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Attitudes to Discrimination in Scotland




There are two competing visions of Scotland at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The first suggests that it is a socially conservative, ethnocentric society, a society that revealed its true colours in the degree of opposition that was exhibited towards the abolition of Section 28/Clause 2A. The second argues that Scotland is an outward looking, tolerant society, a society symbolised by the more open and consensual procedures of its new parliament as well as the much higher proportion of female members within that parliament.

But which of these pictures is the true Scotland? To find out, the 2002 Scottish Social Attitudes survey, conducted by NatCen Scotland, carried a series of questions on people's attitudes towards discrimination. The survey covered discrimination in respect of four groups: women; minority ethnic groups; disabled people; and gay men and lesbians. Although each of these topics has been covered individually in previous survey research, they have rarely been studied in combination, and very little previous work has focused specifically on Scotland. This report therefore provides a unique insight into whether those who hold discriminatory attitudes in Scotland do so in respect of a wide range of groups, suggesting those views are a reflection of a generalised sense of prejudice, or whether instead the prevalence and perhaps even the character of discriminatory attitudes varies according to the group in question.

This report aims to answer three broad questions:

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

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

3) Why do people hold discriminatory attitudes?

To be able to study discriminatory attitudes we of course need a definition of what we have in mind. In designing and undertaking this research we developed the following definition:

a discriminatory attitude is one that directly or indirectly suggests that some social groups may not be entitled to engage in the full panoply of social, economic and political activities that are thought to be the norm for most citizens. In short, it is an attitude that openly or tacitly legitimates some form of social exclusion.

It is important to appreciate two feature of this definition. Firstly, it is about attitudes not behaviour. We are not attempting to study the extent of discrimination itself, which while it may be the result of explicitly articulated personal attitudes can also be the consequence of institutional procedures and practices. We thus need to bear in mind that even if we find that few hold a discriminatory view this does not necessarily means that discrimination does not occur. Secondly, our definition is not tied to current legal definitions of discrimination which, for example, does not cover discrimination against gay men and lesbians. Indeed our definition could have allowed us to look at even more groups than the four we did and it is to be hoped that this will be possible in future.

1.1 Question wording, terminology and methodology

We faced many challenges when designing the questions for the survey (a fuller account of which is outlined in Appendix Three). The most notable was the need to restrict ourselves to the forty or so questions for which there was space in the questionnaire for this topic. The second biggest challenge was probably the kind of language and terminology we should use. Surveys of the general public work best when the question wording uses simple, non-technical language drawn from everyday words and phrases. This is perhaps best typified as the kind of language used in local or tabloid newspapers, rather than that found in broadsheets. But, while this can be a useful tool for constructing questions which a large number of people from a wide range of different social backgrounds will understand, it is not an excuse to use language which would be deemed by many - not least by respondents themselves - to be offensive or discriminatory. And it must not be forgotten, this survey involved interviews with disabled people, members of minority ethnic groups and gay men and lesbians, so the questions needed to be phrased in such a way that did not make assumptions about the characteristics of those who were being interviewed (for example, that they were white, heterosexual or non-disabled).

In general we tried to use the following terms to describe the groups we were asking our respondents to consider when answering the questions: "disabled people", "gay men and lesbians", "ethnic minorities", and in some instances, "people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds". It was assumed that the terms "men and women" were widely accepted and generally understood. In certain circumstances, when a question needed to be more specific we used more specific examples, for example a wheelchair user rather than disabled people, but on the whole our preference was to use a general and consistent terminology. We also took the decision quite early on that the questions about gay men and lesbians would not cover the bisexual and transgender community because we doubted whether people would necessarily understand these terms or have enough knowledge about these groups to be able to answer questions about them.

Where possible the survey asked the same or similar questions about all four of the groups covered by the survey so that we could compare directly the extent of discriminatory attitudes towards them. In some circumstances however, it was not appropriate to ask the same question about all four groups. So sometimes one or more groups was left out of a specific sequence of questions or specific questions were tailored to address issues of particular relevance to them.

The sample size of a random general population survey such as the Scottish Social Attitudes survey is large enough to allow for some quite detailed and complex statistical analysis to be performed, and for us to have confidence in the representativeness of the results we report. Interviews were conducted with a representative sample of 1665 people across Scotland in the summer of 2002 - a response rate of 62%. (see Appendix Two for further details of the sampling and fieldwork). However, all sample surveys have limitations. Groups which are quite small in number in the general population overall will also constitute a small proportion of any sample. According to the 2001 Census, 2% of Scotland's population describe themselves as non-white (General Register Office for Scotland, 2003). A similar proportion within our sample also described themselves as belonging to a non-white ethnic group. So, while the sample is representative of the population at large, just 2% of a sample size of 1665 is a very small number. Because of this we cannot look specifically at the attitudes and experiences of minority ethnic groups. Further, while questions were asked which could identify the gender of our respondents and whether they had a disability or long-standing illness, it was decided that a question about the respondents' sexual orientation would be too sensitive in a general attitudinal survey of this kind. This means that we also cannot look at the attitudes of gay men and lesbians. The need for a survey of Scotland's minority ethnic communities which could properly address their attitudes, needs and experiences has long been identified and a scoping study of how it might be carried out has been published 1.

One other important point to note is that discriminatory attitudes do not exist in a vacuum. For example, attitude towards a disabled person who is female may not be the same as those towards one who is male. This survey did not, however, have the scope to cover examples of potential multiple discrimination such as these.