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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 Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

Given the events that have unfolded in the past 24 hours in the United States, let me join those across the chamber who have spoken about the relevance of us having this debate today.

President-elect Donald Trump is certainly not the outcome that I had hoped for. The news that Trump will become the next President of the United States fills me with sadness and disbelief—disbelief because Trump led a hate-filled and fear-based campaign that was filled with misogynistic and racist rhetoric and which has served only to divide people.

For all of us who care about equality and fairness, today is a dark day. It is upsetting to know that a man who, in the course of his campaign, espoused backwards views about women’s rights, said that he would ban Muslims from entering his country and mocked people with disabilities can become leader of the United States and, seemingly, have those sentiments condoned. It beggars belief. There will be many Muslims, LGBTI people, other minority groups and women in America today who are worried about the future direction of their country.

If the US election tells us anything, it is that prejudice towards minority groups remains a live issue in the western world and it should be a stark warning to all of us against any complacency. I welcome the recent report by the independent advisory group on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion, which highlighted that very issue. The report tells us that much of the experience of hate crime remains hidden to the public because many victims decide not to report due to fear of further violence or retaliation. Many other victims describe what looks like a degree of acceptance of certain abuse due to a feeling that it is simply “part of life”.

Hate crime is not an inevitable part of life. Prejudice and social isolation of certain groups have a long-term damaging impact on society and tackling those issues must be a priority concern for us all. A zero tolerance approach will help to give victims the confidence that they need to come forward and report by giving them certainty that their reporting will make a difference and that support will be given to them. Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service already takes a zero tolerance approach and Scottish Labour wants that to be extended across our justice system and beyond.

The independent advisory group’s report makes a series of recommendations about the scope of hate crime, particularly in relation to the category of gender. Consideration of misogynistic hate crime was recently adopted by police in Nottinghamshire, and I have previously asked the Scottish Government whether it considers Police Scotland to have adequate powers to handle such instances of crime. I look forward to the Government’s response to those issues in light of the report, and I hope that the minister will today outline that response, alongside a deadline for action in response to the report’s recommendations.

Persecution of minority groups in Scotland is a real and growing problem. Race crime remains the most commonly reported hate crime in Scotland and it is growing across the UK. As we have heard, the number of reported disability crimes has increased, too; that number has more than tripled since 2010 and it is up 4 per cent on last year. Instances of hate crime based on a person’s sexual orientation have more than doubled since 2010, and have increased by 20 per cent in the past year alone. That situation is simply unacceptable.

One family in Central Scotland recently brought to my attention the situation of their teenage grandson, who is being bullied at a school near to where I live due to a physical disability. The family was happy for me to mention that today, but asked me to say nothing more due to a fear of his identity being revealed.

We have also heard, via the TIE—time for inclusive education—campaign, shocking details of those who have been victims of homophobic bullying in schools. My friend and colleague Councillor Ged Killen at South Lanarkshire Council has spoken about his experience of being bullied at school simply for being gay.

During the debate, I have had in my mind my young constituent, my friend Ged Killen and others who have shared their lived experience with me, because there are real people behind the hate crime statistics and real lives that are affected by instances of prejudice-based bullying.

Specifically on the issue of homophobia, LGBTI groups and in particular the TIE campaign have been keen to address the occurrence of bullying and harassment in schools. I am pleased that several colleagues referred to the TIE campaign, including Annie Wells and Alex Cole-Hamilton. I was particularly pleased to hear Christina McKelvie, who is a big supporter of the TIE campaign, adding her voice and asking the Scottish Government to do all that it can to support the campaign.

Far too many young people are reporting issues of bullying due to their sexual orientation. No young person should be made to feel isolated, ashamed or persecuted because of their sexual orientation.

The TIE campaign research is remarkable; anyone who reads it finds it sobering. It includes the information that more than half of teachers have never even heard of or read current Government guidance that is designed to tackle homophobia in schools, as well as survey data from pupils showing that 27 per cent of LGBTI students had attempted suicide at least once.

The Scottish Government should act on the powers that it has to influence how the teaching curriculum and training materials are exercised when it comes to education on the matter. Taking forward a strong ethos of equality, starting with our young people, is a good way to start moving towards the permanent eradication of such prejudice from our society.

Building those positive attitudes throughout society will complement the work that our justice system—particularly Police Scotland—and third sector support groups carry out every day in tackling hate crime where it occurs.

I echo the calls from the advisory group on enhanced resourcing for the third party reporting centres, and recommendations that Police Scotland reviews action steps to improve their effectiveness.

I hope that the Government will consider its role in working with partners in the justice system and in education to improve how hate crimes are recorded and I hope that the minister will be able to provide some clarity on those issues in closing.

I hate to come back to Donald Trump, but his election reminds us that views that we might have hoped were consigned to the past are not necessarily as unacceptable in today’s world as we like to think.

There can be no room for complacency. It is my hope that we can positively take forward the issues raised in today’s debate by working together across the chamber in order to enact real change in people’s lives during the lifetime of this session of Parliament.