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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 Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

People are not born full of hate; they are not born homophobic or racist; and they are not born with despicable, demeaning views about the disabled. They learn it somewhere—perhaps in our communities, through entrenched, historical views that, I hope, will disappear some day soon. That point sprang to mind when I listened to the cabinet secretary’s quotation at the end of her speech. I will come back to that later.

I was encouraged to think that perhaps those old-fashioned views are leaving us when I attended the Scottish Youth Parliament reception in the Scottish Parliament last night. Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament from Moray and from Shetland showed me the responses to recent surveys about young people’s opinions in local communities, including young people’s priorities. Emmie Main from Moray and Kelvin Anderson from Shetland both told me how high up tackling hate crime was on their agenda in Shetland and in Moray, as well as with young people across Scotland. That can give us some encouragement today, when we have heard about some pretty horrific things happening throughout our communities.

I am pleased to close for the Scottish Conservatives and I thank all members for their contributions. There is a clear consensus in the chamber that hate crime must be overcome once and for all. Prejudice and bigotry of any kind has no place in our society and I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to tackle this pernicious problem.

I want to dwell for a short time on some of the speeches that we have heard. Mr Dornan spoke about his experiences in Glasgow. Margaret Mitchell looked at three specific aspects during her speech and she gave us a stark example of unacceptable behaviour involving vandalism and graffiti of the cenotaph in Coatbridge and how that offensive action spreads through the community. That is completely unacceptable.

I enjoyed Johann Lamont’s comments about the Purple Poncho Players, and her compelling and moving account of her recent visit to Bosnia where she learned about the horrors of war that people had experienced there.

John Finnie and Christina McKelvie mentioned the impact of social media and the unacceptable hate that can be directed at people and politicians in particular; John Finnie made the point that female politicians are often targeted. I totally agree with what they said. None of us would condone what is said to politicians online, but some people see us as fair game. Whether or not any of us agrees with that, we would all agree that our staff are definitely not fair game, but they are often included in some of the vile hatred that is expressed online simply because of who they are employed by and what they do in this Parliament. That is completely unacceptable. I know that we as individuals all support our staff, but we perhaps do not say it enough in the chamber.

I was shocked to hear George Adam mention Paisley in his useful contribution, although he tends to do that every now and then. He also mentioned his wife Stacey and spoke about their experience of getting around town. I was interested to hear Stacey’s view that

“people with disabilities tend to be forgotten.”

I hope that, given the speeches from Mr Adam and other members, Stacey and others do not feel that their Scottish Parliament forgets them, because they are an important and integral part of Scotland’s life.

Jamie Greene mentioned how great it is that the Scottish Parliament now has a recognised LGBTI cross-party group. He also said that acceptance of the LGBTI community has soared, but we must remember that that does not always translate into true equity and equality.

I join the cabinet secretary in extending my thanks to Dr Duncan Morrow’s advisory group, which has looked extensively at the current state of hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion in Scotland since it was convened last year. The group’s report highlights a number of concerning issues, not least that many people in minority communities have accepted that a certain amount of abuse is almost part of daily life.

We have heard many worrying statistics in the chamber today. As Monica Lennon pointed out, the rise in the number of charges involving disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity may—although it is disappointing—at least demonstrate that some victims are more willing to come forward. However, many others for many reasons do not come forward, and it is incumbent on us all as parliamentarians to issue a clear call to let them know that their experiences will be taken seriously as they progress through the criminal justice system.

We also need to ensure that such cases are handled sensitively. Annie Wells and Jamie Greene mentioned the introduction of LGBTI liaison officers by Police Scotland, which is a positive step in that direction. It is particularly welcome that those officers have been trained by the Equality Network, which helps them to become alert to nuances of such incidents.

Dr Morrow emphasises that, although the justice system can punish and deter hate crime, it alone cannot instigate the required cultural change that will

“ensure positive and informed attitudes and behaviour within society”.

I refer to my earlier remarks in that regard. That is an important point, and it reinforces the idea that a criminal remedy must be part of a multipronged approach to tackling hate crime. Central to that strategy is the need to increase awareness of what constitutes a hate crime, given that the perpetrator and the victim may not recognise that the experience or actions are based on or motivated by hate.

How long do I have, Presiding Officer?