Controversial ‘Dear bigots’ campaign sparks backlash

LEADING members of the Scottish Government expressed concern about a controversial £300,000 hate crime campaign which used the phrase “dear bigots”, it has been revealed.

Former and current Scottish Government ministers including, Kate Forbes, Michael Matheson and Roseanna Cunningham complained that people felt targeted by the initiative. Picture: TSPL

Former and current cabinet secretaries, including Fergus Ewing, Michael Matheson, Roseanna Cunningham and Stewart Stevenson, as well as junior minister Kate Forbes, all wrote to the Scottish Government after people reported they felt targeted by the initiative.

The campaign, which launched last September, aimed to showcase Scotland as an inclusive country, with billboard posters declaring that Scotland was a country where racism, homophobia, disablism, transphobia as well as bigotry had no home.

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It was part of the One Scotland campaign run by the Scottish Government and Police Scotland, and it also aimed to encourage victims of hate crime to report incidents.

One poster read: “Dear Bigots, you can’t spread your religious hatred here. End of sermon. Yours, Scotland.”

But the controversial initiative was criticised at the time by Christian groups who said the posters “singled out religious believers”.

Now it has been revealed that a host of MSPs, including government ministers, raised the same issue with their government colleagues after being contacted by constituents.

Scottish Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, Scottish Conservative Gordon Lindhurst, and Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur were among other MSPs who also wrote to communities secretary Aileen Campbell.

Yesterday Ms Grant said that the issue had been raised with her by a number of constituents complaining of the language involved.

She said: “This was a campaign which was about bringing people together, to not denigrate others, but instead it called people names and some felt it was targeting Christians. That’s no way to encourage people to live and let live.”

Ms Campbell’s responses to the MSPs, as well as members of the public who also raised concerns about the “Dear transphobes” letter, were released by the Scottish Government yesterday after a Freedom of Information request. In her letters the cabinet secretary said that the campaign was “absolutely not intended to target those of faith” and she apologised if it “appeared to some” that it did.

She wrote: “This government is clear that any form of hate crime or prejudice is complete unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

“Hate crime has a hugely damaging effect on victims, their families and their communities and we must all play our part to challenge it.

“The letters are addressed to perpetrators of hate crime and aims to encourage witnesses to report it.”

She added that there were no plans to re-use the “Dear Bigot” letters again.