Let me start with three vital words that everyone needs to hear and that we all need to understand: black lives matter. All across the world, people are standing up and making that point. Cross-party consensus on it is vital, and we will support the amendments to the Government’s motion that have been lodged by Labour and the Green Party.
I know that we have all been shocked and appalled by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May. His terrible, senseless death is a tragedy that has reopened the seismic fault lines that exist in US society, where for too long black people have continued to suffer the most appalling inequality, prejudice and discrimination. Large parts of America are standing up and saying, “Not in my name” and, “Enough is enough.”
It is absolutely understandable that people should wish to make their voices heard. At the weekend, we saw protests across Scottish cities, with many thousands of people coming together to show their anger and solidarity. However, the First Minister was and continues to be very clear, and I want to make it very clear today, that we strongly oppose and discourage mass gatherings and that people who are seeking to make their voices heard should find alternative means of doing so.
We are at a critical point in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, and our hard-won gains with the infection rate reducing must not be lost. Many of us wish to make clear our strong solidarity with the black community, and we should do so virtually or through supporting the charities that are working on the ground to improve the lives of black and minority ethnic people in Scotland and further afield. I encourage everyone to act responsibly while continuing, of course, to make their voices heard. Covid is still with us and people are still dying. The priority must be to protect public health.
I turn to the inequality that black and other minority ethnic communities in Scotland continue to experience. Last year, I undertook a tour of Glasgow—not for the first time—to learn more about the city’s links to the historic slave trade, and I was struck by just how much that terrible stain on our history is still woven throughout the fabric of that great city. Although, today, we are resolutely focused on improving the lives of black and minority ethnic people, we must not forget that we once enabled the terrible practice of slavery.
It is clear to me that the roots of the entrenched structural racism that continues to pervade global society are firmly based in the historic enslavement of black people, mainly from African countries. Racism has allowed white people to determine black people as a subhuman class and treat them as chattels, or property. Reducing black people to that status salved the collective conscience of white people around the world and enabled them to justify their barbaric acts, and we should all take responsibility for that.
We must not gloss over our historical attitudes or actions, nor should we assume that, simply because we live in the modern era, everything is much better. Recent events have demonstrated that that is clearly not the case, and we need to move forward in a way that reflects the reality of the historical oppression of black people and what we need to do to tackle injustice and build true equality.
Patrick Harvie’s amendment calls for the establishment of a slavery museum to address our historical links to the slave trade, and it expresses regret about the fact that so many monuments and street names still celebrate the perpetrators and profiteers of slavery.
On the latter point, there are a range of views. Some think that such monuments and signs should be torn down immediately, while others believe that it is important to reflect the reality of the past and that to do otherwise erases the experience and the reality of the terrible inequality and suffering that existed. Our view is that these matters are best considered in a respectful and reflective way that is grounded in the voices and lived experience of those who are most affected by the issues. I give Patrick Harvie a commitment that we will play our part in contributing to that discussion.
On the suggestion of a museum, Patrick Harvie will be aware that the University of Glasgow is taking forward work in that area, following a report published in 2019 by Dr Stephen Mullen that made a number of recommendations. My officials are currently following up on those recommendations directly with the university.
One key area of progress that I would like to highlight is the establishment of a new James McCune Smith learning hub in recognition of the first African American to be awarded a medical degree by the University of Glasgow in 1837. Another long-term goal is the establishment of a Hunterian exhibition on slavery. We will continue to engage with the university as it takes forward work in that area.
I turn to our broader agenda. The Scottish Government has taken steps to advance race equality and tackle racism—but, to be frank and absolutely honest, we have not gone far enough and we need to make much greater progress.
In 2017, we published a race equality action plan that outlined the actions that we will take during the current parliamentary session to secure better outcomes for minority ethnic communities in Scotland. An update published last year indicated that although progress has been made in some areas, there remains so much more to do. A senior-level programme board has been established to drive the progress that we want to see.
In the past financial year, we allocated more than £2.6 million to fund organisations working to advance race equality. We have taken action to address bullying and discrimination in our schools, and that is a work in progress. We have a working group to implement measures to address the underrepresentation of minority ethnic teachers in Scotland’s schools. We are actively working to improve the employment rates for minority ethnic groups in Scotland, and our workplace equality fund has funded initiatives to support minority ethnic people to progress in the workplace and employers to develop a more inclusive workforce.
Black and minority ethnic representation in this place is still severely lacking, and it remains a significant issue that we have never seen a woman from any ethnic minority background in 20 years of the Scottish Parliament. Funding to the Equal Representation coalition has supported it to develop a toolkit to help political parties to improve the diversity of their membership, with a view to addressing underrepresentation not just here, but in other places in the country to which people are elected. Through the First Minister’s national advisory council on women and girls, Dr Ima Jackson and Louise Macdonald are taking forward thinking on how we build greater intersectionality into our approach to gender equality.
I look forward to publishing the report on the final year of the current race equality action plan in 2021, including consideration of areas for further action and focus. I welcome further debate and scrutiny in Parliament on the progress that we have made, and I encourage colleagues from across all parties to join me in that.
I suppose that, yes, we could say that. However, the endemic structural inequality that our minority ethnic communities face now is based in that history. We need to understand where it came from so that we can work out what we need to do to move forward. That can only be done with more representation in Parliament, on our public boards, in our workplaces and at every level of our communities. The people are there; we just need to make sure that we encourage that participation, then we can change some of those structural inequalities.
I mentioned Covid-19 and the importance of continuing to maintain social distancing and stay at home as we work to bring this unprecedented pandemic under control, and I have been very conscious of increasing anxiety about the disproportionate impact of the pandemic upon minority ethnic communities, including those who work in our care system and have become ill or even lost their lives. Pauline McNeill’s amendment focuses on that.
I want to reassure minority ethnic communities that we are taking the issue very seriously. The health and wellbeing of our health and social care staff is a key priority and we know that many minority ethnic staff will be feeling anxious about how best to protect themselves and their families. We are taking steps to address that, including setting out guidance for health and social care employers on risk assessment and support for their staff. Work is also under way to improve our understanding of the impact of the virus on minority ethnic groups so that we can take the right action.
To respond further to Pauline McNeill’s amendment, I can confirm that we have asked Public Health Scotland to undertake a review of all the available evidence to inform our future action. National Records of Scotland is working towards producing an analysis that is similar to that which was recently published by the Office for National Statistics for England and Wales.
Pauline McNeill’s amendment also welcomes the establishment of a new expert reference group that is set to look at the issue. It comprises academics and other experts in the field, and it is chaired by Paul Johnston, the Scottish Government’s director general for education, communities and justice and chair of the race equality programme board. A co-chair with academic and lived experience will be asked to take part in that work, and they will be appointed shortly. I hope to announce that appointment very soon. I attended an initial meeting of the expert group this morning, and it was absolutely fantastic and brimming with ideas. We came up with a clear set of actions, which we hope to give members more information on very soon.
Work to address the issues that have been raised will be progressed by the race equality programme board, which will play an active role in overseeing and supporting cross-portfolio activity to inform and support work in the area.
Mr Yousaf will sum up in today’s debate because the work is not just equalities driven; it is a cross-Government piece of work.
As we look further ahead, we will continue to ensure that such equality and human rights issues are at the heart of our response to the impacts of Covid-19 and our recovery from it. We have the overall vision for race equality in Scotland that, by 2030,
“Scotland is a place where people are healthier, happier and treated with respect, and where opportunities, wealth and power are spread more equally.”
Our race equality framework aims to ensure that that vision is achieved equally for people from all ethnicities, and to help to build a Scotland in which we all share a common sense of purpose and belonging.
As I draw to a close, I emphasise that point. The inequality that black and other minority ethnic people continue to experience, whether it be health related, hate crime related, economic or societal, continues to be unacceptable and is a fundamental result of the failure to realise the human rights of everyone in Scotland. It can and it must change. I am committed to doing everything that I can to help change it, and I am sure that the whole Parliament can unite behind that ambition.
That the Parliament understands and shares the deep concern and horror that many feel about racism and racial injustice across the world; expresses and shares the sympathy, grief and anger of so many at the death of George Floyd; stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement; discourages mass gatherings at this time in the interests of public health and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and encourages people to find alternative ways to lend their voice to protest peacefully on this important matter; believes that there is a responsibility on us all to identify and dismantle barriers of structural racism that exist in our society and institutions; agrees that it is up to all in society to tackle racism and advance race equality, and believes that racism is a societal evil that we must all stand united against, and work to eradicate.
Black lives matter. I am pleased to stand in solidarity with all the parties this afternoon, and I thank the Presiding Officers for making that happen. We are all anti-racist, and we must stand up together and say so.
Among the line of buses and cars at the front of the church that was used for George Floyd’s funeral, Savant Moore shared the sentiment that he posted on Facebook in the aftermath of the killing. He said:
“It really took a global pandemic with no sports, no concerts, no vacations to get the world to sit down and have no choice but to watch what’s really happening to black people in America with zero distractions.”
The killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police has galvanised young people in particular to say, “Enough is enough”, when it comes to treatment of black people at the hands of the police in America. It has also drawn attention to the wider inequalities and structural racism that are faced by BME people throughout the world and in Scotland.
Scotland is not exceptional when it comes to racism. That is even more the case when we consider the lack of progress that we have made at every level of our society. I could give many quotations and figures that relate to underrepresentation of BME people in teaching, the civil service and the law at every level. That amounts to failure of our action plans, and we all have to accept that. As anti-racists, we must be clear that we fight against Islamophobia and antisemitism—against any form of racism whatsoever.
I work with women in Arab and Asian communities, who still face direct racist treatment. Women face stereotyping in the jobs market, and they put up with a great deal of criminality in the streets. Amina—The Muslim Women’s Resource Centre surveyed 101 Muslim women and found that 64 per cent said that they had experienced or witnessed Islamophobia. A lot of it is just to do with a person’s choice of headwear.
Five years on, we still await answers about the treatment of Sheku Bayoh, who died in custody. That has left a shadow over Police Scotland. I know that my colleague Claire Baker will speak to that. The family deserves answers, and I look forward to the report on the inquiry.
We are in a key moment in time, in which we have a reminder of the racists who exist and how organised they are. Football supporters and far-right extremists have vowed to counter Black Lives Matter protests and to keep vigils at war memorials and statues. Ken Marsh, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, has said that
“We have got the perfect storm ahead of us ... now that we have planned protests and agitators,” so we need to be live to the threats to our BME community and we need to organise against racists.
Scotland’s black and minority ethnic people have come together to publicly demand racial justice, and rightly so. The “Break the race ceiling” campaign was launched on Sunday night. I have just heard about it, but it is certainly a campaign that I would like to work with.
The Scottish Trades Union Congress’s black workers committee has done a great deal of work, and many people joined the Scottish Trades Union Congress and Black Lives Matter on Sunday night at their virtual rally. I am sure that those organisations would be the first to say that that can only be the beginning, rather than the end, of the politics around what we need to do and take action on.
On the amendments, I welcome what Christina McKelvie said about the Labour Party’s amendment and how important it is, but I also want to address the Government’s motion. We agree on the public health message about gatherings. We are keen to support the Green Party’s amendment, because its call on the United Kingdom Government to
“suspend all export licences for tear gas, rubber bullets and riot gear” to the United States is vital. There is no doubt in my mind that those types of equipment are used against black people in America, so I am pleased to support that part of the Greens’ amendment.
We cannot erase our past, but we have a chance to change our future by recognising the truth of our history. Many constituents have written to me calling for Scotland’s role in colonialism and slavery to be taught more prominently in schools. That is definitely worthy of consideration. The history of African, Caribbean and Asian people and their contributions to Scottish history is often forgotten or relegated to a bit part. We want the opportunity to promote an inclusive history of Scotland.
A recent report from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended that Scotland’s school curriculum should contain
“a balanced account of the history of the British Empire and colonialism, including slavery and other grave human rights violations.”
It is time to act on that.
As Christina McKelvie said, the role that was played by Scots in the slave trade has only recently been recognised. Scots were in the past known for their cruelty, and were in high demand to run plantations, where the average survival rate for enslaved people was three to five years. We cannot extinguish our past, but we must recognise it. We must join together and make decisions together about how we will recognise our past, going forward.
I will conclude by addressing the Labour Party’s amendment. Figures that were published by the Office for National Statistics last month found that black people are more than four times more likely than white people of the same age to die from Covid-19. That is why the Scottish Government’s announcement this week that it will establish a group to study the effects of the virus on minority ethnic communities is so crucial.
I am afraid that, in England and Wales, they got it wrong. The UK Government chose not to publish Professor Fenton’s section of the report on BME communities. He had engaged with 4,000 people from BME communities in his research. He made the important point—which Neil Findlay raised in an intervention—that social and economic deprivation plays a very important part in the risk that BME communities face from Covid-19. We do not know that that will be the conclusion of the Scottish Government’s study; we will not be surprised if it is a partial conclusion, but we must have the answers in order that we can save and protect the BME community from that horrible virus.
Let this be a watershed moment and let the debate not be merely a gesture. Let us all act together. Black lives matter.
I move amendment S5M-22004.1, to insert at end:
“; welcomes the establishment of the Scottish Government expert advisory group on COVID-19 and the impact on ethnic minority communities, and calls for action now to best support black and minority ethnic (BAME) workers and their families as the health and economic crisis unfolds and for the collection of detailed data through Public Health Scotland on the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups, to assist in identifying the reasons for differential impacts”.
I join others in acknowledging the events that have prompted us to have this debate at this time: the extraordinary impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, coming in the wake of the killing of George Floyd—an event that echoed police violence, brutality and racism down the ages.
It took place in the extraordinary context of a public health crisis. That context reminds us that when restrictions need to be enforced for the public good, people need to know that the authorities, including the Government and the police, are acting in their interests and respecting their human rights. Sadly, that is not the case in the United States. Its systemic racist police brutality and voter suppression long pre-date the Covid crisis, but both have been exacerbated by the current circumstances.
The Black Lives Matter movement, in all its expressions, is necessary and urgent, and it demands our support. At the same time, we all have a responsibility to echo, as the minister said, the critically important public health message. Nothing in my amendment is intended to encourage mass gatherings—I do not encourage them. I remind members that last week, during First Minister’s question time, I said that I hoped that everybody who was considering joining a protest would
“act responsibly and observe social distancing”,
“Perhaps it would be better to do something from home, such as donating to ... community bail funds”.—[
, 3 June 2020; c 10.]
I say that again, while praising police forces that have chosen to make low-key and non-provocative responses to protests—unlike in London, for example, where some protesters have been kettled such that they have been unable to observe social distancing, and have been held in one place for six or seven hours, into the small hours of the morning, without food, water or access to a toilet. That response is not appropriate.
As I said last week, people are asking themselves, “What can I do?” As politicians, we need to do the same. I am very conscious that I ask that question of myself as a white politician, in an overwhelmingly white party, in an overwhelmingly white Parliament. However, my amendment sets out some specific actions that we could take. On exports, for example, many of us would like to see an end to the arms industry everywhere, and I hope that we all want to see an end to state violence. Those might be long-term ideals, but as long as the arms industry exists, we must constantly ask ourselves how its products will be used, and by whom.
Clearly, the US is not a safe country to which we should be exporting tear gas, rubber bullets and riot gear. Those are the weapons of oppression in a society in which police forces—which, in some states, were founded as slave-capturing militias—still display deeply institutional racism. Those forces have also become increasingly militarised and have, in some places in recent weeks, begun to behave in a paramilitary fashion, displaying no identification and being subject to no accountability.
In that context, the call to defund the police should be in no way controversial when compared with defunding of education, healthcare and housing, which has been endured disproportionately by black communities.
As for our own history, there is so much to reflect on. The Government response to Covid has included fiscal intervention that has been described as unprecedented. I will take the time to count the full bill: it is now £100 billion and could reach £200 billion. As we look at that, we should reflect on an aspect of the United Kingdom’s slavery history that shocks most of us when we learn of it. When the legal slave trade was finally done away with, the UK Government borrowed for compensation money that was equivalent to £300 billion in today’s terms. That compensation was not for the victims of slavery but for the perpetrators, who had already profited from their brutality. Even the abolitionists thought that the slavers deserved reward instead of punishment for their crimes against humanity.
That is not ancient history. Much of the inequality that we live with today—in wealth, opportunity, political power and privileged education—can be traced back directly to that extraordinary transfer of wealth from the public to the slave owners. That transfer was funded by Government debt that we have been paying off ever since, until just five years ago. Why did I never learn of that at school, or of the other details of the brutal history of slavery and colonialism? What can we do to improve the teaching of that history?
I know that there are different views on monuments and street names, as has been highlighted once again by the removal of Edward Colston’s statue—an action that was taken by people who were deeply frustrated that their previous persistent efforts to achieve that had been blocked. Our actions need not be about tearing down history; they can be about placing history in its proper context. Perhaps the right context for Edward Colston’s statue is the bottom of the docks that he used in carrying out his lethal business.
In Glasgow, whether or not we choose to rename streets or the area that we still euphemistically call the Merchant City, we could institute new memorials—lasting visible and permanent structures to remind people of the history. That is not about tearing down or erasing history, but about finally and truthfully telling history.
I thank colleagues from the Scottish National Party and the Labour Party for taking an approach that has allowed us to unite all our positions. I also thank the Presiding Officer for finding a solution in the form of a technical change, rather than a substantive change, to ensure that all the positions can be supported, so I will support the other two parties’ positions at decision time tonight.
I move amendment S5M-22004.2, to leave out from “across the world” to “equality” and insert:
“and police brutality across the world; expresses and shares the sympathy, grief and anger of so many at the death of George Floyd; stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and considers that the UK Government must immediately suspend all export licences for tear gas, rubber bullets and riot gear to the US; recognises that public protest should be conducted safely in the current public health crisis; encourages people to continue to find safe ways to lend their voice to protest against racism in all its forms; believes that there is a responsibility on us all to identify and dismantle barriers of structural racism that exist in our society and institutions; agrees that it is up to all in society to tackle racism and advance race equality; agrees that Scotland should establish a slavery museum to address our historic links to the slave trade; regrets the fact that so many monuments and street names still celebrate the perpetrators and profiteers of slavery, and calls on all levels of government to work to address this toxic legacy”.
I am pleased to open the debate on behalf of the Conservative Party. I thank the Scottish Government for bringing the debate to the chamber and allowing us, as a Parliament, to unite against the scourge of racism.
I asked to speak in this debate, and I speak not as a politician but as a member of a group of friends who have been connected through sport for some 35 years. We have discussed and debated and tried to tackle racism in the world in which we live, where we witness it far too often. On a Zoom call last night, we debated—sometimes quite heatedly—what I should say today, so my speech is as much about what my friends said as what I have to say.
I did not know George Floyd. I do not know who he was, what kind of character he was or what he had or had not done to attract the attention of the police, other than what we have seen and what has been reported. To be quite frank, that does not matter. What matters is George Floyd’s irrefutable right to be treated with the same dignity and respect as every other citizen would expect, irrespective of their background. What we witnessed was the abhorrent treatment of an individual by those who were charged with public protection, which I am sure that all of us still struggle to absorb, and which resulted in his death.
Let us be clear: racism pervades our society, and it is a learned behaviour. People are not born racist; it is absorbed from the society in which we live. I am old enough to remember when casual racism was commonplace across mainstream television programmes, and comedians readily appeared on television using language that we could not countenance now. It was not that long ago. The thing about casual racism is that, much of the time, the perpetrators will not accept or recognise that they are being racist. Nonetheless, it falls on us all to continually point out racism whenever we hear or see it.
I witnessed blatant racism a long time ago, when I was a wee skinny white Scots boy. I went down to compete in London, and the day before I was invited, along with the team manager, to attend a Coventry-Spurs football match. I was in the car with the manager and his two friends when we came to a road crossing. An elderly gentleman, who I assumed was a Sikh, was waiting to cross the road. The driver indicated to him to cross, but, as the man stepped off the pavement using a walking stick, the driver revved up his engine and edged forward. The gentleman nearly fell over trying to avoid the car, to much laughter from the three companions in the car. The driver once again indicated to the gentleman to cross, and when he moved forward, the driver repeated the revving of the engine. The laughter from the other three in the car grew louder. I sat in the back feeling absolutely shocked—I am ashamed to say that I was shocked into silence. I could not get my head around how anyone could treat another human being like that, let alone how others could find it funny. From that moment on, I wanted to go home. I did not sleep—I ran like a drain the next day, and I just wanted to get back on the plane.
I kept thinking that I should have got out of the car and helped that man across the road, irrespective of the circumstances. I was so ashamed of my inaction that I told the story to Phil Brown only last week, when he phoned me to talk through ideas for how we could respond. Thankfully, he understood how a young, 21-year-old, inexperienced boy could freeze in that situation. I still find myself ashamed, having told the guys only last night. I told myself then that I would not stand by and do nothing ever again.
Any discrimination is about seeking out and highlighting what makes us different. If we truly want to tackle the scourge of racism and discrimination in all its forms, we need to look at what binds us. We need to look at opportunities to share passions and experiences. For me, that was sport. My heroes were people like Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali—not just because of their achievements, but because of the arenas in which they achieved them, which were overtly racist in the worst way. Jesse Owens won four gold medals in front of Adolf Hitler; he came home a hero and went straight back into a segregated society. Cassius Clay won an Olympic medal for his country but was not allowed to eat in a white restaurant; he threw his Olympic medal into the Mississippi river. They led the way—as did Arthur Ashe in tennis and Tiger Woods in golf—he won the Masters title at a course that black men were normally not allowed to play on. In fact, it was said that a black man could not get into Augusta unless he was waiting tables. That was not long ago. Tiger Woods now has a locker there, of course. Those were all men who overcame blatant racism and were accepted for their brilliance in their fields. They were pioneers through achievement, and their message is important to me.
Nelson Mandela said:
“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”
However, in a blog that I read this morning on social media, a friend of mine, Kriss Akabusi, said:
“I don’t have any answers but my lived experience tells me the current enthusiasm from the world media to talk about #blacklivesmatters will fade soon and all things will remain the same.”
And little wonder. Who remembers Rodney King, back in 1991? The global condemnation and marches were not dissimilar to what we are seeing now, nearly three decades later. What has changed? Busi has to be proved wrong this time. If we want to tackle racism, we should not just point at America. If we want to tackle racism, we should not just point at some eastern European countries with terrible records on racism. We should not even look down south and point. If we are serious about racism, we must look in the mirror and ask whether that is us—and we should never let racism go unchallenged again.
What a privilege it is to follow such an emotional and powerful speech from Brian Whittle. I commend him for it. It is entirely right that the Parliament is taking time to discuss what is happening in the context of race relations in America and the wider world.
There are few times in human history where something captured on film is so incendiary that one immediately recognises it for the defining moment it is set to become. The sight of George Floyd choking out the words, “I can’t breathe,” under the knee of a white police officer shortly before he died, was one such moment.
Those words struck a terrible but resounding chord in a country where any one of over 100,000 people lost to Covid-19 might have uttered that same, desperate sentence in an emergency room or care home. They capture the sense of helplessness that the American people must feel as, from a state of effective house arrest, they watch their livelihoods collapse. They also capture a sense of helplessness at history repeating itself again and again.
Police brutality and racism are stitched through the fabric of American history. From the days of lynching to the police attack on a peaceful civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, and from the riots that followed police brutality in Watts to those that followed the on-camera beating of Rodney King, the United States is stained with racial outrage. What makes the Floyd murder different is the response from the White House.
In 1965, in the days after local law enforcement turned on civil rights leaders in Selma, Lyndon Johnson sent in the National Guard to protect activists from local police officers and Ku Klux Klan members, allowing them to march again. Last week, Donald Trump sent in the National Guard to crush the activities of protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets. Taking to Twitter, Trump warned those protesting in their tens of thousands, in dozens of cities across America:
“when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Aside from violating Twitter’s rules on incitement to violence, that phrase resonates with America’s racist past. In 1967, Miami’s chief of police, Walter Headley, said exactly those words in the context of the civil rights movement that was on the verge of explosion in Florida, ordering his officers to control any violence with shotguns and live ammunition. Headley said:
“We don’t mind being accused of police brutality.”
Trump knew exactly what he was doing when he typed those words, and who he was speaking to. He can read opinion polls like anybody else, and he can see that he is losing ground to Joe Biden. He has mishandled the American response to Covid-19, and any credit that he had built up for stimulating economic growth has all but turned to ash. He sees all of that, so he is seeding division in an attempt to mask his failings on so many other issues. All this while he reaches for the comfort blanket of his base in the far right. Remember, this is a President who describes white supremacists as “very fine people.” For all the nightmares that 2020 has thrown against humanity, I hope that the coming US election gives us hope for lasting change.
As other members have said, this is not a uniquely American problem. Racism exists in modern Scotland, whether in the unconscious bias of Scottish boardrooms or in the excessive use of force that led to the killing of Sheku Bayoh on a street in Kirkcaldy. It is also evident in the heartbreaking reality that a range of structural factors in our society have left people of colour more and disproportionately exposed to the Covid-19 threat.
Our history and our national wealth are steeped in the blood of the slave trade. The rage that was felt by protesters towards the public memorialisation of a slave trader, Edward Colston, in Bristol, might just as easily have been felt here in Edinburgh towards Henry Dundas. Dundas is commemorated by monuments in our nation’s capital, but he used his influence to delay the abolition of the slave trade by 15 years and more. It should not surprise us to learn about racism in our past but, more often than not, it does. Our schools teach Scottish history, but they speak only of its heroes—of Wallace and Bruce; we never learn about Scots plantation owners such as Dalzel or MacQueen.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, I have been contacted by constituents of all backgrounds, asking that we change the curriculum to better reflect the history of race and of racism in this country. I support that. In 2019, BEMIS called for a new expert group to be instigated to respond directly to the recommendation from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that challenges Scotland to integrate learning material on British colonialism and imperialism and its impact, both internationally and domestically, into our curriculum for excellence. I support that call whole-heartedly, and I ask whoever is speaking for the Government, in their closing remarks, to commit to establishing such a group. I also call on the Government to consider the establishment of a museum of empire, so that we can provide a learning point for all age groups among our communities in Scotland. Breaking down systemic racism can happen only when we teach our children to understand what it looks like in the first place.
I return to my remarks on America. What happened to George Floyd two weeks ago was by no means the first such incident of racial brutality in the States and, I dare say, it will not be the last. Speaking in Indianapolis on the night when Martin Luther King was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy spoke these words to a largely African American crowd, and his words prevented any violence there like that which was seen in other cities that night. He said:
“the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.
Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”
That gentleness will be forever beyond our reach while we fail to value the lives and the contribution made by people of colour in this country and around the world.
Like everyone else in the chamber, I have an inbox full of emails from constituents about what happened to George Floyd in America. What struck me about it was that I was able to look at the two different types of constituents who had written. Some were from my own age group and older; they were aghast that, despite all the stuff that we had seen over the years from the civil rights movement, things had not changed and looked like they were now going backwards. I also heard from young people for whom, perhaps because of social media, this was the first time that they had been hit between the eyes by something as abhorrent as blatant racism—especially when it was institutional—and they want something to be done. Let us look at that as a positive. What is happening in the US is not as positive. The same issues that horrified me as a child in the 1960s are made worse by what, at first, seems like the childish prattle of a US President. However, that masks a vicious rhetoric that is encouraging the police to act as combatants. It is horrible.
Sometimes, on social media, we see things that we do not like. I have been exercised by people saying in response to the Black Lives Matter campaign, “Yeah, but all lives matter.” Of course, all lives matter; all lives are and should be of equal value. However, too often in this world, that is not the case. When we say, “Black lives matter,” it is not to lessen the value of any other life; it is simply to say that black lives matter. Too often, in our society and history, they have not mattered as much as white lives have mattered.
Constituents have written on various issues. George Floyd was the most recent in a long line of people who have been disadvantaged by the US system. They have written about export licences; I look forward to the day when, in an independent country, we can force our Government to stop sending weapons for internal oppression and external aggression. They have written about Sheku Bayoh; I will not say anything about that case because of the public inquiry, but I cannot get my head around the fact that it has taken five years to get to where we are with it. Constituents write about street names and statues and education. I have been looking at the issue of street names and statues; I was pleased that, at the end of last year, Susan Aitken, the leader of Glasgow City Council, announced a major academic study into transatlantic slavery in the city of Glasgow. My first instinct on street names and statues that celebrate the tobacco lords in Glasgow, who I learned about at school, is to tear them down and get them away. However, then I think, “Wait a minute. Does obliterating that evidence hide the original sin? Should such action be taken only when it is linked with enough education for everybody to understand the past?” I will wait to see the findings of that study; I want to be informed by those who are living with the legacy of what Scotland did.
My constituents have also written about education. Because of my constituency work and my work with the young women lead committee through YWCA Scotland, I am convinced that we must do more in education, not just in what we teach and learn but in how we deal with racism. Whether that racism is overt, casual or unintentional, we must deal with it. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and the Minister for Older People and Equalities have considered some of what has been presented to them; I am glad to hear today that there is an admission that we have not done enough, that we must act more quickly and that we must do more. I want that work to continue and for it to be linked across Government. I want the messages of that work to be dispersed to every one of us across our society. There must be a message to all of us that we recognise racism, whether it be institutional racism—as was noted by the inquiries into the death of Surjit Singh Chhokar at the beginning of this Parliament—racism in the workplace or in social interaction, racism in the successive UK Governments’ immigration and asylum policies or the rhetoric that panders to the worst of the right-wing press. We must recognise it, call it out and add substance to the statement “Black lives matter” that we are all finding easy to say. Let us make it the reality and let us start now.
I thank members for the tone of the debate so far, which is a testament to how we as a Parliament are approaching the subject.
Like many others in the chamber, I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of abuse and prejudice for who or what you are. However, today is not about my protected characteristic; it is about another. I will open my comments by reading out a statement that has been given to me by a member of staff in the Parliament who is a member of a black and ethnic minority group. He cannot participate because he does not have the privilege that I have to stand here, but he wanted his voice to be heard in the debate, so he asked me to read out a statement. He says:
“Racism isn’t, or at least shouldn’t, be ... political. I, like many, have endured hate speech, abuse and violence from those who identify with all corners of the political spectrum and those who identify with none.
We’ve recently seen BAME politicians who have experienced the same kind of prejudice as me denounced, and the validity of their prejudice questioned more by the colour of their rosette than the colour of their skin, or because they don’t fit some predefined narrative of what they’re meant to be or say. We’re counting on decision makers to be a voice for all of us and long-lasting change depends on the ability of all of us to be valued equally.”
In response, I say thank you, and I commit that my input to the debate will respect those sentiments.
I will comment on a theme that has dominated headlines of late, which is the symbolism of Scotland’s past. In recent days, Sir Geoff Palmer, for whom I have tremendous respect, made his point eloquently about how we try to right the wrongs of the past. He said:
“if you remove the evidence you remove the deed ... The past has consequences and if we take the past down we may forget the consequences”.
I agree. I do not think that we can pull down every statue, change every street name or tear down every town hall or town house that philanthropy built, brick by brick, from the proceeds of trade and exploitation, whether it relates to tea, tobacco, spices or slaves. That is our uncomfortable truth—the buildings and squares that we sit in and enjoy.
We might celebrate or remember the pulling down of a statue today, but a class of schoolchildren in 50 years’ time might not. They will not ask, “Who is that man?” and “Why was he so wrong?” We cannot change the past by hiding it from the future. We cannot ask the First Minister to move out of Bute house because it was once the home of John Crawford. Future generations must be able to ask who Dundas, Buchanan, Glassford and Cunningham were in a way that I never did.
Sir Geoff Palmer is right: education lies at the heart of changing attitudes. That iconic image of Glasgow, the Duke of Wellington with a cone on his head, sits in front of the building that houses the gallery of modern art, which was built by William Cunningham, a tobacco lord who made his fortunes from the triangular slave trade. What have we done? We have turned that building into a beacon of light, art, modern ability and social maturity. We did not knock it down. We do not rip statues down; we stick cones on their head, or we stick them in museums. [
.] I would like to make some progress.
That is what we do in Scotland. We face our gritty and dark past in the same way that we face darkness today. Whether it is Edinburgh’s new town or the mansions that litter the Clyde, these are physical embodiments of the Scottish enlightenment that also serve as reminders of the grotesque history of the wealth on which they were built. [
.] I have a lot to get through in a few short minutes.
In my home town of Greenock, there is Jamaica Street, Tobago Street and Antigua Street. Let us face it—they were not named after exotic holidays, were they? In Port Glasgow sat vessels that carried much more than sugar cane on their journeys between Africa, the Caribbean and the Clyde. Even Greenock’s most famous and proud son, James Watt, was accused of profiteering from the slave trade, but his statue still sits in George Square to remind us of his place in the industrial enlightenment. In my view, Scotland’s yesterday is part of its today. The fact that it exists all around us is a daily reminder of it all—the good, the bad and the ugly.
As politicians, we are uniquely placed to have debates such as this one. It is easy for us, because we do not need to congregate in parks with placards. We have a voice and we are using it, but we must use it wisely because people will listen and act on the things that we denounce and that we permit.
The Government must make clear to people that it will not permit future mass gatherings of protest in the current pandemic, if that is its view. We need no reminder of the concerted efforts that we have made jointly in this Parliament to encourage people to follow health advice.
A debate such as this would be put to poor use if it was used to be partisan and pigeonhole. It would miss the point. However, I do not think that we have missed it. My opportunity today was not to say that black lives matter, but to make black lives matter. That starts at home.
“No blacks, no Irish, no dogs” has been replaced by
“No fats, no femmes, no Asians”.
Racist signs have been replaced by racist memes. Let us all get our house in order. We cannot purport to fight for the rights of one minority while ignoring the plight of another.
One man died unequal. It is only when another is born equal that we will know that our job here is done. I, for one, will show unity in that message today.
Many members have talked about the horror of watching the footage that has come out of the United States recently. There are almost no words to describe the slow murder of George Floyd, an African-American man, at the hands of a white policeman, in broad daylight and—even more chillingly—watched on passively by a number of the policeman’s white colleagues.
The reaction in the US and across the world has seen demonstrations calling for justice, and that is gratifying to see. However, I have been struck by the number of times on television—on CNN or in our own media—that black people, having been asked what should happen next, have reacted by saying, “Why are you continually asking us?”
An American woman—an athlete, who had also served 20 years in the US Air Force—replied to a white interviewer by saying, “What are you going to do about it?” She is still in the same situation as before of having to educate her son on how to behave when he goes out in the morning in case he comes across a policeman and behaves in the wrong way, according to that policeman. She said that she has been saying that for many years—as have other black people—and that it is time for white people to change their behaviour and say what they are going to change, rather than continually confronting black people.
I am sure that I am not the only one who has been left reflecting on how best we can show solidarity with those who are fighting against that injustice, and how we can use what is termed as our white privilege to help.
Many in this chamber have been active for many years—as I have been—in anti-racism activities. Most of us will, of course, not fall into the trap of imagining that racism is something that happens over there. We recognise that we also have to address our own prejudices and the racism that poisons our society in Scotland, and that we have to use that white privilege to challenge it.
Most of us will be familiar with Angela Davis’s words. She said:
“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
I question whether even that is enough. Surely we have to continually challenge whether the anti-racist activities—the values that we say that we hold to—are actually affecting progress in society. The evidence seems to be that they are not. Self-examination means that every one of us has to have the courage to face up to Scotland’s colonial history and to take substantive action to dismantle the structural inequalities that have followed.
As a white boy growing up in Edinburgh, I first encountered racism—this is a bit like Linda Fabiani’s reference to young people on social media—in the TV series “Roots”. It was a different world to me; I had never seen anything like it. People at my school reacted with absolute horror—with the traditional Scottish response of “That’s not right.” It was the first time that we had come across racism on that scale.
I suspect that one of the reasons that the protests across the US have resonated so strongly here is that we recognise that we have not yet sufficiently begun to address our own racial history. By and large, I think that we are right to say that Scotland is a welcoming and inclusive country, but we are not immune from racism or bigotry. That becomes obvious when our constituents are abused or attacked on the streets.
I am very proud to say that in the wee county that I represent—Clackmannanshire—we have more Syrian refugees per head than virtually anywhere else in Scotland. However, I cannot pretend that they have not been subjected to racism since they have come to this country. Racism can also be subtle, whether it is placed on a plinth or reflected in a street name.
We are making our speeches today in a Parliament that is 21 years old, but which has had only four black and minority ethnic members. Speaking about ideals of inclusivity and diversity is just a comfortable vanity if we do nothing to build on the progress that we have made to achieve the further progress that we need to make to ensure that Scotland is a just country for us all to live in.
When I last checked, an online petition calling for colonial history to be included in curriculum for excellence had gathered almost 14,000 signatures. The petitioner argues that:
“This will be an excellent start to a new generation of anti-racist, unprejudiced adults in Scotland, along with helping our black peers to feel acknowledged and accepted In Scottish schools. Without education, prejudice cannot end.”
I agree. We have learned in recent weeks that we must do more to tackle racism. It is right that our children should learn that, for almost 100 years, one third of colonial governors were Scottish and that Scotland sent disproportionately large numbers of soldiers to fight British colonial wars.
We must also mention those who can inspire us. The list is long and includes Martin Luther King, Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela. I want to finish by mentioning someone from my constituency, William Burns Paterson, who was first brought to the attention of Parliament in 2002 by the former Presiding Officer, George Reid.
William Burns Paterson travelled from my constituency to America, aged 17, in 1867. He worked his way around the country, ending up in Alabama. After the abolition of slavery, former slaves were keen to learn, but the Government in the US made no provision for that education. William Burns Paterson began to teach the men whom he worked with. He and his wife, Maggie Flack Paterson, are recognised as the founders of what was called the Alabama State Normal School for Colored Students, which went on to become Alabama State University. The college of arts and science has a William Paterson hall, named in his honour, and the school of music, Tullibody hall, is named after his birthplace.
As members can imagine, due to the mores of the times, Paterson’s endeavours were fraught with difficulties. Tensions rose against what was seen as a centre of racial integration and black education and his school was burned to the ground. He had to fight for, and won, state funding for his school and he had several run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan. Let us not pretend that Scotland had no relationship with the Ku Klux Klan.
William Burns Paterson’s positive legacy lives on. His birthday, 9 February, has been celebrated every year since 1901 as Alabama State University’s founder’s day.
As people look for inspiration, we can look to some of the names that we know and love: Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko and many others. There are also examples of the opposite of what they have done. Brian Whittle mentioned Rodney King. If we are to ensure that we find inspiration, we must not just say that black lives matter; we must change our society to make sure that black lives matter.
I welcome the debate, but it is actions that matter, not words. Unless I feel uncomfortable saying the words, and unless members feel uncomfortable hearing them, we will not be telling it like it is.
It should not take events on the other side of the world for racism to be a mainstream issue in Scotland or the United Kingdom. George Floyd’s death happened two weeks ago; Sheku Bayoh’s happened five years ago. We should not think of this in isolation. There is a global phenomenon of politicians who seek to use nationalism and populism to other minorities, in order to gain democratic and economic power.
It is far too easy for us to think that this is about Donald Trump. Racism did not start with Donald Trump and it will not end with Donald Trump. Trump is a symptom; he is not the cause.
I say to people of all political parties and to every member in the chamber that it is easy to take the knee and to tweet and post about how black lives matter when it is trending on Twitter. It is easy to say the words when the whole world is talking about the issue, but it is what we do that matters. To every leader of every political party, and to every leader of every institution and organisation, I say, “Thank you for your solidarity. It matters. It is important. But we will judge you on the action you take and the decisions you make.”
I know, from my experience of speaking out, that people are accused of playing the race card. The leadership of the Scottish Police Federation accused me of playing the race card. I have been told that I am playing a game. People on “my own side”—I put that in inverted commas—have briefed journalists that I am playing a game; they have claimed that it was some kind of master plan. This is not a game; this is life, and it is life for far too many of our fellow citizens in this country.
I say to every colleague and every member of all political parties in the Parliament that if they base their condemnation or their solidarity on the politics, or the perceived politics, of the perpetrator or the victim, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. They must question themselves, as well as question the wider issue. I hope that that point is taken in the intended spirit.
I welcome the Government motion, but I am disappointed that there is not more action in it, because it is actions, and not just words, that will make a difference. I will share some examples. In Scotland, every chief executive of every council and every Government department is white. Every director of a department is white. Every principal of our colleges and universities is white. Every headteacher is white. Every chair of a public sector body is white. Every High Court judge is white. Every prisoner governor is white. Every editor of a news organisation is white. Why? Is it because we do not have the talent? Is it because we do not have the ability? Is it because the opportunity does not exist, or, worse yet, is it because people do not think that they are wanted or welcome? Those are the fundamental issues that we should be addressing.
Representation in this Parliament has been mentioned. In the entire history of Scotland, we have elected only three BME MPs to Westminster, two of whom were from one family. In 20 years, we have elected only four BME representatives to the Scottish Parliament. All four were from Glasgow. They were male and Muslim, and they had a Pakistani background. None has been from a different gender or a different race. To be blunt, quite often they were elected despite their political parties, not because of their political parties.
In the motion and in all the amendments, I want to see action—action on representation in all the institutions across our country; action on education, so that we can teach our true history; and action on rebalancing our employment, industries and labour market.
Some things are bigger than party politics. Some things are bigger than the yes or no question, or the leave or remain question, or the Labour versus SNP versus Tory question. Fighting for an equal society in which no one is discriminated against because of their background is one of those bigger issues.
Silence is no longer an option. Colleagues, stop picking and choosing. There is no hierarchy of prejudice. Let us have actions, not words.
It is a privilege to speak in this important debate. We hear that phrase often. However, today, I am also a bit ashamed of that privilege.
The international outcry and protest following George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the police—those who should have been his protectors—reminds me and everyone in the chamber that our privilege is at the expense of the rights and opportunities denied to others, because we live in an unequal and unfair society.
I thank Councillor Graham Campbell for giving me the opportunity to sit in on a call on Monday evening with contributors from Scotland’s BAME community, who told us about their lived experiences of racism. It was harrowing, disappointing and hard to hear, because it meant that I have failed that community. We all have. We have failed it by not doing enough to tackle racism or to take the action that Anas Sarwar talked about. The contributors asked us to listen and to understand; most important, they asked us to act.
For me, the most shocking revelation was that casual name calling, abuse in the street, and the actions that Brian Whittle so passionately described earlier—all of which are overt, easily recognised forms of racism—were to be expected. I find that chilling.
However, what caused most harm and frustration to those involved in that call was the systemic, institutional racism that is born of the privilege and unconscious bias that hurt them the most. More than one family had had to change the school that their children attended, because they experienced lack of understanding and support when their children were subjected to racial abuse. Such behaviour is appalling in itself, but the failure of the schools and education authorities to address it adequately was devastating for those families.
Those people’s experience was that their isolation and uniqueness in the workplace or on boards made them feel like tokens, and that their contribution and value was merely as part of a tick-box exercise. Again, Anas Sarwar spoke about that. I have it written down to say, “Just google chief executive officers, then google diversity officers, and it is laid bare in the images that appear.”
People also talked about their employers’ workloads and caseloads being distributed not according to employees’ professional expertise, but on the basis of their association with a client group on the basis of their race. We need to do better, and we need to take action now.
I was very reluctant to say anything in the debate about my experience, because it is not about me or where I am in our society. However, I want to share with members an experience that showed me some of the possibilities offered by another country’s endeavours in recognising the appalling acts that have been perpetrated on minorities in its recent history. With the Presiding Officer, I visited Canada, where we attended a visit to the legislature in Winnipeg and were given a tour of the Canadian museum for human rights. Establishing a museum that recognises that aspect of our history has been called for here.
Among the Canadian museum’s goals are that it
“fosters an appreciation for the importance of human rights, spurs informed dialogue and invites participants to identify the contemporary relevance of past and present human rights events, both at home and abroad.”
“exemplifies Canadians’ commitment to freedom and democracy and aims to ignite an informed, ever-evolving global conversation” in our world, and it seeks to offer
“a credible and balanced learning resource”.
Visiting the museum was a profound experience for me—very much so because man’s inhumanity to man is there laid bare so that we have to examine it. To see displays on all the major instances of genocide that have happened in the world on one floor filled me with a sense of despair about the human condition. They included material on Rwanda, Srebrenica, the Holocaust and the Holodomor, the last of which has not yet been recognised by the UK Government as an instance of genocide.
However, the museum covers even more. It includes themes that I think that we should adopt in whatever action our community decides to take, with consultation, to address the issues in our own society. Our approach should be about witness and lived experience, and the accurate capturing of ethnic minorities’ stories and first-hand experiences. It should be about truth—the acceptance of the true horror of what our past has been and the detriment that it has caused to certain communities. However, the greatest theme should be education. The Canadian museum offered many tools to help younger and older children to address the othering behaviours that we all have, such as unconscious bias. There was even an opportunity for them to take part in mock civil rights court cases examining what had happened in Canada. Those are all excellent examples of how we can educate people and effect reconciliation.
In Scotland, we do things differently. Our National Theatre of Scotland is known as a theatre without walls. If we are to build a museum of human rights, I want it to be one without walls. We have to take our message on racism into every community and every school, and whichever approach we adopt must be accessible throughout Scotland and to everyone. We are now in the 21st century and this is the age of the internet of things. Let us not simply remove plaques but replace them with interactive information and signposting to the history of our streets. Let us develop maps that tell the stories and the history. Let us move forward and take the right action, so that we can truly say that we have listened and that black lives matter.
I thank the minister for holding the debate and I agree whole-heartedly with the motion. I hope that we all share the deep concern and horror that so many feel about continued racial injustice across the world and that we all stand in solidarity with those calling for change, that we all recognise at this time of global pandemic that we must be cognisant of public health issues and that we recognise too the responsibility on us all to identify and dismantle the barriers of structural racism that still exist in our society.
However, it is not the motion that I wish to focus on. Rather, I want to develop the proposal that has been made by many and which is included in the Green amendment: that a slavery museum be established in Scotland. Like many in the chamber, I have watched demonstrations following the death of George Floyd spread from city to city across the US and then across the world and I have read the placards and listened to the speeches of those drawing a direct line through history from the forced abduction and deportation of black Africans for sale and slavery through to the myriad of injustices faced daily by black and minority ethnic people in western culture today, whether that is in Scotland, America, Australia or anywhere else.
I have watched as campaigners have toppled statues and I have listened as professors have argued that instead of tearing them down, we should add context and, in truth, I feel ill-equipped to enter parts of this debate. How can I—not just white but with properly Celtic skin—know what it is like to be the only black face in a room? I cannot and I do not. Yes, I have been abused and othered for being a different type of minority, but I have never had that minority status be the first thing that people notice on first meeting me. I have never had people look at my name on a CV and make an assumption about my ethnicity and I have never been told to go home when I live 2 miles down the road. I do not have that lived experience, so I would prefer to listen to those who do and to their suggestions for what to do next—what practical and, if necessary, legislative changes will make things better—rather than charge in here, in all my whiteness, with some 10-point plan.
However, I believe very strongly in the responsibility on us all to be honest about the path that led us here, even if we ourselves may not be the people to pronounce on the next fork in the road. We need to be clear-eyed about our history, both in the context of the current Black Lives Matter campaign against police violence and in the wider context of our nationhood and what it is built on. We need to be rational enough to recognise that this is not some binary issue but one of immense complexity, with hundreds of strands threading the globe down the years.
It is possible to acknowledge and condemn our country’s part in American slave ownership while recognising that the model of policing in Scotland in 2020 is not the same model of policing that has been adopted in a number of police departments and states and by elected sheriffs across the US. We can do that while still scrutinising stop and search figures and prison population data and investigating deaths in custody.
I am not a historian by any manner of means, but I have always had an interest in history and, although I majored in literature at university, my minor subjects were Scottish and American history. I believe that we have a duty to learn about our past beyond battle dates and kings and queens and that that should include darker periods of human history. I have been to the Cherokee nation reserve; I have walked part of Andrew Jackson’s trail of tears; I have led groups to genocide memorials in Bosnia; and I have reported from massacre sites in Kosovo.
I think that one of the most arresting experiences that I have ever had is visiting Bergen-Belsen with a group of British Army officers when I was a young reporter; the only other people there were German school groups. A number of the pupils, when faced with such horror—horror that was carried out in their community and their country—were visibly upset and I remember the self-consciousness that I felt about being with uniformed personnel, which compounded the pupils’ sense of horror and shame as they tried to process it. It affected me deeply and I have thought about it oftentimes since. I have also thought about how important it is not just that such horror is taught in countries that liberated camps such as Belsen but that blameless German schoolchildren turn their faces to see it, too.
That is why I support the idea of a slavery museum in Scotland. We need to turn our faces to our own history and our own past. Too often, we are ignorant and uninformed. Sometimes, we are taught or we choose to believe a different truth. A strain of opinion has formed that empire was imposed upon Scotland—that it was something that was done to us in someone else’s name, not something that Scots were active participants in and proponents of. If we are to be clear about that line through history and those threads down the decades and across the oceans, we do not get to rewrite our own past and wash away the dark parts.
A third of Jamaican plantations were owned by Scots. Half of the East India Company’s regiments were raised north of the border. As has been said, in Henry Dundas, Scotland produced a politician who was pivotal in delaying abolition. We need to know that history and we need to own it.
Others have mentioned Sir Geoff Palmer, Scotland’s first black professor, who for years has been a clear voice on adding context to street names and monuments to tell that history. He says:
“My view is you remove the evidence, you remove the deed”.
As an aside, I point out that he said that in talking to BBC Scotland, which is based at Pacific Quay, as it is now called, or Plantation Quay as it used to be called. To recognise the structural inequalities that still exist, we have to face up honestly to the cruelty that was enacted on an industrial scale, and although that was by individuals, it was with the entire apparatus of nation states behind it.
As I said, I do not have the lived experience of black and ethnic minority Scots who have experienced prejudiced hate and discrimination, and I will listen to and be led by those who have that experience on what practical changes can be enacted to move us forward. However, I can say with confidence that ignorance about our past does not help to challenge and confront some of those structural inequalities that are built into Scotland today. That is why I support a museum of slavery in Scotland. If we ever need some form of cross-party scoping committee to get one started, I will gladly ask the permission of my leader to be considered as our party’s representative.
The police violence in the United States, which was evidenced most recently in the murder of George Floyd, is reprehensible. That was one sickening incident in the litany of violent horrors that we see from across the Atlantic on our televisions. However, anyone watching in horror here from 4,000 miles away and thinking that Scotland is not racist, or that our institutions and structures and our Scottish society are fair and equal, would be wrong.
International solidarity is crucial, but if we are really honest, it is also pretty easy. In welcoming the debate, the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights stated:
“Racism will not end with passing motions in Parliament. Without long-term commitments to anti-racist actions and policies, we will not be able to reduce and ultimately eradicate racism in Scotland.”
I agree with the member that things will not change by passing motions. The past few days have shown us that doing things in the establishment way and in a polite way does not take us any further forward. The change has been driven by direct action on the streets—that is the lesson that we have to learn.
My colleague Neil Findlay has made his point well.
Intercultural Youth Scotland shares helpful dos and don’ts on its Twitter page. It highlights the real danger that engaging in empty gesturing about racism ends up being performative and a quiet way to continue systematic racism. Reflecting on its words and on the words of Anas Sarwar, I say that a hashtag or a picture while taking the knee are not the same as enacting meaningful lasting change. To quote Intercultural Youth Scotland directly, it says:
“Racism is not only valid or worth addressing when there is a worldwide focus on it. It is important that organisations consider their actions continuously, including evaluating their own positions before recent events, actions during it and their plans for when the media focus dies down.
Organisations making token efforts during a time of crisis is not true ally ship. Especially when a lot of these organisations have too frequently stayed silent when these issues have been brought to their attention in private.”
The Equalities and Human Rights Committee has a current inquiry into race inequality that looks specifically at employment. The call for evidence is open until 30 June, and we would very much welcome views and opinions from those with direct experience. Lived experience will best help us to hold to account public authorities, including the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. The real and urgent challenge for us is in taking sustainable and meaningful action at home here in Scotland. That will involve difficult conversations, listening and acting and, in some cases, just being quiet and stepping aside to let the voices that we find so easy to ignore speak their truth.
I will focus my remarks on party-political representation, for a couple of reasons. The first is that the Parliament simply has not focused on race and racial inequalities enough and it is clear that we are not diverse.
Secondly, party-political representation is something that each and every one of us in this chamber can change. No hiding and no excuses—we all have a direct influence over our party’s policies and internal workings. We can change things and we can do so before the next election.
I cannot “pass the mic” to a black or minority ethnic sister in this Parliament because there is no one here to pass it to. That is not good enough, but neither is just saying so. Our apologies, sympathies, tears and declarations of solidarity are not enough. There needs to be action and my party is fortunate that we already have an example of what to do to rebalance the overrepresentation of white men and increase representation of an underrepresented group.
Before the most recent Scottish parliamentary election, the SNP acted to increase women’s representation in our party and that action worked. Those mechanisms and that action had to be hard fought for on the conference floor and followed up with meaningful changes to practice. I thank Nicola Sturgeon for her strong leadership in driving forward changes that had previously been deemed too hard or unnecessary because things would eventually balance out. I also express gratitude to Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh for her meaningful, supportive and successful work as the women’s officer through the women’s academy, conference and mentoring.
The argument that many of us made at the time—about not being prepared to simply wait to see improvements in women’s representation move at glacial speed—stands here today. With similar mechanisms and structures, we can overcome the structural barriers in the way of BME women—women whose talent we are missing from this chamber.
We must have a Parliament that is more representative of the citizens whom we serve. That is the thing: diversity is not just about fairness to the excluded group; it produces better results, too. I might not be able to “pass the mic” in the chamber, but I can draw colleagues’ attention to the great online list of women of colour experts and commentators in Scotland. As the curator Talat Yaqoob said,
I am pleased to speak in this debate, but I do so very mindful of the fact that I am speaking as a white man. I will share my reflections on what has happened over the past few days.
The words “I can’t breathe” have been uttered before in this debate. Those simple visceral words have certainly echoed around the world, and they have been circling around my mind over the past few days. Along with those words is the thought: not again. There is an unpleasant sense of horrific déjà vu.
It has taken me back to the events of almost 30 years ago, watching the horrific pictures of the riots that followed the court case surrounding Rodney King when—let us remind ourselves—there was clear video evidence, 14 police officers were implicated, only four were charged, three were later acquitted and, on the final charge, the jury could not arrive at a verdict. Not long after those events there was the Stephen Lawrence case and the Macpherson inquiry, and we appeared to make progress. Perhaps we, collectively, and I, as an individual, developed a false sense of security that maybe the world and Scotland had become a better place.
However, the simple answer—which has been reflected by many speakers—is that better is simply not good enough. In the struggle and fight against racism, our biggest enemy is complacency. As I have listened to the speakers this afternoon, I have been struck by thoughts and observations. I found Brian Whittle’s speech very moving; he said that we must make the fight against racism a personal one and reflect on situations that we have faced and what we could have done differently, and must do differently in the future. Anas Sarwar said that sentiment is, frankly, not good enough; it is actions that count. I add the observation that this fight is simply never done; we must continue to ensure that those actions are taken and those advances achieved.
That is why we must look at the situation here, at home, in the UK and in Scotland, in particular.
The prison statistics show that a person is twice as likely to be a prisoner if they are from an ethnic background. Although that is not necessarily true in Scotland, there are still issues that we need to face. Why have we been waiting for five years for the inquiry into Sheku Bayoh’s tragic death? Why do we not have disaggregated data on hate crime? If we do not know who is suffering those injustices, and what backgrounds they come from, how can we tackle them? That is the call that BEMIS has made. I repeat that call this afternoon, and hopefully we will also hear it from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice later.
If there is one key concept that we have learned from the Macpherson report, it is the concept of institutional racism. Racism is not something that is perpetrated only by people; it is perpetrated by organisations through their practice and culture. Perhaps how we perpetrate and continue racism through culture is a point on which we in Scotland need to closely reflect.
I was very struck by the comments of Christina McKelvie and others about the legacy of racism that surrounds us all. The euphemistic term “Atlantic trade” was used when ships sailed from Glasgow to sell goods that we made here in Scotland to Africa. The same ships were then loaded with people to be traded on the other side of the Atlantic, and the goods that were bought, whether tobacco or sugar, were brought back here to be turned into other goods. A third of Jamaican plantations were owned by Scots, and the wealth that was accumulated through the 18th and 19th centuries surrounds us all. The Georgian grandeur, whether in the new town of Edinburgh or the west end of Glasgow, in which we all have a degree of pride should really be a mark of shame and something on which to reflect.
It should not have taken the situation and recent events in the US for us to think about whether certain statues are still appropriate in this day and age, and whether they need plaques to acknowledge their meaning and the full horror of what they stand for.
I remember doing a school project about the Water of Leith and noting the number of tobacco and sugar mills that stood on the banks of the river. Not once did I think about where that tobacco or sugar came from—I did not make the connection. We must ensure that such links are always made when we reflect on our history. The calls for reform of the curriculum for excellence are well made, and that is why I have written to the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. It is critical that people understand the legacy of slavery and racism that surrounds us all, the wealth that it accumulated and how it has perpetuated inequality and injustice in society, and in Scotland in particular, today.
The fight against racism is not a fight for other people or in other places. It is our fight, and we must start by understanding Scotland’s historical role in racism. That is why we need reform of education.
“was not just a tragedy, it was a crime.”
Like everybody else, I share the horror of what we have seen over the past few days. Watching somebody being knelt on for the best part of nine minutes is galling—it highlights just how long nine minutes is. At George Floyd’s funeral, Al Sharpton asked everybody to be quiet for eight minutes and 47 seconds, which is an awfully long time. If a person does not know that they are doing something wrong for that period of time, there is something psychiatrically wrong with them. The gentlemen who had his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck deserves every possible punishment.
The unfortunate thing is that what happened did not come as surprise to any of us here. It did not come as a surprise to people my age, who can remember what happened in 1968. Possibly the only good thing—although there is nothing good about it—is that the reaction has not been what happened in 1968, and it could have been. In 1968, the whole of America was burning because people had had enough. That might be a glimmer of hope for how we move on.
However, just today, I saw that a policeman in New Mexico has been done for manslaughter for kneeling on somebody and saying, “I will choke you out.” And so he did—the poor man died, and the police officer has been charged with manslaughter. That goes to show just how prevalent such things are. I knew that it went on to some extent, but if I had not seen on television some of the things that we have seen in videos recently, I would have thought that people were exaggerating. We have seen people being beaten on the streets and, even though there were cameras on the people doing the beating, they expected to get away with it because they have got away with it for so long.
It is good that social media has played a part in the response, and I suspect that the fact that there is little on television—there is no American football or other things—has allowed the cameras to highlight what has been going on. We have seen Al Sharpton behaving in a really responsible manner. I watch CNN a lot—that may be why I am so tired when I come into Parliament in the morning—and I have seen some really powerful discussions on it during the night.
The protests have been a powerful start to try to regain what America lost a long time ago and has to get back. However, as everyone has said, we in the UK are not immune. We have seen similar things happen on numerous occasions. The Sheku Bayoh case has been going on for five years, which is far too long. There is no doubt about that.
When I knew that I would be speaking in this debate, I called my friend, a Pakistani man in his 50s from Birmingham who now stays up here. I said to him, “I can’t speak about this—I’m a white guy and I’ve never been through any of it.” I asked him, “What was it like growing up as a coloured boy in Birmingham?” He said, “It’s like living in a goldfish bowl, because everything you do is looked at differently from what anybody else does.” He said that the first time he was ever called a black B was when he was five years of age—and it was by a police officer. How does someone go from experiencing a police officer calling them that at five years of age to having respect for the authorities?
My friend said that it is not that different down there. He has been up here for 12 years and he said that his sons, who are now adults, have been through similar things, and his grandchildren maybe a bit less. He does not say that things are perfect up here, because they are not. We have our racists and people who just cannot get beyond what people thought centuries ago. However, he said that he thinks that, up here, there is at least a will and a desire to change, which to me is very encouraging. Not everything that he said to me last night was encouraging—he is a good friend of mine and it was pretty hard to hear some of the things that he said.
Just after we spoke, he sent me a video. Someone said earlier in the debate that it was common to see certain things in the 1970s, such as some of the names that people were called. The video that he sent me was an episode of “Love Thy Neighbour” called—seriously—“The One with the Paki”. I did not play it. He said, “That’s what we had to put up with all the time.” That is a second-hand account of someone’s experience and what it must be like to live with such things. I just do not know how I could compare my experiences with that.
Interestingly, when I asked my friend what he thought was the reason for his experience, he said that part of it is the whole empire thing. He said, “We were taught that we were lesser, and the ruling class still can’t see beyond that.”
Sorry—I got waylaid there. I stood up to talk about Glasgow, and I know that I am running out of time. As far as the statues, street names and so on are concerned, we have to be very careful. If I got my way, I would get rid of the statues—well, I would not get rid of them; I would put them in museums, because I am a history fan. The first thing that I do when I go to a foreign city is to go and see the history—the statues and museums. However, there has to be an explanation of what statues represent. I do not want to see statues of people who do not deserve to be there but are lording it over us, and a museum might be the best place for them.
In Glasgow, I think that we should have plaques, as opposed to removing signs showing street names, until such time as we look at whether we want to change street names in the city. If, for one reason or another, we are going to take away what has been there, we have to be very careful about what we replace it with. We do not want to replace it with something that is newsworthy just now but might not be in 10 years’ time or whenever, because the new name would just have to be replaced with something else. We should make sure that a lot of thought goes into that—a lot of thought already is going into it, and that is good.
There has been a lot of talk about a museum of slavery. After I got elected to the council, I tried to set up something like Ellis island—although not that many people signed up to it—to show who made Glasgow. A museum that showed the history of Glasgow and the people who came to the city might well be the sort of place where we could have a museum of slavery—something that gives us an indication of the past, in both its shining glory and its desperate shame, which is what the slave trade was.
I will begin my summing up by talking about the issue that James Dornan just touched on: the idea of a museum of slavery. There has been significant support for such a museum from a number of members across the chamber, and members have recognised the work that is going on. In her opening speech, the minister recognised the work that, I hope, will lead to such a museum. Tonight will be the Parliament’s first opportunity to express a view and agree to a motion that calls for that. I hope that we agree to that, and that that will add momentum to make sure that we progress towards the idea of having a place where we can reflect on and learn about that history, whether it is at the Hunterian, in what is currently called the Merchant City, or elsewhere.
James Dornan and Linda Fabiani both said that they would want the decisions to be informed by proper thought, analysis and the research that is being conducted, which is absolutely right. The intention of my amendment is to say that these issues—particularly street names—need to be addressed without being prescriptive about how they should be addressed. It should not be for this Parliament to tell local councils what they should do with this street name or that statue. Those are local decisions, and they should be taken with thought and consideration—not just consideration of they mean today, but consideration of whatever replaces them would mean tomorrow, in the next decade and in the next generation, so that all people are confronted with the truth. That is what this is really about.
I think that it was Jamie Greene who said that he was against ripping down statues and who mentioned the Glasgow museum of modern art. I do not think that anyone has proposed ripping down the GOMA, and I am sure that he was not intending to suggest that. However, we need to ask ourselves whether such buildings, statues and street names really serve as a reminder of our history. Do they? I suspect that far more people know something about who Edward Colston was after the events of the past few days than they did before.
It is interesting to reflect on the fact that the inheritors of the people who put Edward Colston on a pedestal had been blocking attempts—reasonable, modest attempts—to give a bit of context to the statue. In many ways, the Society of Merchant Venturers is an inheritor and manager of the economic wealth that came from slavery, and it had many slavers, including Colston, as members. The organisation actively argued against a change to the inscription—it tried to water down the reality of history. That is the erasure of history: the watering down of attempts to recontextualise these monuments.
The same arguments have been made in relation to Edinburgh and the Dundas statue. With many others, colleagues in my party have been part of the campaign to have something as modest as plaques or inscriptions from which, as Mr Dornan said, tourists who look at our history when they come here will learn the reality and the truth, rather than thinking that such people were in any way admirable.
In some ways, it is those who placed the monuments in the first place who seek to oppose change and the honest telling of history. It is notable that, in Bristol, one of those who worked with the Society of Merchant Venturers to oppose change was, and still is, a sitting councillor. Councillor Eddy described Colston as a “hero”. We need to reflect on the fact that not only are those monuments still there, but the ideas behind them are still in our society.
Ruth Davidson gave us an interesting and honest reflection on her view of these issues, particularly in the context of the US history of genocide against indigenous people, and Scottish and UK history. We need to recognise that, as she said, inequality that still exists needs an honest reflection of history. However, it also needs an honest reflection on the political ideas that are still current in our society. On-going white supremacy is unchallenged far too often. For example, in this country we have seen elected politicians being briefly suspended and happily reinstated, despite having made provocatively racist comments.
Anas Sarwar’s speech will have impressed everybody who heard it. He challenged all of us—it is an important challenge—when he said that our words are not enough and that actions are what counts. That was reflected in the letter from the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights to the First Minister that Ruth Maguire mentioned. I think that that letter, which sets out a clear demand for action, has been copied to all parties. CRER has also highlighted the on-going delay in getting a public inquiry—although it has now been established—into the death of Sheku Bayoh, which is to be the subject of a “Disclosure” documentary on the BBC tonight.
Those actions are absolutely necessary. I hope that in that list of actions will be one that says that all parties should resist any temptation to use the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill as a dog whistle to those who do not want to see their own prejudice challenged in our society.
There are many actions that we all need to take, but today’s words have meaning, and I am pleased that we will unite, as much as we can in the Parliament, on the proposals that come from the Government, the Labour Party and the Greens.
This has been an important debate. Our chamber time is limited during the pandemic, but the Black Lives Matter movement has focused minds on an issue that is too often marginalised in Scotland. It is important for us to demonstrate our support and commit to action.
We have heard powerful speeches that have reflected on our history and how Scotland’s cities and its wealth have been built, and speeches that have highlighted the inequalities in our society and the need for us to take responsibility and challenge racism where it exists. We must not accept that all things stay the same, and we must redouble our efforts in Scotland and apply pressure around the world for change.
We often pride ourselves on presenting Scotland as an open and welcoming place to live and work in. Evidence can be found to support that, but that results in our intentionally or otherwise downplaying or hiding the racism that exists. In 2010, the Scottish public were asked whether Scotland would lose its identity if more black and Asian people moved here. Forty-five per cent of the respondents said yes. Perhaps we are less open and welcoming than we like to think we are. Institutional racism and structural inequality exist in Scotland, and we need to recognise them, highlight them and commit to addressing them on a continuing basis.
Anas Sarwar set out the blunt facts. In education, 1.4 per cent of teachers are from black or ethnic minority backgrounds. That was raised at First Minister’s question time today. Black and minority ethnic police officers account for only 1 per cent of Police Scotland’s workforce, and figures from 2018 show that 55 per cent of the minority ethnic population were in employment compared with 75 per cent of the white population.
As others have said, the Parliament lacks diversity. We have only elected four members of the Scottish Parliament from ethnic minority backgrounds, and not a single woman from an ethnic minority. Last year, the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights published an overview of race inequality in Holyrood, which showed a marked fall in how often race was discussed over the lifetime of this Parliament. This debate has been an opportunity to highlight how and where structural racism exists, but we need continuing action to address it. If we want to be an open and welcoming place to live and work, we have to act and not just talk. The letter that MSPs received from the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights sets out five achievable actions for the Government and the Parliament, which are now overdue. We must commit to their delivery.
Like everyone else, I have been contacted by many people about the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota and the Black Lives Matter movement. I have condemned the approach that has been taken by President Trump in response to the anti-racism protests in the US. The language and actions of the President, the use of military force to quell protests and his statements glorifying violence are at odds with the protection of human rights and democracy.
We are also reflecting on our own recent history in similar cases, and we must challenge racial injustice and discrimination in Scotland. The past weekend marked five years since Sheku Bayoh was buried following his death in police custody. Sheku Bayoh’s family started 3 May 2015 trusting the police, having faith in the justice system and feeling as if they were part of Fife in Scotland. I first met them a week after Sheku died, and it was the most powerful meeting that I have had with a family during my time as an MSP. They felt disbelief at what had happened, how events had unfolded and how they had been treated. This was a grieving family whose world had been turned upside down, and they were then feeling that they were entering the fight of their lives. They have shown immense fortitude and strength.
I am not in the confidence of the Crown Office, but the evidence that I have seen makes it very difficult to accept the decision not to bring any charges in relation to Sheku Bayoh’s death. The public inquiry that has been announced will cover the events leading up to and following his death and, critically, will investigate whether they were affected by his race. Police accountability and the impartiality of investigation are core to our justice system. If they are found to have been compromised, we must take action. I hope that the long-awaited inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Sheku Bayoh’s death will provide answers for his family.
The Sheku Bayoh case does not stand alone. There have been other fatalities and poor investigations. We must also address long-standing matters regarding race-related crime. In Scotland, there are more race-related murders per capita than in the rest of the UK. Although the number of charges has declined, racial hate crime remains the most commonly reported hate crime in Scotland.
I know that I am short of time, Presiding Officer. I repeat the point that Daniel Johnson made about the information that has been provided by BEMIS and its call for improved reporting of hate and race-aggravated crimes. I look forward to the cabinet secretary’s reflections on those points in his closing remarks.
This has been an emotional debate, with many great contributions. The Scottish Conservatives stand with all parties in showing solidarity with anti-racism.
I welcome the debate because, as with so many difficult topics such as tackling the drugs crisis, we do not, as a Parliament, talk about them often enough. The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights has highlighted that debates about race in the chamber are rare and that, outside the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, the issue rarely comes up in our committees. I absolutely include myself in that criticism. The events of the past few weeks have caused all of us to stop and consider whether we are doing enough to combat racism each and every day and whether we are making sure that the voices of minority groups are truly heard.
The events over the past few weeks should inspire uncomfortable thoughts and conversations. We should question whether we are really part of the solution and not contributing in some way, even subtly or inadvertently, to the problem. It is not enough to not be racist—that is the bare minimum that we should expect of ourselves. We should go further and look at the rooms that we sit in and the structures that we are part of and question whether they are really inclusive.
It is not talking Scotland down to consider whether and how the country is racist. It is not tarring everyone in Scotland as a racist to consider whether the country and our institutions are racist. It does not mean that every white person must be ashamed; it means that they have a duty to consider what things are like for others. It is very naive to say that we ourselves are not racist—or that other places are worse, so there is no issue here. We have to understand, and come to terms with, the fact that some people’s experiences are so different from ours that their whole world view is different.
Robert Kennedy once said—I will paraphrase, because he used a term that we would not now use—that the law to us is a friend that preserves our property and our personal safety, but, for black people, law means something different. We have a long way to go before the law means the same thing to black people as it does to us. That is the challenge—a society where people are treated equally—and it is huge.
Some people feel helpless, as though they cannot do anything to make the situation better for black people and for everyone who suffers discrimination. However, they can. They can act in their own lives and in their own spheres.
“a better society doesn’t happen overnight – like all great acts of creation, it happens slowly and depends on the cooperation of each of us toward that common goal.”
Each and every one of us should use the opportunity of the Black Lives Matter movement to question ourselves. That is not easy. A lot of people will say that their family has not benefited from slavery, or that they are not racist and will want to leave it at that. A lot of people, especially around where I live in Springburn, will think that they have their own vast problems, and that it is not up to them to change things. However, the simple truth is that black people are not treated the same in Scotland, Britain or America. Too often, black lives do not seem to matter as much as white lives. That is apparent not only in extreme examples such as the tragic case of George Floyd; it is clear when we see that more black people are dying from coronavirus; and it is clear in the employment gaps between races, and in racial differences in the poverty rates. Injustice is not only about death; it is about everyday discrimination.
We cannot be complacent. Our country is not equal. Can anyone honestly say that a black child in Scotland is treated the same as a white child? I would love to think so, but I just do not buy it. Kids are called names in the playground. People are told to “go back home”. It does not have to end the way that it did for George Floyd for it to ruin a life or at least crush someone’s spirit.
I had a fair few struggles growing up. I did not have an easy time. However, it was still much easier for me than it would have been if I was black or from a minority background. A black person would have heard so much worse than the names that I was called. That is still true. Such things still happen, and we do not help anyone by saying that they do not happen as often as when we were kids or, even worse, by pretending that Scotland is a utopia where racism is not a problem. Now is not the right time for mass gatherings, but it is a very good time to listen to the experiences of others.
No one should dismiss the Black Lives Matters movement because of the actions of a few idiots with spray paint and a lighter. It was disgraceful to see police officers being attacked. As our Prime Minister said, those actions were
“a betrayal of the cause they purport to serve.”
In Glasgow, as everywhere, there is an emotional debate about the symbolism of street names and statues. We should hear every side out. Statues should not be hauled down or covered in graffiti, but maybe some things will need to change, after a peaceful and democratic debate—because our values have changed. We can still be very proud of parts of our history, and of the same great Scottish and British figures who have moulded so much of the world, while acknowledging that some actions were awful, and recognising that revered figures had serious flaws.
One of our councillors in Glasgow, Ade Aibinu, has suggested that we turn those statues into places of learning, where unvarnished history is presented. We should explore that idea. Another suggestion that came up today was that we establish a slavery museum in Scotland. That should also be considered.
The Green amendment dilutes the stronger public health message in the Government’s motion, and the Scottish Conservatives will therefore abstain on that amendment at decision time. However, we will vote for the Government’s motion and the Labour amendment, and we stand with all parties in showing solidarity with antiracism. The Scottish Conservatives are ready to listen, to be better at understanding and to stand alongside black and ethnic people in Scotland in the fight for equality.
Before I come to the substance of my speech, let me make two points. First, I should say that my party will vote for both the Labour and Green amendments. With regard to the Green amendment, I reiterate what was said by my colleague Christina McKelvie and by Patrick Harvie: we urge people to protest using digital means and other methods that do not include mass gatherings outdoors.
Secondly, a number of members have mentioned the need for disaggregated data on hate crime. I agree with the points that they made. I recently raised the issue and had a good discussion with BEMIS and some other equality organisations. If it was not for the pandemic, Police Scotland would have brought forward work on that. I will re-engage with Police Scotland on when we can produce disaggregated data, because—as members have pointed out—it is hugely important that we have it.
I will start and end my speech in the same way—by saying that I am angry. I am angry that in 2020 we are once again confronted with scenes of horrific racial injustice. I am angry that in 2020 we are still dealing with overt racism, subtle racism, institutional racism and structural racism. Whatever form it takes, it is still racism.
Members may well think that as time has moved on, racism has declined and manifestations of overt racism are no longer commonplace. I am afraid that that is not the case. I do not have to cast my mind back particularly far—I suspect that the same is true for Anas Sarwar—to remember somebody calling me “Paki”. Do not even start me on my Twitter timeline, which is—to be frank—a cesspit of racism.
I am angry because, in this day and age, we are still telling people of colour to “go home”. Brian Whittle, in a really excellent speech, said that he remembers a bygone era when he would see casual racism on the TV. He does not have to go back to a bygone era; I heard it just yesterday. I watched a video clip of the social commentator and author Afua Hirsch speaking on a panel that was chaired by LBC radio presenter Nick Ferrari. She explained her view that we need to confront the racism of figures in British history. Nick Ferrari’s response was to ask, “If you don’t like Britain”—which is her home—“why do you stay?” He would simply not have asked that question if a white person had been sitting in her chair, but people of colour are still fair game when it comes to racism.
Forget the racial jibes and the slurs that we still have to put up with; racism is literally killing minorities, as we have all seen, and as members have all said today. However, as every member has mentioned, racism does not exist only in the United States. The events in the US force us to hold a mirror up to ourselves and to confront the racism that exists here: the unconscious, the subtle, the overt, the institutional and the structural racism. On all those fronts, Scotland is not immune.
This is the part where we should all begin to feel uncomfortable, because we have to accept the reality and the evidence that is in front of us, that Scotland has a problem of structural racism. As members have said, we can take the Parliament as an example. More than 300 MSPs have come to and gone from this Parliament—our nation’s Parliament. In 20 years, there has not been a single black member of the Scottish Parliament, to our shame; there has not been a single woman MSP of colour, to our shame; and the only four ethnic minority MSPs have all been Scots Asian males.
Take Anas Sarwar and I. We are hardly even diverse between us. We are both male, we were both born and raised in Glasgow’s south side, we are both in our mid-30s, we went to the same private school, we are both middle class and our fathers even come from the same region in Pakistan. His father happens to be the governor of the region; my dad did not quite get there.
The Conservatives, Greens and Liberal Democrats have never had a single person of colour in their MSP ranks in 20 years of devolution. I do not say that to point the finger; I say it because we have to make change. They have never had a single non-white MP from Scotland in their history.
To my colleagues in the Government, I say that we know that we are not immune, either. Some people have been surprised or taken aback by my mention on my social media that at 99 per cent of the meetings that I go to, I am the only non-white person in the room.
Why are we so surprised when the most senior positions in Scotland are filled almost exclusively by people who are white? Take my portfolio, for example. The Lord President is white, the Lord Justice Clerk is white, every High Court judge is white, the Lord Advocate is white, the Solicitor General is white, the chief constable is white, every deputy chief constable is white, every assistant chief constable is white, the head of the Law Society is white, the head of the Faculty of Advocates is white and every prison governor is white.
That is not the case only in justice. The chief medical officer is white, the chief nursing officer is white, the chief veterinary officer is white, the chief social work adviser is white and almost every trade union in the country is headed by white people. In the Scottish Government, every director general is white. Every chair of every public body is white. That is not good enough.
I do not doubt that across the private sector, black and minority ethnic people are similarly underrepresented at senior levels. That is a collective failure that includes every single one of us. I hope that we are sitting uncomfortably, because those should be uncomfortable truths for us all.
So, do not just tweet “Black Lives Matter”, do not just post a hashtag and do not just take the knee. As people of colour, we do not need your gestures. Yes—solidarity is helpful, but what we need from you is action and for you to be anti-racist by your deeds. Do not just tell us how you are not racist—I take that as a bare minimum. You must be anti-racist.
Many members have rightly mentioned Sheku Bayoh in the debate. I will start by saying how much I, too, admire the dignity of the Bayoh family, which Claire Baker referenced in her speech. They have shown great dignity on their long journey for answers. They have every right to be angry about how long they have been fighting for those answers. Because the public inquiry is established, I will obviously not prejudice it. I will simply say that when the state is faced with such tragic circumstances, we have a choice: we either attempt to hide the truth or we go in search of the truth. I hope by instructing the setting up of a public inquiry, we have demonstrated that the Scottish Government seeks the truth in that matter.
There is no black MSP in the Parliament. In a debate about Black Lives Matter, there is not a black voice here, to our shame. I want the last words in the debate to belong to George Floyd, but before I read out his last words, I ask every member here to imagine that these words came from your brother, your father, your son, your cousin or your nephew, while they had a police officer’s knee on their throat for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Here are George Floyd’s last words:
“It’s my face man
I didn’t do nothing serious man please please please I can’t breathe please man please somebody please man
I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe please
(inaudible) man can’t breathe, my face just get up
I can’t breathe please (inaudible)
I can’t breathe, shit
I can’t move mama mama
I can’t my knee my nuts
I’m claustrophobic my stomach hurt my neck hurts everything hurts some water or something please please
I can’t breathe officer don’t kill me they gon’ kill me man come on man
I cannot breathe
I cannot breathe they gon’ kill me they gon’ kill me
I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe please sir please please please I can’t breathe”
Presiding Officer, I hope that we are all angry. That should be our overriding emotion when we are confronted with racism. I hope that every single one of us takes that anger and uses it to recommit ourselves as anti-racist. Let us be judged by our deeds, Presiding Officer—by our deeds, and not just our words.