I start by simply stating that there is never an excuse for hate crime and prejudice and that this Government is absolutely committed to tackling it, wherever it happens, whenever it happens and whoever it happens to.
People who do not experience it might not always see it, but the reality is that an attack on one is an attack on all of us. I know that that view is shared by members across this Parliament.
The report of the independent advisory group on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion was published recently. I thank Dr Duncan Morrow and the other members of the group for their insightful, cross-cutting report, which contains recommendations that reach across Government and society. We accept the recommendations in the report and will use them to inform an inclusive and wide-ranging programme of work. This debate is an opportunity for the Parliament to inform and shape that work as we move forward together.
When I read Dr Morrow’s report, I was struck by the personal testimony of people who have experienced prejudice and hate. It is imperative that we do not lose those personal insights and experiences when we discuss our approach, policies and laws. We know that there are people who experience what is sometimes described as “low-level” persistent abuse and harassment, and that they experience it many times a day, in public—on transport, at school—at home or at work. Those experiences and personal testimonies are very much reflected in the breadth and depth of the recommendations that Dr Morrow and his colleagues made in their report.
Such experiences are traumatic for individuals and deeply damaging to communities and community cohesion. Whole communities can end up isolating themselves from society and enjoying fewer opportunities to interact and engage with others. That makes for weaker integration and interaction across communities. It is simply not good enough that people in our country experience such prejudice. I repeat: wherever it happens, whenever it happens and whoever it happens to, it needs to be tackled and it needs to stop.
A hate crime is a criminal act that is committed on the basis of prejudice. The crime must be dealt with; we also need to tackle its root causes, which are prejudice and inequality. If we do not do so, we will not achieve truly cohesive communities in which individuals and groups can live in peace, benefit from diversity and work together to build a better society. As we know, prejudice acts as a barrier to cohesion and hate crime is quite simply an attack on it.
Scotland is a diverse, multicultural society and its diversity is a strength. We need to make those words a reality. We have a proud history of welcoming people of all faiths and nationalities to Scotland, from Irish immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries and Italians during the pre-war period to people from India and Pakistan post world war 2 and, more recently, Syrians who are fleeing war and terror. Scotland’s response to the people who have come here has demonstrated the best of this country as we have stepped up to the plate and reached out to people who are most in need of our help.
Attitudes have changed. The most recent Scottish social attitudes survey, which was published in September, found that there has been a decrease in discriminatory attitudes among Scots to all equality groups. Nearly 70 per cent of the people who were surveyed thought that Scotland should do everything possible to eradicate prejudice. We should celebrate such changes in attitude.
However, there are concerns. It is important to look at the granular detail in the evidence that comes from the Scottish social attitudes survey and elsewhere. We know that around a fifth of people in Scotland still think that it is acceptable to hold prejudicial views sometimes. Many people are still expressing concerns about the impact of immigration, and some say that they would not want a member of their family to marry someone from a certain background. In addition, attitudes towards transgender people and Gypsy Travellers are simply not improving fast enough. Although I remain confident that the upward trajectory of more positive attitudes will continue, I know that that will happen only if we take a multidisciplinary, multifaceted approach. We must continue to talk up the benefits of equality, diversity and inclusion in our society, and we must never hesitate to shine a light on prejudice where it exists.
In Scotland, we are fortunate not to have seen a rise in the incidence of hate crime following the European Union referendum, unlike in other parts of the UK. However, we must remain vigilant, avoid complacency and recognise that developments have caused anxiety among the 181,000 EU nationals who have made Scotland their home. We understand that, and I reiterate what the First Minister and many members of the Government and the Parliament have made crystal clear. We say to them: “Scotland is your home, you are welcome here and we value the contribution that you make to our country; our country, which is now your country.” That should be the strong message that we send to EU nationals living in Scotland and to those from across the planet who have made their life in Scotland either through choice or through circumstance. The UK Government could take one simple step right now to ease the minds of EU nationals who have made Scotland their home: it could guarantee their residency status. We will continue to call on the Prime Minister to do the right thing and give that guarantee.
We must also recognise that tackling hate crime is about more than reporting a crime to the police, crucial though that is, particularly considering the work that we need to do to encourage and support people to report crime. The point that I want to make is about the importance of equality. Equality is at the heart of our mission to create a fairer Scotland, and it is imperative that we do that for all who have made their lives in Scotland.
Since 2007, we have invested over £195 million, through the equality budget, in promoting equality and tackling discrimination. We have strengthened the law to tackle hate crime and we are engaging with communities all over Scotland, working with them to make their lives better. We will also ensure that our education system plays a full part in tackling discrimination in all its forms, with all teachers getting equality training. As many members will know, we are refreshing our approach to the national anti-bullying strategy, which will include an explicit commitment to address prejudice-based bullying in all its forms. We have also produced a race equality framework, we are taking radical steps to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex equality and we are working hard to level the playing field for disabled people. We will introduce the disability delivery plan in the very near future.
We want to advance opportunities for everyone. I hope that that is a sign of the society that we aspire to be—one in which no one is held back and in which Scotland’s core values of equality, fairness, social justice and dignity are translated into real lives and real action for everyone who lives here. The report of the advisory group on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion makes it clear that it is everyone’s issue and everyone’s business; it is not a matter for just the Government or the Parliament, important though our responsibilities are. An important recommendation in Dr Morrow’s report is that public education should be undertaken to improve the understanding of the nature and extent of hate crime. That is critical to addressing the underreporting of hate crime.
We will launch a campaign next year to raise awareness of the impacts of hate crime and the support that is available in communities for those who experience hate crime or prejudice, or for those who fear it. That is just one step and I will provide a fuller response to the advisory group’s report and set out an inclusive and wide-ranging approach to tackling those issues.
It is incumbent upon us all to challenge prejudice, discrimination and hate crime, and we accept the amendments lodged by Annie Wells and Pauline McNeill to today’s motion. The motion commits us to work together and we must work together if we are to create a Scotland—one Scotland—in which there is no place for hatred or prejudice.
Nelson Mandela challenged hate throughout his life. He once said:
“No-one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and, if they can learn to hate, they can be taught love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
I hope that we will move forward in that spirit in today’s debate, which will inform our actions to create a fairer and more equal Scotland.
That the Parliament condemns all forms of hate crime and prejudice; welcomes the recent report of the Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime, Prejudice and Community Cohesion; thanks the group for this work and the recommendations made, which will inform future action in this area; notes its view that the current approach to tackling hate crime is appreciated; agrees that Scotland has a long history of welcoming people of all nationalities and faiths; considers that non-British EU nationals living in Scotland are welcome here, they belong here and that their contribution is appreciated; commends the role of Police Scotland and third party reporting centres in responding to reports of hate crime, and encourages people to report all hate crime whenever and wherever it takes place, and agrees to work together to stand up to, and eradicate, hate crime and prejudice in Scotland.