New drive launched to fill 'evidence gaps' on scale of extremism in Scotland

Ministers have launched a new drive to better understand extremism in Scotland after identifying "a range of evidence gaps".

The Scottish Government found gaps relating to the "nature, reach and scale of extremism" north of the border, as well as a lack of concrete data.

A £50,000 research contract has now been posted as part of the first phase of efforts to address the problem.

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According to tender documents, government analysts previously reached the "tentative conclusion" that "the threat landscape in Scotland may be different from that of the wider UK in some respects".

Counter-terrorism officers called to the scene of the London Bridge terror attack in 2017. Picture: Dan Kitwood / Getty ImagesCounter-terrorism officers called to the scene of the London Bridge terror attack in 2017. Picture: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images
Counter-terrorism officers called to the scene of the London Bridge terror attack in 2017. Picture: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

“In particular, evidence suggests that overall levels of extremism may be lower in Scotland than they are elsewhere in the UK, and that there may also be differences in the types of extremism that are more and less prevalent,” the documents note.

However, the review also highlighted “a lack of concrete data and evidence”, with the documents adding: “Since the review was undertaken, further questions have been raised around the ways in which Prevent referrals are categorised in Scotland, how adherence to or interest in different extremist ideologies may be changing, and what impact Covid-19 may have had on engagement with extremism.”

Prevent is a strand of the UK Government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

The Scottish Government has now launched a programme of research to “address the evidence gaps which have been identified and to provide greater insight into how existing and new ideologies may be changing and developing in Scotland”.

"The findings will provide important insights as to how extremism is developing in Scotland, how effective our current approach to countering it is, and support us in our work to identify and address emerging trends and risks,” the documents say.

They add: “The first phase of this research programme will seek to explore understandings, perceptions and experiences of extremism from the perspective of the public, stakeholders and practitioners, in three separate but related research projects.”

This will include carrying out a representative survey of 2,000 people, as well as focus groups and interviews between now and August.

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Government analysts will also conduct in-depth interviews with “key individuals, groups and organisations who have a direct interest in Prevent or extremism in Scotland more generally”.

Meanwhile, a £50,000 contract posted to the Public Contracts Scotland website covers research focusing on professionals “working to deliver Prevent in Scotland in different settings and communities”.

Among other things, they will be asked to what extent they have witnessed or experienced extremism in Scotland, whether they perceive it to be a threat and which ideologies are of most concern, as well as about the impact of lockdown.

“It is expected that interviews would take place with an appropriate number of professionals working in each of the sectors involved in Prevent delivery in Scotland (local authorities, health and social care, education, prisons, and police),” the documents say.

A final report on this section of the work is expected in November.

Scottish Conservative community safety spokesman Russell Findlay welcomed the move.

He said: "Anything that helps better understand threats posed by extremists is welcome, especially in areas where there are knowledge gaps, but the purpose and value of such research must be clear and of sound financial value to taxpayers."

In the year ending March 31, 2020, a total of 100 individuals were referred to Prevent in Scotland.

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The most common type of concern related to right-wing extremism, making up 35 per cent of referrals.

The majority of those referred were male (94 per cent), and those aged between 15 and 20 made up the largest proportion (44 per cent).

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While counter-terrorism is a reserved matter, Prevent delivery in Scotland is devolved and the Scottish Government works closely with partners across the UK to prevent and tackle the threat posed by all forms of extremism.

“The research project was started so that our understanding of extremism in Scotland is clear, up to date and helps to inform our ongoing policy response.”

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