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!”