The rise of hate up to and since the Brexit referendum has caused us all to rethink our place in this United Kingdom, and it has reminded us that we cannot be complacent in anything that we do. Now that we know that the next President of the United States is a right-wing reactionary who mocks people who have disabilities, believes that he can do what he likes with women and creates an atmosphere of fear of immigrants and immigration, I am reminded of famous words that were written in 1883:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
It is 27 years since the fall of the Berlin wall. We should be breaking walls down, not building new ones up. Using words that were nowhere near as elegant as those of that poem, but which had the same message at their heart, I spoke at the SNP conference this year, which took place after one of the most right-wing, reactionary, negative and hate-filled Tory conferences that I have ever witnessed. I said that those who have come to our shores to seek a better life belong here, just as much as anyone else does. I also said that, if someone has chosen Scotland as their home, they are Scotland; if they have chosen Scotland as their place to study, they are Scotland; if they have chosen Scotland as their place of sanctuary, they are Scotland; if they have chosen Scotland as the place to bring up their children, they are Scotland; and that, if they have chosen Scotland as their place to do business, they are Scotland.
We all share in the riches of one planet. What right has any one of us to exclude someone else from doing the same? We are a country that stands opposed to hatred and that stands firm against abuse. However, in that opposition, we must be consciously aware of our own surroundings and our own context. Everyone in this chamber is, quite rightly, held to a higher standard and is subject to a more intense level of public scrutiny than others. However, that does not excuse the violent and hateful abuse that is often aimed at public officials, especially through Twitter and other social media. I have experienced it personally; no doubt, many other members have experienced it, too, and will have been subjected to various forms of abusive allegations, sexual harassment and hate crimes.
The Minister for Transport and the Islands gave the ultimate reply to someone who told him, “Go back to where you came from.” He said, “Aye, right. I’ll be on my way back to Glasgow, then.” It was the most uniquely Scottish reply—sharp, braw and based in absolute truth.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service produced a report that brought together figures on race crime and crime that is motivated by prejudice related to religion, disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity. In 2015-16, 3,712 racial charges were reported, which was a few per cent down on the year before and the lowest number reported since 2003-04. That is progress, but it still represents an awful lot of people being abused. Also in 2015-16, there were 1,020 reported charges of sexually oriented crime, which is an increase of 20 per cent, and is in line with an overall annual increase that is, I hope, the result of a rise in reporting since 2010.
Those reprehensible crimes and attitudes that pit Scots against each other based on nothing more than their differences represent tribalism at its worst. Tribalism can become ingrained very quickly. It is passed down as an accidental by-product of one’s environment. It is an attack on anyone who does not quite fit into someone’s preconceptions of what a person should be. If a person is deaf, is blind, is in a wheelchair, has special needs, is elderly, is gay or is transgender, some small-minded people—including the President elect—will object to their differentness.
In a healthy society, we celebrate difference and we know that people from every kind of background add to the rich tapestry that is humankind—I stress the “kind” part of that word because I want a caring, compassionate Scotland that does not want to victimise anyone. Victimisation is born out of fear. It is the school-bully syndrome: a person lacks confidence and security in themselves, so they hit out at others in order to compensate. Those that use that fear to incite hatred are the most reprehensible.
Ridding ourselves of such prejudice and hate crime centres on a shift in culture. We need to do more at school, with families and in communities, to build people’s confidence, especially in young people, so that they are able to shake off generations of being told that they are a useless waste of time, will never amount to anything and might as well accept that a life on benefits is all that they are good for and that they would maybe get on one of those poverty porn television shows. That is where attitudes start to go wrong. If a person is brought up in such an environment, where only their own kind—whatever they perceive that to be—is acceptable, what inevitably follows will be strife, pain, anguish and, of course, criminal behaviour, leading to a culture of hate.
It is beholden on every single one of us to rout out those old patterns and to replace them with a relaxed, open, friendly and non-discriminatory set of values. As recent events have shown, there is no place for complacency. Clearly, more effort needs to be made. A range of actions can be undertaken to try to eradicate such prejudice but, once again, it must all start at home and in nursery school. We need to teach our kids that the world is full of different people just as it is full of different cultures, religions and races.
Diversity and difference make Scotland flourish. I call on us all, and our Scottish Government, to do what we can to eradicate hate-based discrimination. Here is to difference and to welcoming everyone.