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.