Race Equality Framework anniversary: Equality Secretary's speech

Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, delivers a speech on Scotland's approach to racial equality.

Good afternoon. I am very pleased to join you today in marking the first anniversary of the launch of the Race Equality Framework for Scotland.

This is an important event and fitting that it should be held on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

International Day of Elimination of Racial Discrimination

On 21 March 1960, 69 South Africans were killed in Sharpeville for protesting against the apartheid pass laws. This massacre resonated around the world, and every year since 1966, this day has provided a focus for solidarity and renewed commitment to the elimination of racial discrimination.

I was interested to see that this year's theme includes incitement to hatred, particularly in the context of migration. Refugees and migrants across the world are increasingly the target of hatred and persecution. And here in the UK we have seen how easily they became the focus of abuse and blame in the run up to the Brexit referendum and subsequently.

Nations are measured by the humanity they display to those most in need. It cannot be acceptable that those fleeing persecution, war, rape and displacement should face hatred and hostility in the very places that they should expect to find welcome and sanctuary.

Nelson Mandela said in his book, 'Long Walk to Freedom':

"No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

Since the Race Equality Framework was published a year ago, the world around us has changed considerably.

The decision to leave the European Union is one of the most significant our country has faced and it has altered the context for all that we do. Scotland will have to prepare for major social and economic upheaval and inevitably there will be shifts in our relationships and constitutional arrangements with the UK and European partners.

Despite offering a strong premise for Scotland's continued engagement with the process, the UK Government (UKG) is now set on a hard Brexit, with little involvement of devolved governments – a position that is untenable. Today and tomorrow the Scottish Parliament will debate our call for a second referendum on independence, and so will begin the preparations for that journey.

I understand and respect that there will be differing views in the room around both Brexit and independence; I am sure though that we can all agree that communities should be encouraged to engage in the debate about Scotland's future. There is a lot at stake.

I was shocked to see the spike in hate crime incidents reported in the period following the EU referendum. Incidents such as the vandalism of a Polish cultural centre in London was one of many – all unacceptable.

Thankfully we have not seen the same level of incidents here in Scotland. However we cannot be complacent. Last year, a neo-nazi white power concert was due to take place in Falkirk, and Scotland strongly opposed this incursion by white supremacists. Hope not Hate ran a powerful campaign and my colleague Michael Matheson wrote to the Home Secretary demanding that the group be refused entry. The concert was cancelled and it was one small victory. However it demonstrated how we must remain vigilant.

It matters now more than ever that we send a clear message that xenophobia and intolerance are completely unacceptable. We must stand firm against intolerance and racism, assert the values of respect and dignity, and stand up in defence of equality and human rights.

The First Minister has made clear that equality and human rights will be at the centre of the business of the Scottish Government over the next five years.

We have called for the UK to increase its support for refugees; played a major role in the settlement of Syrian refugees (just last week Scotland welcomed a further 200); enabled asylum seekers to integrate from day one and called on the UKG to institute a more humane asylum system – all because we believe that Scotland should be a safe and welcoming place for those fleeing persecution and war.

We have strongly defended the Human Rights Act in the face of UKG commitments to repeal the Act and bring in a Bill of Rights. Our position is clear: we will countenance no reduction in our equality and human rights.

Unlike the UKG that has failed to provide assurance for EU nationals in the wake of the referendum, we have unequivocally called for EU nationals to be able to remain in the UK and for their rights to be preserved.

This is not to imply that all is well – far from it. It remains unacceptable that we have thousands of racist incidents reported every year and that many more may have gone unreported. However over the last five years the number of reported incidents has been decreasing and that is to be welcomed. Of course, any incident is one too many. Everyone has the right to live their lives free from racism and prejudice.

So while the Scottish Government respects the European Court of Justice ruling that companies can ban employees from wearing the Islamic headscarf, we regard the matter of wearing the hijab, or any other veil, as a matter of individual conscience and choice.

I am happy to confirm that we have no plans to introduce any legislation which will have the effect of restricting the wearing of the hijab or any other veil.

UKG Race Disparity Audit

Last year the Prime Minister announced a Race Disparity Audit to identify how people from different races are treated by public services, and to identify any specific disparities in outcome.

The PM invited the Scottish Government to participate and a range of exploratory discussions have taken place.

However, the UK Government has not made clear the purpose of the audit or its direction of travel on this issue. We are clear that any decision to engage would need to be on the basis that it sat well with Scotland's approach to race equality and data collection.

In Scotland we have developed national equality data which is openly available through the Equality Evidence Finder. In addition, public authorities have a statutory duty to collect, use and report on their employment data.

Furthermore, as the Race Equality Framework highlights, improving data is important and we will continue to build on the current evidence base and work to address the gaps through our new Equality Evidence Strategy. The strategy will help us to support action in key policy areas.

Whether in housing, employment or access to services, we are aware that there is more that we need to do. I know that some of the issues are longstanding and that resolving them will take effort and time.

That is why the Race Equality Framework is so important, and why we have appointed an independent adviser to help drive forward the changes necessary. I am delighted that Kaliani [Lyle] has taken on this role, and I am looking forward to working with her in finding innovative and effective solutions to the issues of race inequality in Scotland.

Since the launch of the Race Equality Framework last year I know that you have been working hard and there have been a number of developments.

Hate crime

We commissioned and published the work of an independent advisory group on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion. We have accepted its recommendations and will set out how we are implementing them later in the spring. Earlier this year we commissioned Lord Bracadale to conduct an independent review of hate crime legislation – this will consider whether the current legislative framework is fit for purpose and make recommendations for improvement. We want Scotland to have the strongest framework for tackling hate crime.

Police recruitment

Concerted activity is being taken forward by Police Scotland to improve recruitment from minority ethnic communities, and to increase the diversity of its workforce. As a result of a package of positive action measures, 54 people from minority ethnic backgrounds applied to the latest recruitment programme.

Many of you had expressed concerns about stop and search practices in Scotland. We have taken action to improve these, including legislating to ensure that the Police Service of Scotland must publish information that includes the ethnic and national origins of the persons searched.

Engagement and support

In the discussion around the framework there was a call for more engagement of minority ethnic communities. We provided Black and Ethnic Minority Infrastructure in Scotland (BEMIS) with £54,000 towards a programme to engage communities in the 2016 Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design and the 2016 to 2017 Winter Festivals, attracting over 15,000 people (25% increase on 2015 to 2016) to 63 funded events across Scotland.

We are also providing over £62,000 funding to the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations (CEMVO) in 2016 and 2017 to build the relationships between minority ethnic groups, communities and health and social care integration partnerships.

We have commissioned the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) to work with respectme to develop a race equality resource to support teachers in dealing with prejudice based bullying in schools. This will be completed by June 2017.

Modern Apprenticeships

We know that Modern Apprenticeships have historically had low levels of participation from minority ethnic groups. Skills Development Scotland (SDS) is implementing its Equality Action Plan for Modern Apprenticeships and progress is being made. There were 414 starts from a minority ethnic background in the period 2015 to 2016, compared to 274 in 2013 to 2014.

This will be helped by initiatives such as BEMIS's multi-stranded 'Modern Apprenticeships for All'. This aims to increase participation in the programme by raising the visibility and awareness of Modern Apprenticeships within minority ethnic communities.


Employment is a major issue for minority ethnic communities and I believe this is where we should focus our energies.

There is a 15.1 percentage point gap in employment rates for minority ethnic communities and we know that there are significant issues with regard to occupational segregation, pay, discrimination and negative experiences at work, including racial harassment in the workplace. This is unacceptable and must be addressed.

The work of the Fair Work Convention will help through its Fair Work Framework, which aims to guide businesses and individuals to fairer working practices.

In addition, Scotland's Labour Market Strategy, published last March, has a strategic outcome on equality of opportunity to access and progress in work so that everyone is able to maximise their potential.

Specific actions on employment

I and my Ministerial colleagues are clear that we must see improvement in the employment rates and the experience of minority ethnic communities in employment and business.

To that end we have asked officials to develop specific proposals by summer. These will draw on the Fair Work Framework, the recommendations made in the Race Equality Framework and the findings of the Equal Opportunities Committee inquiry, 'Removing Barriers: Race, Ethnicity and Employment', published in January 2016.

In the meantime I am also committing to some early actions today:

  1. Investment in a specific programme to support the development of minority ethnic social enterprise.
  2. A summit on minority ethnic employment and enterprise in 2018.
  3. Investment in the development of a workplace equality fund with a particular focus on race and disability.
  4. And, recognising the importance of good quality data to inform our work, we will publish the Equality Evidence Strategy in the spring, linking into the actions of the Race Equality Framework.

Public Sector Equality Duty

We have a powerful instrument for change in Scotland in the Public Sector Equality Duty. It can help organisations to advance equality, to avoid unequal and discriminatory practices and to make informed and inclusive policies and decisions. For the first time this year, public authorities will have to publish their pay gap and occupational information on race and disability. This will help to focus attention on the employment of minority ethnic communities across the public sector.


Despite the constraints on our budget, we will be putting £20.3 million into equality work in 2017 and 2018. In addition I was pleased to be able to announce on 16 February that we will return to providing three year funding from the Equality budget from 1 July this year. I understand how important this is for the planning and delivery of your work.

Next steps

In the period ahead I would like to see us continue our work together. Over the course of 2017 we will hold a series of events, including a roundtable in the summer which will include our equality stakeholders and wider public, private and third sector partners that have a responsibility and a role in service delivery.

At the same time we will publish a short highlight report and action plan that will include a focus on employment and the priorities identified today. It will also align with the Fairer Scotland Action Plan, the Disability Action Plan and 'New Scots: the strategy on refugee integration'.

We are also committed to holding a Parliamentary debate on race equality in 2017.

Friends, we are at a crossroads in our nation's history.

We did not vote to leave Europe; we did not want a divorce from our European partners; we did not choose a cold, hard Brexit.

Scotland made a clear decision to remain part of the European family and to be a responsible player in the global community.

As the UK Government moves to trigger Article 50 there is no clarity about their plan or indeed how Brexit will unfold. What is clear is that Scotland is not being listened to or engaged with as it should be.

So, faced with fundamental challenges to Scotland's democratic wishes, we now have to decide our future direction. The decisions we take over the next two years will be defining for generations.

I am immensely proud of what Scotland stands for – for the way in which our authorities, organisations and communities have rallied in support of refugees; for the stance taken against those advocating racism and hatred; and for the continuing commitment to justice, equality and human rights.

Of course there are real challenges in the period ahead and it is true that we don't know what the future holds. It is also true that there is a considerable amount to be done to ensure race equality in Scotland. But I do believe that in partnership we can succeed and make progress

You have a Government that believes strongly that Scotland should continue to be an open, welcoming and inclusive country. Together we have developed a framework that is a practical demonstration of this vision and commitment to working collaboratively for long term solutions on race equality.

Maya Angelou said, 'Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible'.

In the period ahead it will matter that we can stand up and be counted on the substantial questions of equality and human rights. It will matter that we can stand together in solidarity against the forces that seek to sow hatred and division in our communities. It will matter that we can work together for meaningful change and progress and an end to racism and prejudice.

Thank you.


Email: ceu@gov.scot

Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

Back to top