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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 Alex Cole-Hamilton Alex Cole-Hamilton Liberal Democrat

This is not the speech that I planned to give this evening, nor is it the one that I wanted to give. I reflect that, despite the rancour and deep divisions that often characterise debates in this place, there is a real connection tonight between the substance of the motion and the amendments, and the sheer revulsion at the result that we have witnessed in America today.

Yesterday, I described Brexit as a multifaceted act of political vandalism. It is certainly that, yet it is as nothing compared with the jarring, visceral and largely unexpected lurch to the politics of prejudice that our American cousins have embraced. Members across the chamber will have shared my view and watched aghast as state after state turned its back on an offer of hope and inclusivity to embrace a prospectus of cold misogyny, racism and discrimination.

It is not statesmanlike or diplomatic for a parliamentarian to rail against the victor of such an important international contest, but I feel neither statesmanlike nor diplomatic when it comes to addressing the hate-filled doctrine that has swept much of the continental United States these past 24 hours. It is a doctrine that represents the very antithesis of the Government motion and the amendments that are before us this evening, and it is a doctrine that relies on the demonisation of the other—the threatening outsider. It is a doctrine that plays to the very worst demons of our souls. Seizing on the realities of huge swathes of the American population who, when asked by pollsters, would say, “Folks like me were better off 50 years ago,” Donald Trump’s task was blindingly simple. Find any number of groups among the dispossessed and the marginalised to blame for that. Play to every fear. Stereotype and prejudice, and do so with abandon.

The politics of prejudice represents the very worst tendencies in the conduct of human affairs. It thrives on a primeval reversion to tribe that seeks out weakness, difference and non-conformity and then endeavours to drive them out, to persecute and to malign. We may unite in condemnation of the emergence of that politics in America today, but we would do well to reflect on its existence in these islands as well. If the calamity of last night’s events induces us to answer one challenge in ourselves, it must be the eradication of prejudice wherever it may be found in our nation.

If we accept that prejudice stems from the stigma that is attached to a group for its differences, a reinforcement of stereotype and a subliminal attempt to further marginalise it, we do not have far to look for examples. That challenge exists, for example, in the bigoted and inaccurate remarks about gay promiscuity in discussions about licensing for prophylactic HIV medication—something so effective that it is akin to a vaccine and which, had it been discovered in the 1980s, would be in the water supply. That stems from a popular prejudice from bullying in school, and that is why all parties in this Parliament have rightly supported the TIE campaign for inclusive education.

That challenge exists in the hate crime, abusive language and barriers to employment that are still faced by those who are affected by disability in our society, and it exists in the racism that is faced by refugees, Gypsy Travellers and migrants—yes, even here in Scotland.

Prejudice also germinates wherever we create a different class of person by dint of culture or policy. It exists for our talented female workforce, who are still paid measurably less than their male counterparts, still managed out or passed over as a result of pregnancy and still excluded from boardrooms across Scotland. It exists for our young people, whose hourly rate for work at entry level shows that it is valued less than that of older workers with the same experience, and who are still seen as responsible for antisocial behaviour in our communities even though they are more likely to be the victims of it than the culprits. Finally, it exists for our prison population, who are disenfranchised from the democratic process while they are incarcerated and set at an immediate disadvantage in relation to housing and employability on liberation.

It is incumbent on us as legislators, opinion formers and leaders to root out the folds and tears in the fabric of our society where people are forgotten, marginalised and subjected to prejudice and ultimately hate, and to bring change through policy and by example. Bobby Kennedy said that each time someone

“stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

I hang on to that last sentence and see its prescience tonight. It gives such comfort in this dark awakening for our world.

Let us unify today in the best way that this Parliament does; across the benches, let us support the motion and amendments. Let us and this be the catalyst for our fight against prejudice at home and, by so eradicating it here, let us turn our eyes west to the challenge of its revival overseas.