THE number of Scots who hold discriminatory attitudes towards Muslims has increased over the last three years following the terrorist attacks in London, new figures showed yesterday.
As increased immigration from around the world changes the social make-up of Scotland, the latest survey of attitudes showed the majority of people are willing to embrace different cultures.
But despite government campaigns to tackle racism, a hardcore of people continue to believe prejudice is acceptable. And while attitudes to gay people and women have improved, one in five people think civil partnerships are wrong and one in seven think a woman's place is in the home.
In particular, attitudes towards Muslims and ethnic minorities have deteriorated in recent years. Half of those surveyed considered the increasing number of Muslims in the country as a cultural threat and one in five feared ethnic minorities would take their jobs.
Equality groups said such attitudes are unacceptable in the 21st century and called for the "silent majority" to speak out against prejudice.
It has been estimated Scotland will need 20,000 immigrants every year to save the economy from collapse over the next 30 years, and Stewart Maxwell, the communities minister, pledged to redouble Scottish Government efforts to tackle discrimination.
The Attitudes to Discrimination in Scotland report surveyed around 1,600 people across Scotland between August 2006 and January 2007.
In general, the country is in favour of integration with 65 per cent of people agreeing that Scotland should do everything to get rid of all kinds of prejudice.
However, 29 per cent disagreed, though such an outlook is more common amongst those with fewer educational qualifications. People were also more prejudiced against certain groups.
Professor John Curtice, a consultant to the Scottish Centre for Social Research and one of the co-authors of the report, said the "direction of prejudice" is changing.
Prof Curtice pointed out that half of those surveyed would be unhappy if a relative married a transsexual person while a third said the same in respect of an asylum-seeker, a gypsy traveller or someone of the same sex.
However Prof Curtice said the group that appears to have suffered the worse in recent years is Muslims.
He suggested this was because of the ongoing "war on terror" and the attacks on London in 2005.
In 2006, 50 per cent of people said that Scotland would begin to lose its identity if more Muslims came to live here compared to 38 per cent in 2003. Over the same period there was a four-point increase in the proportion who say they would be unhappy about a relative forming a relationship with a Muslim.
Dr Salah Baltagui, of the Muslim Council of Scotland and Scottish Interfaith Council, said prejudice remains a reality.
He said the way to address the problem was to tackle stereotypes and introduce more people to Muslims.
"This is happening and what we have to do is try to help people find out more about Muslims and break down the stereotypes," he said.
Mr Maxwell said: "While most people want to see a fairer, more equal society, it is worrying a sizeable minority still hold discriminatory views. We must address this to ensure Scotland's future success as a welcoming, modern nation."
ANALYSIS: PREJUDICE AGAINST FAITH NOT COLOUR
THE revealing statistic in yesterday's government report into discrimination is that while 4 per cent of people would object to an Asian teacher, 21 per cent would do so if it was a Muslim teacher writes Osama Saeed.
It confirms the trend whereby people of colour have gained increasing acceptance, while prejudice now targets people because of their faith.
We now have a situation where white people of Celtic stock convert to Islam and are being told to "go home". To where? Glasgow?
Recently a lady who converted was called a "White Paki" because of her hijab . A group of thugs threw a glass bottle at her.
According to the report, half of Scots believe that the addition of more Muslims will threaten the country's identity. This despite previous reports finding that Muslims actually feel more Scottish than the population as a whole. So where are these attitudes coming from?
The report blames the international situation. Certainly, the heat generated by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and 7/7, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have created the perception of a West vs Islam paradigm.
We can campaign on these issues to make them better. The fact that Muslims and non-Muslims marched together against the Iraq war is well-known. But after the Glasgow Airport attack this year, Muslims and non-Muslims again stood shoulder to shoulder in the Glasgow protest against it.
While there should be some despondency from this report, we also have the opportunity in Scotland to show the world how well it can work between Muslims and non-Muslims and do something practical about the faith-race issue.
• Osama Saeed is a board member of the Muslim Council of Scotland.