Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights - anti-racist policy making: review

Findings of a research programme into Scottish race equality strategies since 2000. The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) was commissioned to support the implementation of this review, with a focus on exploring opportunities for better practice.

Participation and Representation

Race Equality Framework for Scotland Vision

Minority ethnic participation and representation is valued, effective, fair and proportionate at all levels of political, community and public life


10. Increase participation and representation of minority ethnic individuals in governance and influence in decision making at local and national level

11. Minority ethnic people have a fair and proportionate influence on Community Planning

12. Informal community action within minority ethnic communities is better understood and valued

13. Promote inclusiveness and participation by making better connections between minority ethnic communities, organisations and institutions involved in culture, sports and media

Key themes

Participation and representation (which encompasses participation in decision making processes, political life, civic life and culture, heritage, leisure and sports activities) was reflected less often in commitments and actions than most of the other areas studied.

A total of 73 relevant commitments and actions were identified in this area. Involvement of minority ethnic community members (particularly, although not exclusively, in relation to public appointments) was the most common recurring topic, with 20 commitments centred on this.

Additional areas where commitments were made to involve minority ethnic community members included:

  • Planning of service design, for instance in the health sector
  • Community Planning processes and structures
  • Culture and heritage work
  • Consultation on new or revised policies and strategies

Public appointments were also the most significant focus of the 14 commitments and actions focussed on diversity.

Diversity related commitments were also recorded in relation to:

  • Elected office
  • The Honours system
  • Sports
  • Judicial appointments

Participation in volunteering and support for the Voluntary Sector was also a common feature, with 10 actions and commitments.

The remaining commitments centred on issues such as:

  • Addressing race equality generally within participation and representation related policy areas
  • Capacity building to encourage participation and representation
  • Gathering data relevant to participation and representation
  • Promotion and marketing of opportunities for participation
  • Developing representative structures for particular groups, for example Gypsy/Travellers

Despite not featuring as regularly as some of the other themes examined in this review, participation and representation was an area where measurable progress was reported for minority ethnic people, at least in relation to public appointments. A shift occurred following significant promotion activities in early Scottish Executive race equality work. Public Board diversity increased from 0.5% minority ethnic representation in 1999 to 2.2% in 2002.

Statistics published in 2019 showed a 71% overall increase in the appointment of minority ethnic people to Boards through public appointments (although the timeframe for this increase was not specified). Work on representation of minority ethnic people in public appointments continues despite statistics showing a reasonably proportionate level of representation. It may be that continual focus on race equality in this area over time has resulted in maintenance of representation.

However, it is possible that some groups (particularly South Asian communities) may be disproportionately behind these statistics, with work to be done to increase participation across the wider range of ethnic diversity. National policy has long recognised that representation at Chair level in public appointments is still a concern in terms of diversity. There is also recent evidence to suggest that minority ethnic people may be applying for public appointments at better than proportionate levels, but not being appointed to the same degree. 'Visible minority ethnic groups' made up 6.3% of applicants but only 3.6% of appointees in statistics published in 2018.

In regard to consultation and involvement of minority ethnic groups, this has been carried out consistently through the years across policy areas. However, its practical impact has not always been evident in the policy and practice which follows on. Progress reporting often treats involvement as an end unto itself, whereas from an anti-racist perspective, the focus should be on what changed as a result.

Evidence on inequalities and change over time

Key Issues:

  • There are lower levels of participation among minority ethnic communities compared to the white British majority ethnic community in a range of activities which contribute to individual and social development in Scotland
  • Minority ethnic communities are under-represented in political, governance and decision-making structures, as well as in other areas of public life
  • There are barriers connected to institutional and personal racism that limit the participation and representation of minority ethnic communities
  • More action is needed to achieve fair and equal participation and representation
  • There is a lack of data regarding the participation and representation of minority ethnic communities in several spheres of public life; it is therefore difficult to track whether there has been consistent progress over time

Influence over local decisions

Only around 1 in 5 minority ethnic people agree that they can influence decisions affecting their local area, with 19% agreeing in 2007, falling slightly to 17% by 2019 (see Figure 7). However, this is broadly in line with white people in Scotland, suggesting that confidence in influence over local decision making is low for all ethnicities.


There is, and has been, a severe under-representation of BME people in the Scottish political arena since devolution. Of the 645 Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs) elected since 1999, excluding the numerous ones elected through by-elections, only 4 (0.6%) have been from a BME background (all from South Asian communities). There has never been a female BME MSP.

There has been limited progress; in 2011 the first BME MSP was elected, Scotland's first BME Government Minister was appointed, and a slight increase to two BME MSPs occurred making the level of representation at Scottish Parliament 1.5% BME. However, this is still a significant gap, with at least five BME MSPs needed to accurately reflect the ethnicity of Scotland's population (bearing in mind the likelihood of significant demographic change since the 2011 Census).[19]

The availability of data on local government representation is more limited. In 2007 there were 10 non-white minority ethnic Councillors across the whole of Scotland (representing 0.8% of the total), rising to 17 (representing 1.4% of the total) in 2017.[20] In 2015, a report from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission concluded that more needs to be done to increase the diversity of Councillors in Scotland.[21]

The diversity of membership within political parties in Scotland is currently unknown. Monitoring of equality data is a critical first step to achieving racial equality, however most political parties do not collect or report this data.

Many minority ethnic communities are not represented at all in local or national politics. Scotland must continue to improve the representation and participation of BME communities in politics, and increase the influence these communities have in Scotland's public life. Improving this requires increasing BME participation in the Scottish political arena, which in turn requires increasing BME membership in parties. Political parties monitoring the ethnicity of their membership and reporting on this would be a crucial step forward in this process.

Third Sector Boards

In 2014, the Scottish Government published a report entitled Overcoming Barriers to Equality and Diversity Representation on Public, Private and Third Sector Boards in Scotland.[22] This report did not examine the underrepresentation of minority ethnic people on charity boards, but largely focused on women's participation and representation on boards.

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) does not report on the ethnic composition of its Board and has never addressed the ethnic compositions of third sector boards in their equality strategies.[23] OSCR do note that they have limited equality information about charities. Six percent of the sector have stated that one of their 'beneficiary' groups are people of a particular ethnic origin.

In 2016, CRER undertook research on the ten highest grossing charities in Scotland that were not universities or education institutions, finding that none had statistics or information about the ethnic composition of their board or directors readily available. Using name recognition algorithms, CRER identified four non-white minority ethnic trustees out of approximately 120 (3.3%), with two of the four being trustees of Glasgow Life.[24]

In 2019, CRER undertook further research, this time concentrating on BME representation on Voluntary Sector Boards within Glasgow. This found that very few charities have a proportionate representation of BME trustees on their boards and 80% of all charities in Glasgow (341) had no BME trustees at all.[25]

Underrepresentation of BME groups on third sector boards has significant implications for racial equality. For organisations, a lack of board diversity can impact decision making and governance, funding opportunities, and public trust and engagement. For individuals, an increase in visible diversity of trustees can lead to better recruitment of future minority ethnic trustees and a better awareness of racial equality issues. For individuals of all ethnicities, among other benefits, serving as a trustee on a charity board provides management experience, networking opportunities, and valuable career skills.

Arts and Culture

Previous evidence has demonstrated inequalities in cultural participation for minority ethnic people, including within the historic environment, arts and creative industries. The increased engagement of BME groups in culture generally could have many benefits in terms of social cohesion, reduced levels of isolation, the realisation of creative potential and undiscovered talent and fostering good relationships at a community level.

As well as ensuring fair access to cultural activities and related employment opportunities, improved participation would contribute to the physical and mental wellbeing of BME communities. Broadening participation also provides opportunities to promote community cohesion though enabling interaction and increasing diversity of both staff and participants.

However, there is a lack of data over time showing trends in access to arts and culture for minority ethnic people in Scotland.

Sport and Leisure

Racism and fear of racial discrimination can be a barrier to participation in sports. There is limited consistent data about sports participation, especially over time for minority ethnic people in Scotland. However, the data which exists suggests unequal access, particularly for BME women.

Sported research across the UK in 2020 found:[26]

  • 20% of elite British sportswomen say they have experienced racism
  • 40% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic participants said their experiences of local sport or leisure clubs had been negative, compared to just 14% of white British participants
  • Only 58% of Black adults meet guidelines of 150 minutes of activity a week (compared to 63% of all adults)

The Scottish Health Survey 2012 found that Pakistani respondents were the least likely to obtain the recommended levels of physical activity – 27% compared to the national average of 38% - and were also the least likely ethnic group to participate in sport – 30% compared to 49%. This finding is consistent with Britain-wide research, which found that Pakistani and other South Asian ethnic groups were the least likely to be sufficiently physically active.[27]

In 2018, the Equality and Human Rights Commission reported that the gap between men and women's participation in sport was greater among some minority ethnic groups than it was in the population as a whole.[28]

Sportscotland research found 95% of coaches surveyed in 2017 identified as being White (Scottish, other British, Irish, Other), 1% any other ethnic group and 1% mixed or multiple ethnic origin. The 1% categorized as any other included Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British; Mixed or multiple; African; Caribbean or Black combined. Further, 96% of members of clubs surveyed in 2020 identified as being White (Scottish, other British, Irish, Other) with 2% composed of Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British, Mixed or multiple, African; Caribbean or Black and Other ethnic group combined.[29]

These statistics suggests that access to sport and sports coaching is not equal for minority ethnic people in Scotland. However, in research commissioned for sportscotland in 2020 on the topic 'equality and sport', these issues were not discussed.[30]

Considerations for future policy

The consistent focus on race equality in public appointments, whilst not entirely eliminating racial inequalities, shows that where work is undertaken steadily over a length of time, a degree of progress can be made and maintained. This contrasts sharply with other areas of policy reviewed here, such as workforce representation in Scottish Government, where a succession of time-limited, discrete activities have so far had a limited impact.

Many areas relating to minority ethnic participation and representation are resistant to change through national public policy, because Government lacks the necessary control and influence to create change. Representation in elected office is largely a matter for political parties. Representation on Community Councils is a notoriously difficult area even for local authorities to influence. There may be partnership working opportunities to explore in relation to these issues.

However, areas which Scottish Government has significant potential to influence include diversity in representation within arts, culture, heritage and leisure, in terms of employment and volunteering and as audiences.

There has been a tendency to silo minority ethnic projects or programmes of work in these areas, for example through streams of funding targeted specifically at minority ethnic organisations to undertake 'cultural' activities. This has perhaps limited (or created an impression of limited) access to mainstream funding. It means that minority ethnic organisations can feel constrained into undertaking projects which rely to an unnecessary degree on tradition and heritage, as opposed to white-led organisations which face no such expectation or perception.

Scottish Government may want to consider the following opportunities to expand minority ethnic participation and representation:

  • Working through relevant directorates and national agencies to increase access to mainstream participation in arts, culture, heritage and leisure funding or programmes
  • Seeking opportunities to target specific, under-represented ethnic groups for public appointments, and ways to improve diversity at Chair level
  • Identifying the factors underlying the success of positive action measures regarding public appointments and transferrable learning to improve practice in other areas of under-representation



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