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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 Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

I, too, welcome the contributions to the debate from members right across the chamber, almost all of which have been positive. There is broad consensus in the Parliament not only that hate crime, prejudice and, as Margaret Mitchell specifically referred to, sectarian behaviour are not acceptable in Scotland, but that each of us must do all that we can to prevent and eradicate such hateful behaviours. As Christina McKelvie said, we must be on our guard and be vigilant.

Everyone has the right to be safe and to feel safe in their community. There is no excuse for any form of hate crime, which is never acceptable and will never be tolerated in this country. Scotland is a diverse multicultural society, and that diversity is a strength, not a problem. As has been highlighted this afternoon, Scotland has a long history of welcoming people of all nationalities and faiths, including those seeking refuge and asylum from war and terror elsewhere in the world. That is who we have been, it is who we are and it is who we continue to want to be. We want an open, inclusive and respectful country—a civilised country in what is, as Johann Lamont said, an increasingly frightening and fragile world. To respond to Johann Lamont’s request, I am sure that the cabinet secretary would be happy to meet her to discuss her ideas for ways in which we can all move forward together.

Understandably, we had many references to the international aspect. Alex Cole-Hamilton referred to the perhaps challenging events that are happening furth of Scotland, and Ash Denham made an eloquent plea about the importance of the language that is used by politicians. We all have a responsibility to set the tone.

Before I pick up on some specific points that have been raised, I want to stress a few things about reporting, a common theme that has been mentioned by many members. Anyone who believes that they have been a victim of hate crime should report that to the authorities. Police Scotland supports a national third-party reporting infrastructure to facilitate the reporting of hate crime. I say to Pauline McNeill that Police Scotland has been reviewing the network to ensure that there is adequate geographical coverage across Scotland and that there are sites that cater for particular community needs. The staff at the sites have received additional training from local officers to ensure that they can assist victims or witnesses in submitting a report to the police. In addition, hate crime can be reported online through the Police Scotland website. However, I undertake to ensure that, after the debate, we ask Police Scotland what more it can do in that regard.

As a general comment, and picking up on some of the points that Monica Lennon made, we of course continue to reflect on Dr Morrow’s recommendations in the round, and that work is on-going.

I was concerned to note the comments in the Equality Network’s submission for the debate in which it pointed to its recent survey of LGBTI people’s experiences of hate crime. The survey found that some 70 per cent of LGBTI people who had been the victim of a hate crime did not report the incident that they experienced to the police. Therefore, more work is obviously needed on that. I will ensure that the concerns that have been raised by the Equality Network as a result of its recent survey, which also covered experience of the broader justice system, are brought to the attention of the police and the relevant services so that we can reflect on what more we need to do to deal with that clear gap in how people feel about the system that is there for them.

Awareness raising plays a critical role, which is why I hope that all members will welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement today of a new awareness-raising campaign on the effects of hate crime on individuals and communities, which is to be launched next year. I hope that the whole chamber will be able to get behind that important campaign.

In the time that I have available, I will focus on a few of the specific points that members raised in addition to the reporting of hate crime. I will perhaps not get round all the points, but I am happy to respond to members if they wish to write to me.

We will continue to work closely with all the relative organisations to ensure that we better understand and seek to address the key priorities for LGBTI communities. It is fair to say that the Scottish Government has made significant progress over recent years, but we are by no means complacent and we recognise that there is always more to be done. I welcome Jamie Greene’s role as co-convener of the cross-party group on LGBTI+, on which I am sure he will do an excellent job of work.