Showing Solidarity with Anti-racism

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 10th June 2020.

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Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

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.