A Conservative MSP has accused the Scottish Government of having a “dangerous obsession” with linking hate crime to Brexit despite a fall in reported race attacks since the EU referendum.
Annie Wells also accused Nicola Sturgeon of “tokenism” in her work with LGBTI anti-bullying groups and called for more work to be done in tackling the types of hate crime which are “on the increase and are vastly under-reported”.
She said Police Scotland’s 2015/16 statistics show race hate crime has fallen three per cent since last year, while sexual orientation crime is up 20 per cent and disability hate crime has increased 14%, despite the latter two being under-reported.
In a debate at Holyrood, Ms Wells said: “Firstly I want to ask why it is that the SNP became so obsessed with linking hate crime to Brexit when this summer Police Scotland reported that in Scotland it had seen no increase in the number of hate crime reported. In fact hate crimes actually fell in the aftermath of the EU referendum.
“It is dangerous to continually link the Brexit vote with hate crime and it completely undermines those that voted that way.”
She highlighted research by the Campaign for Inclusive Education showing 64 per cent of LGBTI youths have been bullied due to their gender identity or sexual orientation and 37 per cent had attempted suicide as a result.
She said: “When the report itself states that Scottish schools need to be better equipped to tackle LGBTI bullying, the Scottish Government should at least open the debate to inclusive education as a legislative measure.
“We need more than the First Minister tokenistically attaching herself to LGBTI campaigns and then doing nothing in the way of actually following policies through.”
She added: “This is why I call on the SNP Government to stop the Brexit bashing, the end goal of which we all know, and address the hate crimes it so conveniently turned a blind eye to.”
Questioned herself on when Theresa May will guarantee protected residency status for EU nationals in Scotland, she said the Prime Minister has already expressed her “full intention and expectation that EU citizens will be protected”.
She added that no further commitment could be given because “nothing’s been done” with regards to Article 50.
Communities, Social Security and Equalities Secretary Angela Constance said the Scottish Government has invested and strengthened the law in a bid to tackle hate crime.
She said it will introduce a public education campaign next year raising awareness of the impact of hate crime and the support available in a bid to “address urgently” the under-reporting of some types of crime.
She said: “There is never any excuse for hate crime or prejudice and as a Government we are absolutely committed to tackling it wherever it happens, whenever it happens, and whoever it happens to.”
She added: “We need to tackle the root causes of hate crime which are prejudice and inequality.”
Labour MSP Pauline McNeill said: “There were some headlines that suggested hate crimes have reduced in Scotland since Brexit and it is true that race crime has decreased by three per cent, which is to be welcomed.
“But I think it’s way too early to draw any conclusions from that and I think we should refrain from drawing any direct conclusions from it.”