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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 John Finnie John Finnie Green

“Hate” is a much-used word; I would say that it is a misused word. We have talked about hate crime in the Parliament a lot—indeed, we talked about it very recently. Maybe the question is whether things are getting better. In some ways, perhaps they are, but at some point we must understand the statistics. As with rape, sexual abuse and child abuse, the willingness of people to come forward will be reflected in increased numbers.

When we last debated this issue, I talked about the role of newspapers. We might not purchase them, but they are visible on the news stands for everyone to see. As I said then, they might have passed some legal test, but as far as I am concerned, they have spectacularly failed any moral test with the picture of intolerance that they paint and the way in which they normalise hate.

There has been a rise in the number of abusive crimes against homeless people, and those crimes manifest themselves in different ways, such as the spikes that are put down to stop rough sleeping. We have seen the vilification of various groups, and I have set these out in heavy inverted commas in my speech: asylum seekers; refugees; people being called junkies or scroungers; the disabled; Gypsy Travellers who, as the cabinet secretary pointed out, still encounter systematic abuse; and transgender people. Islamophobia, too, remains a major issue.

I will—I hope—speak with some good grace about the Conservative Party amendment, although I think that the same good grace was singularly absent from its proposer. The Scottish Greens will support that amendment and indeed the Labour Party amendment at decision time but, like the cabinet secretary, I would like to be able to share with my neighbours who are EU citizens not the words of that Conservative amendment but the guarantee that they are respected. I want to say to the Spanish neighbour who has been here for 15 years and has been a valued member of the community, “You are valued, and you can stay here.” Sadly, such guarantees are lacking at the moment.

We have seen the rise of the right across Europe, and members such as Christina McKelvie have talked about the role of social media in that respect. We have to be aware of relatively innocent-looking comments on such media from groups such as Britain First; they are luring people in, but we need only scratch the surface to see the hate that is there. I join Christina McKelvie in roundly condemning the disgusting abuse that female colleagues, in particular, get, and I think that any sane person would do likewise.

The report mentioned in the motion talks about the definition of hate and says:

“Using the language of ‘hate’ ... sometimes leads to a lack of recognition of what has transpired, as ... neither victim nor” the accused recognises what has happened as being “based on ... hate”. It also recommends the development of clearer definitions and terminology, and education

“to improve understanding of the nature and extent of hate crime.”

In that respect, I welcome the cabinet secretary’s comment about teacher training, which is absolutely vital, and the references made by other members to LGBTI and disability training. In his introduction to the report, Dr Morrow talks about “public education”. Again, I welcome next year’s campaign and am happy to lend it my support.

The issue of criminal aggravations has been mentioned by a few people, and there is an on-going debate on whether gender should be included on that list. The report says:

“the Scottish Government should consider whether the existing criminal law provides sufficient protections for those who may be at risk of hate crime, for example based on gender, age or membership of other groups such as refugees and asylum seekers.”

In a member’s bill that went through Parliament in 2008 and 2009, Patrick Harvie argued that, before long, consolidation legislation would be needed to make the various strands of hate crime coherent and—more important—to overcome the administrative problems caused by the piecemeal approach. The same position was adopted by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and indeed the Justice Committee in 2009. I am grateful to the various organisations that have provided briefings for us, one of which, from the Law Society of Scotland, picks up on that point and says:

“There could be potential benefits in consolidation of all hate crime statutory aggravations and substantive statutory offences within one piece of legislation” which would lead to

“ease of use and simplicity of reference.”

I hope that that issue will be picked up.

Moreover, the Lord Advocate’s guidelines, which are mentioned in that paper, talk about the perception that is associated with such crimes. That is very important for individuals, and it comes from knowledge. Finally, the Law Society highlights the learning possibilities that come from post-legislative scrutiny.

Of course, laws are one thing; what is very important is the lived experience of our citizens. The report on hate crime says:

“These experiences can be one off and open or hidden and frequent.”

There is a range of experiences, and, in that respect, I found the example given by Enable Scotland with regard to bullying very compelling. Enable quotes an individual as saying:

“That day on the bus, nobody came to my aid. The whole bus was full but nobody helped me. After that day I closed myself off and didn’t leave home for a month.”

It might be difficult for individuals to challenge such behaviour, particularly in a physical way, but we must challenge it.

In the previous session, the Equal Opportunities Committee looked at the issue of loneliness and isolation, and although it was a small part of what emerged, bullying was nevertheless a feature. Similarly, with regard to its own research, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

We hope that this work will help to inform any reforms of the Personal and Social Education (PSE) curriculum moving forward.

The Equality Network has provided a number of statistics, as have many of the people who have given us briefings. It said that 64 per cent of LGBT respondents and 80 per cent of trans people have been the target of hate crime. The most depressing thing in the statistics was the statement that, although those are high percentages, they are not out of line with other recent surveys. That is deeply depressing.

Public transport is one of the areas in which there are challenges. It is important that providers of public transport are aware. I make a plea: driver-only trains will not help that. It is clear that there is a very important role for the guards—for the health and safety people—on trains.

Social media have been touched on. It is clear that there needs to be education associated with that.

Bullying also takes place in the workplace. I simply remind employers of their duty of care to their staff. Experience shows that there is an important role for unions and staff associations in the workplace in support of avoiding such incidents cropping up. It is clear that peer support is important.

Hate crime is not simply associated with urban areas, of course. It is reprehensible regardless of where it takes place, but there are additional features if it takes place in a rural area. In particular, if an ethnic minority individual is the recipient of hate crime in a rural area, they are often isolated from the wider community and family support.

I conclude with the words:

“No two individuals are ever the same—embrace individuality and help put an end to Hate crime”.

That was not said by a philosopher; it is on Police Scotland’s website. The role that Police Scotland and third party reporting organisations have played is commendable.

It is important that we all stick together on the matter and encourage people to come forward.