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Attitudes to Discrimination in Scotland




This survey has given us considerable insight to the answers to the three questions we posed at the beginning of this report.

6.1 What do Scots themselves believe is the extent of discriminatory attitudes in Scotland?

People's perceptions of the extent to which prejudice exists in Scotland depends very much on the group in question. Around half think that there is "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of prejudice towards ethnic minorities and gay men and lesbians, three in ten say this of disabled people but only one in five say this of women. Just one in ten people think that a great deal or quite a lot of prejudice exists towards all four groups while one in four think that none of these groups experience this amount of prejudice. However, when we also take into account the views of those who say that these groups experience "a little" prejudice, only one in twenty people say that none of the four groups ever experience any kind of prejudice, and half think they all experience at least a little amount.

6.2 What is the extent and character of discriminatory attitudes in Scotland?

Even though ethnic minorities and gay men and lesbians are more likely to be thought to experience prejudice, people are more likely to think that attempts to secure equal opportunities for them have gone too far. However this is a minority view in respect of all groups. Conversely, whereas just one in three feel that disabled people experience a great deal or quite a lot of prejudice, twice as many (six in ten) say that attempts to give disabled people equal opportunities have not gone far enough.

Thinking that a group experiences prejudice does not automatically lead someone to think that equal opportunities for that group should be extended. To illustrate this point, three quarters of those who say there is a great deal or quite a lot of prejudice against disabled people also say that equal opportunities for disabled people have not gone far enough. In contrast, just over a third of those who say there is prejudice towards gay men and lesbians also say that equal opportunities need to be extended.

This pattern of distinction between the four groups is a repeated finding across most of the topics we explored. People are least likely to think that gay men and lesbians should have more say in how Scotland is run, or that they would be suitable as a primary school teacher. Further, at present at least, only a minority of people believe that gay men or lesbians should be allowed to marry or would make good parents. While prejudice towards minority ethnic groups is less prevalent than it is for gay men and lesbians, this survey does suggest that a significant minority of people are uncomfortable with the concept of mixed ethnicity marriages (with quite stark differences in views on this subject across the generations), would prefer a white MSP and think that equal opportunities for ethnic minorities have gone too far. In contrast, while there is still some evidence of the gender stereotyping of women's position in the labour market, discriminatory attitudes in respect of women together with disabled people appear to be far less prevalent. This is not to suggest that people are less likely to hold discriminatory views relating to women and disabled people, but simply that these views are harder to uncover within the general population.

6.3 Why do people hold discriminatory attitudes?

We have found some support for each of the three possible explanations that we have examined. The likelihood that someone will express a discriminatory attitude differs according to their sociological attributes, their economic position, and the psychological disposition. Moreover where such differences exist they tend to be in a consistent direction. For example, those with a university degree are usually less likely to express a discriminatory view than those with no qualifications and rarely, if ever, are they more likely to express a discriminatory view. However, the degree to which there are differences of view varies from group to group. Such differences tend to be sharpest in respect of those groups where discriminatory views are more common in the first place, such as towards ethnic minorities and gay men and lesbians, and less sharp in respect of women and disabled people, where prejudice is less evident. Equally the degree to which people's discriminatory attitudes are a reflection of generalised prejudice also seems to be greater in respect of ethnic minorities and gay men and lesbians too.

But while all three of our models provide some understanding of the reasons why people hold discriminatory views, it appears that psychology probably matters most. People appear less likely to express prejudicial attitudes if they are happy living in a community of different kinds of people. Equally they are also less likely to hold a discriminatory view if they believe that they have a lot in common with members of a different group in the first place. Whether discriminatory attitudes are more likely to be reduced by persuading people to enjoy diversity or that other people are like themselves is perhaps a moot point, but the evidence would suggest that this is the area that those who wish to influence attitudes in Scotland should concentrate their attention.