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Prevention and Eradication of Hate Crime and Prejudice

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 9th November 2016.

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Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

We live in fragile times. I cannot be the only person who feels that, following the past 24 hours, they have become more fragile still. I am happy to speak in the debate and to take the opportunity to emphasise the importance of recognising the existence of hate crime and prejudice, and to affirm the need for us all in Scotland and beyond to tackle them.

I was privileged to attend the launch of hate crime week in Glasgow. I highlight that among the wonderful and inspiring speeches were the Purple Poncho Players—a theatre group from the Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living—who got in everyone’s faces with brilliant sketches condemning discrimination and mocking people who mock the disabled.

The consequences of Brexit are not yet fully understood. We know that many people who voted to leave do not hate and are not bigots, but there is a fear that perhaps, as some people have suggested, troublingly, Brexit did not create division but revealed it, and that those who feel hate feel emboldened to shout their hatred more loudly than they did in the past.

We must fear the division that seems ever more evident in our world. It matters—the future feels so much more insecure than it ever has before in my adulthood. I always believed that my children, who are now at the beginning of their adulthood, were living in a world that was much safer than mine. I fear for their generation that they are living not in a safe world, but in a frightening one.

I do not want to overstate the case or suggest that we are on the edge of a precipice, but I want to share my thoughts on the importance of vigilance and of being energetic in understanding and tackling hate crime and discrimination. I hope that members will forgive me for sharing with them an experience that had an unbelievably powerful impact on me. I recently had the privilege of visiting Bosnia as the guest of the charity Remembering Srebrenica to learn more about the genocide that took place there only 21 years ago.

Bosnia is a beautiful country and its people are welcoming. Sarajevo is a city with a proud history and a population of diverse faiths living together side by side. Bosnia, which was part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was, within our recent past, a holiday destination for people from across Europe and beyond. In our recent visit, we learned of the horrors of war—of a city under siege for 47 months and of abuse and slaughter of innocent victims. We heard of the United Nation’s soldiers’ inability to intervene and to act when they saw the systematic killing—ethnic cleansing—that was driven by the desire to eradicate a people because of their background and their beliefs.

Learning about the genocide by the Serbs, seeing the mass graves and hearing about the overwhelming grief of families and the courage of those who are still taking on the forensic work of identifying the remains of loved ones and those who are still seeking to heal the wounds of war, are important in themselves, for it is a stain on all of us that the genocide unfolded as the international community stood by, almost shrugging its shoulders. It saw the war as something inexplicable—a civil war among people who somehow historically were always that way inclined. That was to our shame, so we need to do all that we can to support the work of Remembering Srebrenica Scotland to talk about genocide denial and ensure that our young people understand what happened on our continent. To be opportunistic, I say that I hope that the minister will be willing to meet me to talk about precisely how we could support that work.

If members are ever given the opportunity to go on such a visit, I urge them to do so. I raise that experience not to overstate the challenges that we face, but to reflect on the central lessons for all of us from what we heard from the mothers of Srebrenica and from the courageous young men who gave testimony on their survival of the genocide. They spoke of how their crisis did not emerge in one day, and they spoke of the horror of their experience of realising that their school friends, their neighbours and those with whom they had lived in comfortable co-existence now wielded guns against them. Their understanding of that horror emerged step by step, slowly over time, with the denigration, scapegoating and dismissing of people. It is those steps that lead to the chaos that drives people to the inhumanity of genocide.

That is why we need to confront hate crime. We must ensure that people are supported to report it, and that those who would seek to divide our communities are left in no doubt that such behaviour is unacceptable. We need to educate our young people about the danger of the use of the word “hate” against any group, whether on the basis of its members’ identity, their faith, their sexuality, their gender or their disability.

We must also guard against complacency. I know that there is unity across Parliament in our yearning to tackle the issue. We want communities in which we celebrate our diversity, rather than defining ourselves by our differences. I know that in my city and in communities across Scotland, the United Kingdom and far beyond, there are inspiring examples of kindness, compassion, empathy and determination to tackle the discrimination that too many of those who seek refuge with us face because of the groups that they are part of and because, not least, of their courage in speaking out and demanding justice.

I say this gently and trust that we can all reflect on it: we must not rewrite our own history to feed a narrative about Scotland’s perceived difference from its neighbours in the debate about Europe. Scotland has been welcoming, but even a cursory look at our history allows us to understand that that has not always been so. Although many Scots are horrified by the denigration of immigrants across Europe, we know that immigrants and EU citizens in Scotland are not always immune from such abuse. We also know that there are many people across the rest of the UK who are as repulsed by the language and vocabulary of the bigots and racists as we in this country are.

We should not underestimate the importance of the advisory group’s report or of the debate. I wish all power to the Government in the actions that it takes—I and my party will support it in progressing that work. The police, the justice system, our public services and education must look forward to being part of a system that is fairer to all. In this very fragile world, we need to stand strong in our love of and commitment to humanity; otherwise, this world will become more fragile still.