveyed in more than 18 countries have been victims of bullying.

How do people come to be bullied? It is mostly because of issues over which they have no control, such as sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or physical appearance. Even if it does not involve touching the victim, bullying is a form of violence and we should treat it as seriously as we treat any violence.

Bullying is also an attack on diversity. Diversity has huge value: the greater the diversity in our communities, the greater their strength and ability to respond to changing circumstances.

Bullying, particularly for youngsters, can endure well into adulthood and for the rest of their lives. It is not to be treated trivially or ignored. It can lead to depression, academic failure and changes in the behaviour of the people who are being bullied. Fear follows from bullying.

Mental health will, of course, be affected by being bullied. Furthermore, the behaviour will be copied. If bullying is tolerated, others will see that it goes unpunished and will themselves be open to potentially becoming bullies.

In the modern electronic world, we have some particular concerns about the new ways in which people can be bullied, such as via social media, emails, texting and so on. There are some particular things that are different about social media. First, adults do not understand social media in the same way as youngsters do. An adult’s moderating influence means that they might understand what is going on in a bully’s mind. However, the situation is likely to be less clear cut than with the physical bullying that we have been used to in the past.

Similarly, the use of social media tends to be a solitary activity. There will be no one sitting next to the person who is seeking to bully someone online—no moderating influence of someone looking over their shoulder and saying, “Hey Jimmy, that’s enough. Perhaps we should head off.”

It is also an activity that, being solitary, takes place—in many cases—late at night, when drink may have been taken. There are all sorts of disinhibitions associated with the bully that are distinctly different and more threatening in the online world.

Is there anything that we can do about it? Well, yes. Perhaps the social media providers could help by monitoring what is actually going on in social media. We know that the technology is there—Twitter, for example, has a regular banner showing what is trending. In other words, it knows what is going on. Perhaps it is time that Twitter and other social media providers took a look at whether they can help to detect and inhibit bullying through that medium.

I congratulate the stand up to bullying campaign on its actions. I hope that we, too, can be part of the effort to promote a kinder and more understanding society and that this debate makes its modest contribution to that. However, we all have a duty to stand up to oppressive behaviour, because that is what bullying is.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on securing a debate on this important matter. As we have heard, cyberbullying is a key issue that is increasing in relevance every year in Scotland and we should all take it very seriously.

Nowadays, bullying does not stop at the school gate and its victims are not limited to young people, as Fulton MacGregor noted. Bullying occurs in homes, wider communities, boardrooms, lunchrooms, stadiums and pubs. It is all around us. Of course, bullying also exists online—we know that. Such bullying can involve a persistent and unrelenting attack and it often targets those who are already vulnerable in one way or another.

Access to technology—specifically, the use of mobile devices—means that those who are being bullied online cannot even go home to a safe haven and shut the door on the bullies, because those bullies are with them constantly.

Such bullying can, as we know, have tragic results, including suicide, among the young people who are the victims of sustained online abuse, particularly when it is from their peers. Annie Wells mentioned that in her speech.

To raise the issues in debates such as this one is a good step on the way to addressing the very modern scourge of cyberbullying, but more work is needed right across society—Stewart Stevenson made some particularly interesting points about that.

We should recognise and commend the work that has been done by the Diana Award, as mentioned in the motion, by other charities in our communities and in particular by the stand up to bullying campaign. However, in order to adequately tackle cyberbullying, we need to raise awareness more widely about the negative consequences of personal attacks on others that are perpetrated from behind the barrier of a computer screen or a mobile phone.

We have all heard stories of schoolyard bullying and attacks via phones or social media. In some cases, it strays into direct harassment, but public awareness of the difference between joking around and the more serious charge of harassment is often pretty poor. If we can increase knowledge both of the outcomes and of prevention, it is possible that we can eventually begin to bring an end to this worrying phenomenon.

While recognising that, we should also consider the effect that such abuse—or trolling, as it is sometimes called—has on adults, especially those who have to use social media for their jobs or simply as a means of necessary communication. They cannot just turn off their technology to get away from it.

I think and hope that we are finally beginning to gain a better understanding of how sexism, for example, can hurt women online, but we need to extend that understanding to include all forms of identity abuse. Some of that has already been mentioned in the debate.

Being careful with the use of language is very important. Offensive comments cannot just be dismissed as banter. As parliamentarians, we also need to look at new forms of bullying that might fly under the radar as technology develops and open our minds to the fact that the victims of cyberbullying are as diverse as they are numerous.

Among young people in particular, cyberbullying can lead to prolonged absenteeism from school as well as negative consequences for physical and mental health. Of course, such effects on health and wellbeing can also occur in anyone of any age who is experiencing cyberbullying.

If we do our best to address the individual and specific concerns of victims, that will go a long way to changing the narrative around online bullying. However, I give one word of caution: when we are doing that, we must be careful not to unjustly criminalise certain sections of society, specifically the young, as some interventions have tended to do in the past.

Thank you, Presiding Officer, for calling me to speak in the debate. I once again congratulate Fulton MacGregor on this really important debate.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Scottish National Party

I thank Fulton MacGregor for bringing the subject of bullying to the chamber. Let me be absolutely clear that bullying of any kind is completely unacceptable and, when it happens, we all have a responsibility to address it. We need to intervene to deal with it quickly and effectively.

Before we talk about what is being done to address bullying, it is important to remind us all of the positive lives and contributions of young people. The latest behaviour in Scottish schools research shows that the overwhelming majority of children in Scotland’s schools are generally well behaved; an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report tells us that Scottish students are resilient; and further research from the health behaviour in Scottish schools survey tells us that Scottish young people report high life satisfaction.

Nevertheless, we must make sure that children and young people who are affected by bullying are supported effectively. A number of speakers have spoken in particular about the impact that bullying can have on children’s and young people’s mental health. That is one reason why the Government is bringing forward a 10-year strategy for children’s and adolescents’ health and wellbeing, which will focus on physical and mental health. The fact that we have a dedicated mental health minister in the Government demonstrates our strong commitment in the area.

Our document “A National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland’s Children and Young People” has children’s rights at its centre, and it provides a focus for all anti-bullying work across Scotland. The document makes it clear that, as well as intervening when bullying happens, we need to tackle the root cause and help to change negative views and poor perceptions so that we can prevent bullying from happening in the first place.

In recent years, Scotland has seen legislative and policy changes that have put greater focus on supporting our children’s and young people’s wellbeing, which is why we are refreshing our anti-bullying guidance. In that, we are supported by key stakeholders, including respectme, Scotland’s anti-bullying service for children and young people, which the Government established and which we fund to provide support across all Scotland’s local authorities and schools.

The Government believes that there is no place in Scotland for prejudice or discrimination and that everyone deserves to be treated fairly. We must continue unrelentingly to tackle prejudice and discrimination and to promote equality and diversity. That work begins early, in schools. The refresh of the national approach to anti-bullying will be clearer about the impact of prejudice-based bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, and how schools and youth organisations can respond appropriately to it.

Health and wellbeing are at the core of the school curriculum, and relationships, sexual health and parenthood education is, in turn, key to health and wellbeing education. In 2014, we published guidance that clearly states how important it is that relationships, sexual health and parenthood education addresses diversity and reflects issues relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex young people—or children with LGBTI parents—such as same-sex marriage and hate-crime reporting.

Annie Wells asked about the work that will be taken forward. The Government will continue to work with a range of organisations to ensure that schools address the important issues that LGBTI young people face, and we will ensure that teachers have the skills, knowledge and confidence to embed inclusive approaches in their schools.

Through addressing prejudice-based bullying and promoting an inclusive approach to relationships, sexual health and parenthood education, children will learn about tolerance, respect and equality, which will help to address and prevent prejudice. Moreover, the recently published “Delivering Excellence and Equity in Scottish Education: A Delivery Plan for Scotland” confirmed our commitment to a review of initial teacher education programmes. That will ensure that appropriate detail on equality is provided across the primary and secondary sectors. Working with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, more support for teachers on equality issues is provided through career-long professional learning.

It is vital that our refreshed anti-bullying policy is informed by the views and experiences of children, including the more than 8,000 children and young people who responded to respectme’s 2014 survey. Of the children who told us that they had experienced bullying, the vast majority knew the person who was bullying them, whether online or offline. In fact, young people do not refer to bullying online as cyberbullying—bullying is bullying wherever it takes place, and we must remember that the online world is part and parcel of our children’s and young people’s lives.

That fact gets to the heart of the point that a number of speakers made about the attitude that people should just turn off the computer or not go to a particular website. First of all, that misses the point that we should not put the onus on the victim rather than the perpetrator to address their behaviour. It also fundamentally misunderstands the importance that access to the internet and social media often has for young people. We must do all that we can to ensure that they are safe, resilient and equipped to respond to the challenges and opportunities that being a young person today brings.

Fulton MacGregor highlighted the rise in online bullying. The Government is committed to making the internet a safer place for children and young people. We want them to enjoy the internet and all that it has to offer. We also want them to stay in control and know what to do and who to go to if they feel at risk. That is why we have committed to refreshing our internet safety action plan and linking it with our strategies on digital participation and cyberresilience so that appropriate frameworks of training, support and information are in place for professionals and parents as well as children and young people.

Stewart Stevenson made an important point on the role of social media providers in relation to the bullying that can often take place on their platforms. Those providers, many of which are multibillion-dollar companies, need to ensure that the users of their platforms are safe in the interactions that they undertake and that any behaviour that risks encouraging bullying or other forms of harassment is stamped down on as soon as possible. Enough evidence exists to suggest that the response by the providers is often at best sluggish and, at worst, non-existent. They need to do more to tackle that.

Elaine Smith rightly highlighted the dangers that can exist for children and young people in the online world. However, it is also important to remember that the internet is a fundamental part of the lives of children and young people today and can be a fantastic source of education and entertainment. It is often also the first place to which they go to talk to their friends and, indeed, to meet new friends. I encourage young people, while being cognisant of the risks that exist, to embrace the internet’s huge potential for expanding their horizons.

Like, I am sure, every member present, I want a Scotland where young people can enjoy all the positive aspects that new technology and social media bring without the fear of being bullied or exploited and where young people form healthy relationships and value diversity. I want a Scotland where our children and young people can grow up in a safe environment in which their rights and needs are respected and protected and a Scotland where every child and young person is supported to be who they want to be, is treated equally, enjoys equal chances and choices in all aspects of their lives and is valued for the contribution that they make to our society and communities.

I thank again Fulton MacGregor for bringing the debate to the chamber and all speakers for their contributions. We all have a role to play in the matter and I am sure that we will all continue to work together to ensure that our children’s lives are as safe as they can be.

Meeting closed at 17:32.