This paper by Dr Elinor
Kelly, University of Glasgow, was first published in Scottish
Affairs, no 26, winter 1998 pp 83-99. It describes the visit
which the Commission on Multi-Ethnic Britain made to Scotland in
1998, and reflects on issues arising.
Scotland stands on the brink of the
constitutional change which will transform its relations with the
other countries of the United Kingdom. At the same time, the peace
talks in Northern Ireland are reaching the point where one can contemplate
an end to the years of sectarian strife and their impact in Scotland.
There is no doubt that Scotland is readying itself for radical change
and the closing months of 1998 will be recalled as memorable and
envigorating. Debate about Scottish identity, Scottish institutions,
and the complexities of Scottish history has been revitalised, drawing
in many sections of communities, majority and minority.
What better moment could there be to
pause and reflect on the meaning of these changes for the different
communities living in Scotland and their international connections?
After all, the symbiotic relationship with Ireland is centuries
old and the Scots are renowned for their emigrant communities in
the former Dominions of Empire. The nineteenth century migration
from Ireland was the precursor of migrations from Eastern Europe
and Italy and twentieth century migrations from Africa and Asia.
The ethnic map of Scotland is as complex as Scottish history, comprising
indigenous minorities as well as more recently settled minorities.
Living in Scotland, proud to be Scots, are communities identifiable
by language, religion and cultural affiliation. If the aspirations
of minorities are to be met, and the cultural diversity of Scotland
is to be developed, then the new Scottish Parliament should be at
the cutting edge of legislation, policies and practice which celebrate
ethnicity and ensure that minorities are fully integrated into the
In this essay I reflect on the issues
which were raised by participants in an important seminar which
took place in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling in June this year.
The seminar was organised for the visit of the Commission on the
Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. This Commission was initiated by
the Runnymede Trust, an independent research and policy agency which,
over the past thirty years, has established a leading position in
providing advice and assistance on ‘race’ issues to policy makers
in education, employment, health, law, media, politics and welfare.
Chaired by Sir John Burgh (formerly director general of the British
Council and deputy chair of the Community Relations Commission),
the Commission’s terms of reference are to consider the political,
social and cultural implications of the diversity of the British
people into the twenty-first century, taking oral and written evidence
throughout the United Kingdom.
In recent years, Runnymede Trust commissions
have published impressive reports which have stirred significant
debate. However, in common with most London-based organisations,
they have failed to take Scotland into account leading to serious
errors and misrepresentations in what should have been ‘British’
documents. Consequently, when the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic
Britain circulated details of their terms of reference and the questions
which they intended to probe, they were immediately lobbied about
whether they intended to give attention to the situation of Scotland.
This lobbying was in part reaction to the persistent and misleading
neglect of Scotland, but it was also anticipation of the processes
of change. The visit by the Commissioners was a timely response
in an era when radical change is in the air and there is renewed
vigour and energy in lobbying about the constitutional agenda.
Seven members of the Commission paid visits to Edinburgh and Glasgow and worked overnight in Stirling. Submissions were organised with the assistance of Pauline Brown and led by eight conveners (Rowena Arshad, Farkhanda Chaudhry, Tessfu Gessesse, Gar-Ming Hui, Amu Lagotse, Namasiku Liandu, Alastair McIntosh, Daniel Onifade) who brought in another 42, mostly young, people from different communities across Scotland The submissions were organised around the Black Community Development Project, the Chinese Youth Development Project, and the themes of Education, Law, People and Parliament, Religion, Work Opportunities, and Scottish Identity.
The Commissioners were briefed about Scottish education, law and religion; poverty, enterprise and the transformation of the economy; indigenous languages and cultures; new community languages and cultures; key principles in Scottish history and culture which ensured that union with England was resisted, until the overwhelming vote in favour of devolution in 1997. They heard detailed accounts of the complexities of Scottish history - ethnic rivalries over the centuries; the decline of indigenous languages and cultures; waves of invasion, emigration and immigration; the struggle to withstand the hegemony of rule by the English. They took part in debate about the complexities of the present - the movements for recognition of community languages and religions; sectarian and racist forms of discrimination and harassment; hopes and fears in relation to the new Parliament. Working for the future requires assessment of the present and understanding of the past.
Indeed, the seminar uncovered a wealth
of experience and expertise on which to ponder. In this essay I
reflect on key aspects of Scotland as a ‘multi-ethnic’ society in
which minorities are acknowledged and supported. If Scotland is
to become an inclusive society for the new century, then institutional
change is essential and I have selected the issues of language,
religion and the justice system for close scrutiny.
The Languages of Scotland - Hybridity
Should we view Scotland as a trilingual
society? What debates arise from asking this question? Does this
question cause a shift in our understanding of language issues as
we adjust to the communities more recently settled from Africa and
Asia? Does it perhaps alter our view of communities who have been
here longer - the Irish, Italians, Poles? Would a trilingual Scotland
develop more effective responses to linguistic minorities, within
Scotland and elsewhere?
When James Kelman won the 1994 Booker
prize for his novel ‘How Late It was, How Late’, his achievement,
and the support of his admirers, sank beneath the waves of criticism
which excoriated him for the crudity and inaccessibility of his
language. The tone of his critics was extreme, indicating not only
discomfort at the demands he makes of his readers, but also disdain
for the people about whom he writes. His critics did not pause
to ask themselves why a writer famed as much for the erudition of
his political essays as for his novels and short stories, should
choose to write in this way. Nor did they consider the possibility
that his way of using language is understood and celebrated by a
swathe of readers. Indeed, four years later, the University of
Texas is demonstrating their appreciation of his artistry by inviting
him to take up an academic post.
Intellectually, Kelman is well able
to defend himself, as he demonstrated in a long interview in The
Guardian Weekend in July this year:
‘When people assert the right to cultural
or linguistic freedom, they are accused of being ungracious, parochial,
xenophobic or racist. One of the few remaining freedoms we have
is the blank page. No one can prescribe how we should fill it ...
Your own culture is valid. My culture and my language have the
right to exist, and no one has the authority to dismiss that right’
Kelman values literary culture which
is pluralistic, inclusive of the voice, the vernacular, of ordinary
people. He has been described as an ‘ice-breaking ship’ who went
into uncharted waters encouraging other Scottish writers to follow
in his wake. But, importantly, he also celebrates affinity with
writers from the former colonies of Britain in Africa and the Caribbean
whose work he considers to be equally ‘subversive’ of English:
‘They proved that what was sneered at
as “dialect”, “patois” or “pidgin” could be a poetic, lyrical language
expressive not only of vulgar realism or comedy but of inner truths
and emotions - often with an ear to the rhythm, pace and pulse of
the spoken word’
The rumpus about Kelman’s Booker Prize
is familiar to anyone who has followed the careers of the authors
writing in another ‘dialect’ - that spoken by British people of
Caribbean descent. Linton Kwesi Johnson, Caryl Phillips and Benjamin
Zephaniah are only a few of the writers prominent in a stream of
creativity developed within a community with roots in Africa and
the Caribbean as well as Britain. They have been celebrated and
excoriated in equal measure, especially when enlightened members
of academe or the literary establishment nominate them for award.
At issue is acceptance of the hybridity of English, as a language
which is developing as much through the challenge and demand of
the vernacular of many peoples, as through the language of the literati,
metropolitan in experience, but socially resistant.
English developed as a great world language
because the courtiers, military, churchmen, traders and civil servants
of Empire adapted and absorbed indigenous concepts and terms. There
are several thousand words of foreign etymology from Africa, Asia
and the Middle East in the Oxford English Dictionary. Indeed, the
process of hybridity is essential if a language is to develop wide
range of expression and deep vocabulary as can be understood by
reflecting on the history of another language renowned for the raneg
and depth of its vocabulary. Urdu is spoken, read and written by
many Pakistanis and Indians, and understood by the people of both
countries as the medium of Bollywood, the prolific Indian film industry,
developed in ways analogous to English. It originated as a Turkic
language of the ‘urd’ (camp); its basic syntax and verbal forms
are indigenous to the northern area of the subcontinent where Punjabi
is spoken; its learned diction is drawn from Arabicized Persian;
Persian constructions are mainly to be found in poetry, it is renowned
for its harmonious musicality. William Shakespeare, the master
of the eclectic artistry of English would be fascinated.
Scots - the hybrid language which emerged out of the fusion of native languages with English - has been ignored, deemed relevant only insofar as it required correction as ‘faulty English’. Scots was intended to endure the same fate as the other hybrid forms of English which were emerging from the British Empire. However, in common with the slaves who retained the music, rhythm, and form of their indigenous languages against the most inhuman odds, and whose ‘patois’ has now broken into the world literature of English in north America and the Caribbean, the Scottish people would not standardise. Whether one views it as a language, a dialect or a ‘patois’ the fact is that Scots is alive as a popular, expressive and distinctive mode of communication, which is celebrated in novel, poetry, film, comedy, drama and song. Scots is as much part of Scotland as Gaelic.
Having established the hybridity of English, its dependence on the vernacular of native peoples, and the analogies with Scots, what then of the relationship with Gaelic, a language indigenous to Scotland? Still spoken as mother tongue by 66 thousand people today, Gaelic is the medium of education in 55 primary and 12 secondary schools, the language of the soap opera - Machair (which has attracted an audience of 200,000), has daily radio broadcast hours, and is published as a column in the Scotsman. As Matt McIver, Chair of the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee, explained during the Stirling seminar, there has been a renaissance in the language, started 20 years ago when it was decided to embark on continuous political lobbying and to give priority to representation of the language in the media. Financial provision to support Gaelic was made in the 1990 Broadcasting Act, and in the 1996 Broadcasting Act three hours peak viewing time in digital tv was allocated.
What would it mean for Scotland to declare
itself to be trilingual? Alistair Moffat, in an essay in May in
The Herald, described one incident in his experience of trilingualism.
He was best man at a wedding, and felt constrained to speak in English,
even though he finds Scots (as does Kelman) more expressive of emotion
and the grandeur of his homeland, and loves Gaelic for its ‘decorated
literary fluency’. He described his inhibitions and ‘awkwardness’
about speaking Gaelic and about the particularity of the dialect
of Scots he learned in his home. But, he goes on to say:
I’ve never felt that English fitted
me very well. I write it much better than I speak it ... I learned
English first to deal with formal education and then with business.
But it does not describe my experience well, particularly my experience
of Scotland. Adjectives feel borrowed from another place, but,
of course, English is handy for refracting experience back to other
people, and very handy for that on a world-wide scale. ... I believe
the overwhelming majority of our people don’t see Scots as a separate
and distinct language from English.... Combined with Gaelic, our
national language should be projected as the best vehicle for carrying
descriptions of Scotland, both geographically and culturally. If
you want to understand more about your country, then embrace Scots
and learn Gaelic’.
What Moffat did not appreciate in this interesting essay was that his inhibitions and dilemmas are precisely those of other people who speak several languages. Ghanaians and Nigerians cannot express in English some of the deeper emotions which have been formed in their mother tongues, or relax easily in a language which has lost the distinctions between ‘thou’ and ‘you’; Pakistanis feel constrained in poetic mode without the rhyming couplets of Urdu; many fumble, when teasing or angry, without the florid vocabulary of Punjabi. The English-speaking world has a stratum of meaning shared between speakers of several languages but which is indecipherable to the monolingual.
Where do attitudes to Gaelic and Scots intersect with other community languages? The largest immigrant community in Scotland is still the Irish. In twentieth history another significant stream of immigration was from Italy. More recently, the numbers of Punjabis - from Indian and Pakistani; Bengalis - from India and Bangladesh; Chinese - from Hong Kong and the New Territories; Africans - from Ghana, Nigeria, the Horn of Africa and Southern Africa; Arabs, Iranians and Kurds - from the Middle East; have grown as a result of migration and flight from persecution. How should an enlightened Scotland respond to their language needs and aspirations?
From the history of Gaelic and its struggle
for survival, we should gain insight into the artistic and creative
impulses which are nurtured within indigenous languages and which
can flourish during diaspora. Through respecting Scots as an enriching
hybrid we can identify with the people who express themselves through
other hybrid forms of English and with the struggles for liberation
which underlie their ‘hybridity’. And, most importantly, such understanding
and respect should move us away from assimilationist attitudes of
expecting, assuming, demanding, that languages in Scotland merge
into some standardised common form. The indigenous will be sustained,
but mutate. The hybrids will multiply and diverge.
If Scotland were to institutionalise
itself as trilingual, we would engage with the wider world in radically
different ways, more aware of the cultures which live within the
people who speak to us in English, but whose deepest spirituality
and emotions lie elsewhere. We would have greater empathy with
the people of the world who are living in Scotland ... and elswhere.
Issues of Religion - The Faiths of the People
There has to be something remarkable about the country in which the Clydesdale Bank’s current £10 notes have portraits of David Livingstone, the famous missionary and explorer and Mary Slessor, the Dundee mill worker who became a Presbyterian Church missionary in Nigeria in the late nineteenth century. The banknotes symbolise complex and rich contradictions - reminding us not only of the extraordinary scale of Scots involvement in missionary activity throughout the British Empire and their dedicated pursuit of conversion, but also of the frequency with which Scots missionaries interpreted the Christian Bible in favour of the people who were most severely oppressed in the countries where they established their missions. Since the end of the Second World War, people from the former colonies have settled in Scotland. Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs now live alongside African, Caribbean, Chinese and Scottish Christians.
How has Scotland been responding to the presence of the ‘new’ faiths within our midst? In the Stirling seminar, several strands were raised for debate by participants. They stated their appreciation of freedom from state persecution as religious minorities, the Jews, in particular, value their sense of security in Scotland, as compared with elsewhere in Europe, and even some areas of England. All regret the lack of protection from religious bigotry and harassment in Race Relations legislation and feel that they experience institutional discrimination - for example, the frequent refusal to allow leave from work for the Holy Days in the Jewish Calendar, the non-recognition of Chinese ministers as celebrants in marriage services.
Each religious community experiences distinctive forms of discrimination. For instance, the Hindus find themselves ‘being crudely exoticised’. The media sensationalise stories such as the figure of Ghanesh drinking milk in a London temple; and there is still too much of tendency towards 'chicken tikka / saris and samosas'. Hinduism is viewed as some kind of mysterious intellectualism, not on the same plane as everyday life, not ‘normal’. There is an obsession with polytheism which is viewed as being ‘pagan’, inspiring art, but ‘messier’ than other religions. There seems to be a contrast between the respectful attitudes to Graeco-Roman and Egyptian polytheism, which are politically okay crowd pullers in the Museums, and disrespect for the polytheism of Hinduism. Why is this? Attention was also drawn to the eagerness of the media to highlight friction between religious groups, such as Hindus and Muslims in India and the high profile given to the destruction of the Babri Mosque / Ayodhya Temple, without reference to the centuries of coexistence.
A key dilemma for all religious minorities
was summarised by the Muslim participants:
‘We are being forced by the system to
make a choice, either integrate into this society and therefore
compromise ourselves, our cultures and our beliefs, and by doing
so lose our identity; or separatism, whereby we create our own institutions
and educational systems which are more focused towards our needs’.
This dilemma was expressed by all participants, along with their frustrations about the burden of developing their infrastructures, independent of state support. The ability of the different religious minorities to develop such an infrastructure varies greatly. As the single most numerous minority, the Muslims have more opportunity than others. There are now more than 40,000 Muslims in Scotland and they have organised an impressive network of mosques, (at the latest count, 30 across Scotland), burial facilities and madrassahs (mosque-based classes of religious instruction which run after school hours during the week and during weekends), community centres and groups. This infrastructure is essential for any Muslim community living as a minority seeking to participate fully as citizens in the mainstream of life in a non-Muslim society while practising their religion. Nonetheless, their sense of well-being in Britain is being undermined by the reluctance of central and local government to grant them, or other religious minorities, full rights, especially in education.
Facilities for pupils to pray in school are few and far between, even during the holy month of Ramadhan. While each school is required to provide religious education which includes all world faiths, parents report that some of this teaching is inaccurate. But, most significantly, the legal right to religious instruction, as opposed to education, in school, is the privilege of only one denomination - the Catholics. The children of all other faiths must receive their instruction after school hours (in the evenings and at weekends) in classes supported by communities among whom there are disproportionate numbers of people impoverished as the result of industrial decline and unemployment. Quite apart from the weight of financial responsibility which the communities bear as they sustain their educational rights through voluntary effort, there is an enduring sense of injustice because the children are suffering through deprivation of play and leisure time and their parents are criticised by teachers for the burden they place on the children.
Schools are exhorted to respect the different beliefs of pupils, teachers and parents and to consult with the school board and parents in determining the pattern and frequency of religious observance. However, the inequity between the Catholic sector where religious observance is intended to deepen the faith of the pupils and the non-denominational sector where the emphasis is on expressing their spiritual needs and aspirations is marked. The arrangements for religious observance and instruction for Catholics (within and outwith the denominational schools) are far closer to what many religious minority parents would hope to achieve as a seamless, integrated experience for their daughters and sons.
By their robust defence of their rights
as the largest religious minority in Scotland, Muslims have taken
pole position in campaigns for change and, as a result, they are
often viewed with suspicion, especially by the politicians and the
press, who create a considerable problem. If Muslims ask for state
funding for a school (or for other facilities), they are accused
of ‘further fragmentation’. If they ask for a facility which is
already allowed to another religious minority - in this case, Catholics
- the West of Scotland sectarian issue is brought into the frame
and held against them. If they claim their rights as a ‘religious’
minority, they are told that they are not Muslim, they are Asian
and black. If they insist on being respected as Muslims, they are
suspected of being ‘fundamentalists’. Such a situation is manifestly
Will the inequity between Catholics,
Muslims and pupils of other faiths be resolved in the new Scotland?
Will religious minorities continue to be refused their rights in
education for fear of the sectarianism? Will provision for Muslims
be grafted onto the existing denominational arrangements? Will
the sectarian nettle be grasped and radical changes be made in statutory
arrangements for school curriculum and support for supplementary
schools? Will politicians acknowledge that one way to reduce denominationalism
and its dark shadow - sectarianism - would be to bring religious
instruction into specific periods, thus permitting the secularising
of the rest of the week? How will Scotland respond to the proposal
for its first Muslim school, in the premises formerly occupied by
Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow?
Allowing Muslims, and other religious
minorities, respect, dignity and understanding does not require
agreement or conformity to their principles. Nor does it mean that
Pandora’s Box has been opened. On the contrary, it opens dialogue
and discovery. The overwhelming majority of world faith believers
in Scotland are utterly and resolutely opposed to the forces of
totalitarianism, authoritarianism, and even theocracy, which are
as threatening to their livelihoods and freedom of thought as they
are to any other people who seek to live in freedom and peace.
The faiths of the people are a cultural
reality in Scotland, they cannot be willed away. If the issues
raised by religious minorities are bypassed today, they will have
to be confronted at a later date. It is unlikely that a postponement
will increase ability to face the problem in the future, and a delay
may in fact impede progress as a whole. The rights of religious
minorities need to be addressed.
No discussion of religion in Scotland
is complete without reference to Ireland and the politics of sectarianism.
We do not yet know whether the 1998 peace agreements between Protestant
Unionists and Catholic Republicans are going to hold and become
a definitive break with the past. The questions to pose are whether
a peace settlement in Northern Ireland will lead to a decline in
sectarianism, and whether it will increase the possibility of Scotland
moving towards institutionalising itself as a ‘multi-faith society’,
developing a distinctively Scottish way in which religious minorities
of all faiths can be integrated, socially and politically. We have
a long way to go, as we realised when the convener of the submission
on religion could not find a speaker willing to talk to the Stirling
seminar about Catholic-Protestant sectarianism.
Justice for All?
The single aspect of Scottish society
which has more influence than any other in assuring minorities of
their security in their chosen country is the justice system. In
the session relating to Law, the Commissioners were briefed about
the distinctiveness of the Scottish system, and its potential for
effective response to minority concerns. Sadly, they were also
briefed about its failure to acknowledge the need for change. The
summary of key information is daunting.
There is no systematic ethnic monitoring
of crime or court cases. There are no policies or procedures relating
to language and the use of interpreters. There are no forums in
which the Judiciary consult on a regular basis with minority communities.
There is only one law centre dealing specifically with minority
casework and both its lawyers are white. Scotland has the same
legislation and procedures relating to immigration and asylum as
the rest of the United Kingdom, but a much smaller pool of legal
practitioners who are familiar with relevant law and procedures.
Many applicants for asylum are not represented at appeals, and in
Scotland the requirement to employ a solicitor is tighter, so volunteers
from community agencies cannot substitute. There are no black or
asian Sheriffs or Judges, only a small number of lawyers and there
very few black and asian police officers. The Scottish Childrens
Reporters Administration carries out no ethnic monitoring of panel
members or cases. Since 1989 all police forces have been required
to publish data on racial incidents. Some have made positive moves
towards the responsiveness which is required if Scottish communities
are to live in peace. However, on this issue the police have been
left to their own devices; the lawyers, children’s panels and courts
have not kept pace.
Interestingly, Scotland has a supportive
heritage in relations between police and community. The rate of
the reporting of crime is consistently higher in Scotland than in
England and Wales, and the commitment to community policing is more
robust, causing the police to take a leading role in inter-agency
forums and to undertake some interesting initiatives. In the Stirling
seminar, we were told about the Kirkcaldy pilot project against
crime through youth sport; the Dunfermline liaison with Koreans
towards the Hyundai Development, and the Fife Domestic Violence
Unit. In relation to racial incidents, the newly installed computerised
recording should increase monitoring capacity, by including the
ethnic status of all persons - victims, defendants and witnesses.
Nonetheless, the process of change has
been erratic, subject to the will of senior officers, some of whom
have been remarkably slow to respond to even the most urgent of
signs and signals. In the history of Scottish policing of minority
communities, there have been key moments which, it was feared, could
indicate the downturn experienced in English cities, where police
and community relations have become soured by some notorious cases
of police neglect and abuse.
In 1989 Ahmad Shaikh was killed on an Edinburgh city centre street. Ahmad was a Somali refugee who had moved to Scotland because he thought it would be safer than England. He was killed by men who did not know him at all. Why did they pick on him? Fury and despair spread into street protest when the local police would not acknowledge that there was a racial motivation for his death. In 1993, a man and five youths in Dundee were charged with various offences following a campaign of racial abuse and harassment which had caused terror among the Asian community in the Hilltown area. None of the charges mentioned racial motivation.
In 1994, a leading justice of the peace complained that cases are being brought to court without sheriffs being informed that the alleged offences may be racially motivated. If people are to feel confident about reporting racial incidents, they have to see a purpose and an end result. If the police record racial motivation, is it acknowledged in court? We do not know, because while the police are required to publish statistics of racial incidents, there is no such requirement on the courts. In such an environment, it is not surprising that people are reluctant to report incidents. Community groups and Racial Equality Councils across Scotland repeatedly press the point that most racial harassment remains unrecorded. All too often, low levels of abuse become sustained campaigns which can drive the victims, and their neighbours, beyond endurance. In November 1996, Paul Lavery was supported by a petition from 50 local residents of Ruchazie after he fired a gun at men who had been tormenting his family with racial abuse for weeks on end.
In 1991, Fife Regional Council commissioned a survey of asian and black residents. They found that 72% had been victims of racist incidents, but only one in four had reported incidents to the police. The rest were too frightened, anxious about how long the police would take to come, or believed that it would do no good anyway. One of the asians in the Fife survey said:
‘It won’t ever stop until people who
aren’t racially abused start taking notice and realise that there
is a very large and serious problem. People who are racially abused
nearly always don’t report it, because nothing gets done. We are
treated like third class citizens and made to take a back seat while
the bullies and loud mouths get the law on their side’.
The police statistics reveal that every
year some of the most frightening incidents occur in suburbs and
rural areas where the victims are isolated from the communities
which could give them support. In Orkney, there is still a sense
of deep shock that the first victim of murder on the island for
many years was Shamsudden Mahmood, a Bangladeshi waiter, in 1994.
His killer has not been found. In 1995, parents of pupils in Dunoon
Grammar School formed a group - Parents Against Racism - in order
to force action against racist abuse. In 1997, in the Black Isle,
the children of English incomers were attacked and Nazi swastikas
daubed in bus shelters. Also in 1997, Guyana-born Michael Jagroop
and his Scottish wife Harriet fled Portknockie after a year’s sustained
campaign of racial abuse and attack by gangs of youths and men.
The Jagroops claim that they were abandoned to their fate. Too
late, the community expressed shame and regret.
Racial incidents also occur in sport.
There have been numerous instances of racist abuse shouted from
the stands of the big clubs during football matches. Recently club
managers and football supporters have combined forces to oppose
racist abuse, as a consequence, behaviour has improved. But, in
November last year, two men were jailed for shouting racist abuse
during an under 21 cup Final match between Yoker and Campsie, and
then kicking a young black footballer unconscious. At last, on
this occasion, the racial motivation was made explicit, even though
the accused and their lawyers insisted throughout that the assault
was not ‘racist’.
How have the police responded to their
role in the front line of the justice system? As the only public
service required to collect and publish details of ‘racial incidents’,
gradually, the impact of this form of ethnic monitoring is being
felt. In 1997, the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police took note
of the fact that there was serious under-reporting of racial incidents
in his area. How else could he explain the fact that Lothian and
Borders police with a population of 830,000 reported 288 racial
incidents in March 1996, whereas Strathclyde police with a population
of 2,250,000 reported only 230? He decided to relaunch the Race
Relations policy and to change the method of recording. Immediately,
the statistics started to climb. Indeed, by January, there had
been a 61% increase in the number of racial incidents. This change
was important for Scotland. It meant that the police service responsible
for more than half our population had recognised the need for change.
It meant that more people were willing to report the racial incidents
which are making their life a misery.
Another indicator of the need for change
was the fact that individual members of the public and individual
officers were starting to lodge formal complaints about racial harassment
by police officers, particularly in relation to Strathclyde Police,
the largest police force outside London, which covers more than
half the population of Scotland. In 1995, Mohammed Aamer Anwar,
after he did not receive a satisfactory response to his allegation
of racist assault by a police officer, won a civil action in the
course of which the Sheriff made disparaging comments about the
police handling of his complaints. In 1995, Police Constable Lawrence
Ramadas retired on medical grounds after two years of sick leave
following incidents of racial abuse at the hands of a senior officer.
He pursued his case through industrial tribunal but was unable to
achieve any redress until, in August this year, the current Chief
Constable offered him an apology and reinstatement.
This intervention could not have been
more timely. Only a few weeks before, the shocking revelations
in the public enquiry about the Metropolitan Police response to
the street murder of Stephen Lawrence reached a crescendo. Stephen,
a black schoolboy, was murdered in 1993, in front of his friend,
while waiting for a bus. Since then his family have fought to establish
the guilt of his killers, seriously impeded by the attitudes and
actions of the police. Extremely serious problems of professional
neglect, racist culture and collusion were shown to have penetrated
to all levels of the service, from basic grade officers through
to the most senior. The damage done was so great that the Commissioner
was forced to issue an unprecented and humiliating apology to Stephen’s
family. The public inquiry into the case continues later this year,
when the panel will visit other parts of England to carry out further
It was therefore a tense moment in Scotland
as the case of Lawrence Ramadas came to a head at the same time
as the full scale of the Metropolitan police scandal was filling
the headlines. It seemed as if police community relations in Scotland
could be contaminated by the Lawrence case and severely damaged
by the impending failure of Strathclyde police to take firm action
against Ramadas’ antagonists. By his action, the Strathclyde Chief
Constable demonstrated that it is possible for people in strategic
positions in the justice system to break the mould, to go against
the tide of what seminar participants described as the ‘culture
of inertia and complacency’. Only time will tell whether PC Ramadas
and his colleagues will be able to recover the ground which has
been lost. But at least they are being given a rare opportunity
to break with the past and to set an agenda for the future.
When will other minority ethnic members of the justice system be given equivalent opportunities? When will other parties to the justice system come alongside the police? When will the Scottish Office demonstrate any urgency and require the Scottish legal authorities to change their ways?
Representation of the People.
It was an uncomfortable fact, often repeated during the Stirling seminar, that Scotland lacks the ethnic imagination which celebrates diversity and is falling behind in institutional arrangements which secure minorities within civic society. Time and again, participants complained that the Scottish Office, which should be taking a lead, does not take minorities into account, does not require systematic ethnic monitoring and has not developed ethnic-sensitive policies. Moreover Scottish councils (and their departments of education, housing, social work) ignore problems until they become crises; voluntary organisations respond to numbers not needs; business, commerce and the professions avoid minority issues. Minorities, and particularly the newcomers from Africa and Asia, are marginalised, politically, socially and economically. The economy is weighted in discriminatory ways which restrict opportunities and confine the new minorities to the self-employed sector. Disproportionate poverty is experienced and yet most forms of community infrastructure have been developed alone, without state support.
This year, the Race Equality Sub Committee of Edinburgh City Council carried out a consultative exercise in its own departments and with local communities through its Equality Forums in order to draft a submission to the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. They stated that community responses painted a picture of considerable difficulty: ‘The experience of racism and the anger and alienation felt by respondents because of its effects run through all responses. ... black and other ethnic minority groups are under-represented within the bodies which support the democratic process’. The end result is that the everyday experience of minorities is not heard, their contribution to Scottish economic, social and cultural life is ignored, racial harassment is tolerated, individuals and communities feel isolated and exposed, there are no black ‘high-flyers’ and there are very few publicly funded black-led initiatives. The fear is that in spite of living in Scotland, and wanting to be Scots, black and minority ethnic people will not be included in the society which will be shaped by the new Parliament.
Historically, such fears are justified. With the exception of Dundee, where Kainti Dass Saggar served as councillor between 1936 and 1954, the only Scottish black and asian councillors elected have been in the Strathclyde area. Between 1970 and 1984, there was only one Black or Asian councillor in the whole of Scotland - Bashir Maan; between 1984 and 1992, there were two - Neelam Bakshi and Mushtaq Ahmed. When, in 1995, six Asian councillors were elected in Glasgow and Lanark, and in 1997, a Pakistani was elected to the Westminster Parliament (as the first black or asian MP in Scotland and the first Muslim MP in Britain) there was perceptible relief that we were starting to move forward.
What outcome is likely in the election next year? The political parties have approved their lists of candidates and are waiting for constituencies to decide which they will select. It was a chastening experience to telephone each of the party head offices for information about the current situation. Only one office (the Liberal Democrats) was able or willing to give details of the minority ethnic candidates on their approved lists; the Conservative party office would give no information at all until constituencies have decided; the Scottish National Party would post out the list of approved candidates so that I could scan it ‘for relevant names’; the Labour Party office did not have the relevant information, but thought that there might be one potential candidate. If this is the state of affairs in the four political parties, what chance is there of change in the immediate future?
In their response to the Scottish Office consultation on the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Inter Faith Consultative Group recommended another approach. They started with the point that - ‘a shift in consciousness is needed within government to acknowledge that Scotland is a multifaith society and that Christianity is only part of the spectrum of religious beliefs. It is vital that the multi-faith nature of Scottish society be accepted from the start and that recognition of this be more than lip service as it is at the moment’. They have two main recommendations. The first is that there should be a parliamentary committee for religious affairs which would extend the present form of national consultations which take place with Church leaders to representatives of all faiths. The second is that a Minister for Religious Affairs should be appointed.
In the summer 1998 issue of Scottish
Affairs, Wilson McLeod argues the case for a language policy for
the Parliament, acknowledging that English should remain the main
working language, but pointing out the growing disparity between
Scotland and Wales, where the *Welsh language is gaining official
momentum. Wilson feels that there are signs of weakening in the
assumption that English remain the exclusive official language and
that a more diverse approach, inclusive especially of Gaelic, may
be on the horizon. After all, the Labour administration was the
first to appoint a Minister for Gaelic.
Too little, too late? Straws in the
wind? Is Scotland moving towards a distinctive mode of political
culture which will be outward-looking and welcoming rather than
introverted and sectarian?
Ethnic Discourse and Imagination
One of the most envigorating aspects
of the Commission seminar was the discourse between minorities -
immigrant and indigenous, black and white. When a Gaelic speaker
talked about the network of Gaelic medium schools, and the lobbying
which persuaded a Conservative government to take the 1996 Broadcasting
Act through the Westminster Parliament, close attention was paid
by speakers of other community languages - Chinese, Punjabi, Urdu.
When young Jews spoke about feeling at ease in their lives in Scotland,
their experience was contrasted with that of young Muslims who experience
harassment and discrimination. Scottish Africans recognised the
statement of a Hindu who spoke about feeling invisible because his
community is overlooked, but ashamed of the way his religion is
treated by the media as exotic paganism and associated with right-wing
fanaticism in India. Chinese Scots described ‘hidden’ discriminations
in education and employment which were the experience of many other
All participants listened with respect
to the views of the Traveller, who came to the seminar with her
son and his friend. As she pointed out Travellers first took to
the road in Scotland at the time of the Clearances. As a Traveller,
she has known discrimination all her life, from not being accepted
as a child, when her family suffered arson attacks and an uncle
was burnt to death in his caravan, official sites refusing to take
people in and the repeal of the 1968 Caravan Sites Act. Travellers
are angry, the problems of living as Travellers are so great that
some want to move away from travelling in order to achieve education
for their children, others to improve access to medical care. Even
when settled and at school, there is humiliation to be endured,
as her children have found. However, her son has decided to stand
up for himself and to take positive action - organising a Rave Against
Racism to educate teenagers. Her youngest son has been spat at,
called 'darky, nigger, wog'. Ruby has taught him to stand up for
himself and to be positive about who he is. She has also worked
hard with his schools to get them to recognise what was happening,
and to acknowledge their responsibilities for his environment.
Throughout the Stirling seminar, the most frequent complaint of the young people, in particular, was ‘They will not listen to us’ - ‘they’ being teachers, and other people in authority. The two-day forum which we created was unique in the experience of most people who took part. And yet, these young people are not unique. There are thousands of Scottish pupils and college students who are garnering experience of crossing cultures on a daily basis. Why are their voices not heard and why are their communities not represented in Scottish society? One of the most important ways to learn is to listen.
In the closing session of the Stirling seminar, the young participants, school and college pupils stated that they were proud to be Scottish: ‘I want to be Scots not English. I want to be Scottish and British, but not if people assume that being British means being English. Too often people talk about England, when they mean Britain and they forget Scotland'. But they also asked a number of pointed questions: ‘Why should it be a problem to be Scottish, born in England, of French nationality and part Indian? Or to be from the North-east of England, although born in Scotland?’.
How would you answer their questions?
What would you put in place in order to secure their future as internationalist
Scots in a multi-ethnic Scotland? How late it is, how late to be
asking these questions.