Gross racial inequality belies Scottish myth, say experts

Govanhill in Glasgow. There's an embarrassing lack of data on ethnicity and employment in the city. Picture: John Devlin
Govanhill in Glasgow. There's an embarrassing lack of data on ethnicity and employment in the city. Picture: John Devlin
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Urgent action is needed to address the “gross racial inequalities” in Scotland, according to a major study condemning the lack of leadership when it comes to tackling discrimination.

The Scottish Government, politicians and employers have been urged to tackle the country’s racism problem by the authors of a new book challenging the “myth” that Scotland is a more egalitarian country than others.

Compiled by academics and equality campaigners, the book, No Problem Here: Understanding Racism in Scotland, warns that the job situation for black and minority communities is “bleak” and “in some cases” is getting worse.

Edited by Neil Davidson, Minna Liinpaa, Maureen McBride and Satnam Virdee, all of Glasgow University, the book highlights discrimination in the workplace and the harassment suffered by the black and minority ethnic (BME) population.

The difficulties faced by the BME community when it comes to getting work in the public sector is examined in a chapter by Jatin Haria, Executive Director of the Coalition of Racial Equality and Rights.

“Urgent and major action is needed to address the gross racial inequalities in the Scottish labour market if Scotland is truly to become the equal, egalitarian nation it wants to become,” Haria writes in a chapter suggesting that quotas should be introduced to deliver fairness for all.

Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Haria said data revealed that after interviews for local authority jobs, white applicants are three times more likely to secure a position than non-white applicants.

He also quoted the latest official figures which showed that just 1.6 per cent of Scottish Government employees identify themselves as BME, a statistic that showed no improvement since 2014.

According to the latest census figures, the percentage of people from minority ethnic groups stands at four per cent of the population, but the BME population is rising steadily.

The Asian population is the largest minority ethnic group, representing three per cent of the population or 141,000 individuals. The BME population is proportionally larger in Scotland’s cities, accounting for 12 per cent in Glasgow and eight per cent in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Haria said: “You have a BME population in Glasgow of over 12 per cent and that’s from the census, so it has probably increased since then. And you have a Glasgow City Council workforce of about two per cent from their own published figures.

“It just wouldn’t be acceptable south of the border. I would have thought there should be a greater outcry here. In Scotland it is allowed to go on and that’s what we are saying about a lack of leadership.

“The disparity in employment is so obvious, but there is so little action around it. Because employment is a long-term process, you won’t get promoted to headteacher for another 20 years or so – if we don’t do something about this now we are going to have a long-term problem.”

The book, published by Luath Press, has been released at a time when the Labour politician, Anas Sarwar, has brought the issue of racism to the fore.

Last week Sarwar claimed a Labour councillor had told him “Scotland wouldn’t vote for a brown Muslim P**i” when he was standing against Richard Leonard in the Scottish Labour leadership contest.

After Sarwar’s claims, Councillor Davie McLachlan, leader of the Labour group on South Lanarkshire Council, has been suspended by the party. McLachlan has said he was stunned by the allegation and denies the claims.

The book acknowledges that various anti-racism initiatives have been launched by the Scottish Government and others, but Haria argues that the approach is too “ad hoc” and there is not enough effort to collect BME employment data.

He writes: “The real need is to deal with institutional, structural and direct racism by organisations and individual employers… Quotas based on ethnicity are surely the best way to ensure equality of outcome, at least in the short term… There is not just a lack of recognition of the problem, there is a lack of any urgency to do anything about it and there is a lack of any leadership on this issue in Scotland.”

Elsewhere in the book, personal experiences of racial harassment are outlined, which the authors contrast with the inclusive image of Scotland promoted by politicians.

In one chapter, Davidson and Virdee accuse the SNP of creating a “dominant story”, through a more positive attitude towards immigration, that Scotland is more “egalitarian” than England. This, they argue, reinforces “the myth that Scotland does not have a serious racism problem”.

A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: “Achieving equality and diversity in our workforce is important. The more any organisation reflects the community it serves, the better it will be. Clearly, we all have to accept that there is some way to go. We also have to acknowledge, as employers and as a community, that the potentially varied and complex reasons minorities are under-represented at all levels in government and in the wider public sector have not yet been fully addressed.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There is no place for racism in our vision for Scotland. Our Race Equality Action Plan: A Fairer Scotland For All was published in December and includes over 120 actions which we will take over the lifetime of this Parliament to improve the lives of minority ethnic communities in Scotland.

“We are determined to lead in advancing race equality and our plan sets out actions in many areas including employment, education and housing, to tackling race inequality and racism, to help break down the barriers that prevent people from minority ethnic communities from realising their full potential.