I recently had the pleasure of discussing the equality agenda with Tim Hopkins from the Equality Network. He reminded me how far we have come on lesbian and gay equality but also how far we still have to go in respect of transgender and bisexual people. I thank the Equality Network and the whole third sector for the work that they do every day not just to promote equality but to provide basic support in the fight for justice on behalf of minorities and underrepresented people in Scotland.
As a demonstration of how far we have to go in every area of equality law, the crime statistics in relation to disabled people are horrifying. Although I have some criticisms of the Scottish Government, I will not lay any blame at its door when it comes to how disabled people have been treated in Scotland.
Reports indicate that disabled children and young people are three to four times more likely to be abused or neglected than their non-disabled peers are.
As has been mentioned, the number of attacks on disabled people in general has increased by 14 per cent, and half of disabled women have experienced domestic abuse. Those figures are staggering and horrific.
Incidents of Islamophobia have tripled—a majority of Scottish Muslim pupils have experienced it and are frequently called names such as “terrorist” and “the Taliban”. Sikh and Hindu pupils often suffer the same abuse, for reasons that I am sure that I do not need to go into.
One third of transgender people experience abuse but, alarmingly, 80 per cent of that abuse is not reported. According to the Equality Network, only one in 10 hate crimes is reported. For the first time, however, more lesbian, gay and bisexual people have said that they are satisfied than have said that they are dissatisfied with the police response, so it is important to note that there are areas of progress.
The theme of underreporting is prevalent in the report that we are discussing. Third-party reporting appears to be completely underused, which is why Labour believes that the Scottish Government must do more to resource the system in general, so that people have the confidence to come forward. We want to encourage more diversity in the justice system so that people feel better represented. Schools are also at the forefront of teaching children that difference is to be understood and respected, and that needs to be applied in wider society.
We live in extraordinary times, when the question of race has probably never been so topical and the equality agenda has never been so diverse. Indeed, there is no time more extraordinary than today, as we are only just waking up to smell the napalm. This morning, David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, tweeted:
I am sure that, like me, many members are bleary-eyed from watching the dreaded American result come in. My brilliant former intern Rachel Craig posted on Facebook this week that, as a young Jewish woman, she is proud to be American. She said that prejudice is not fun: America is a country of immigrants and there is no room for Trump rhetoric, which is the antithesis of the principles on which America was founded.
The global backdrop is entirely relevant in assessing current attitudes to race and immigration. Foreign interventions have had a direct impact in bringing about the refugee crisis. In my first speech in this session of Parliament, standing right where I am now, I said:
“Even the brilliant Stephen Hawking cannot explain the horror of the Trump phenomenon, but we had better try to understand it because, unfortunately, it might happen.”—[
, 2 June 2016; c 39.]
Today, the world is dealing with the consequences of failing to try to understand such seismic events.
The Scottish Government motion focuses on the independent advisory group’s report on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion and proclaims
“that Scotland has a long history of welcoming people of all nationalities”.
That is generally true, and we are proud of our local government colleagues in Glasgow in particular for the role that they have played in that respect. The city that I represent has recently accepted 35 young people from the Calais camp. However, we must recognise that the story is not always as we would like it to be. Many Irish Catholic immigrants have historically faced direct discrimination in Scotland, and we must be honest in appraising the difficult issues in the debate.
In celebrating our achievements, we must note that, although Scotland has half the number of foreign-born people that England has, there are similar attitudes to immigration here. A YouGov poll for the BBC that was conducted last year found that 49 per cent of people in Scotland—exactly the same percentage as in the rest of the UK—thought that immigration was an issue and wanted to see less of it. Those results make for uncomfortable reading.
There are many myths about immigration—for example, there is no correlation between high levels of immigration and lower wage growth. According to Ipsos MORI, British people think that there are twice as many immigrants in the UK as there actually are and that the number of Muslims is four times the actual figure. The head of Ipsos MORI stated:
“These misperceptions present clear issues for informed public debate”.
Through the Labour amendment, we want to add a few points that we think are worthy of mention, on issues such as the role of the media and encouraging more diversity in the criminal justice workforce. The recent decision to allow Muslim women to wear the hijab as part of their police uniform will be a positive step if it encourages such women to come forward and serve in our police force.
We will support the Government motion and the Tory amendment, although I am not sure that Annie Wells’s speech bore complete relation to that amendment. However, she made a valid point with regard to the headlines that suggest that hate crime levels have reduced in Scotland since the Brexit vote. It is true that race crime levels have decreased by 3 per cent, which is welcome, but it is way too early to draw any direct conclusions from that, so we should refrain from doing so.
I welcome the debate. We will vote with the Government and the Tories at decision time.
I move amendment S5M-02364.1, to leave out from “commends” to “reports of hate crime” and insert:
“agrees that the media has a critical role in shaping social attitudes, and appreciates the role of education in raising awareness to counteract negative stereotypes; supports a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime across Scotland; understands the need to increase diversity within the workforce of the criminal justice system; commends the work of the third sector in raising awareness, tackling prejudice and promoting equality; further commends the role of Police Scotland and third party reporting centres in responding to reports of hate crime and stresses the need for more resources to be allocated to them”.