- 13 Jun 2017
Presiding Officer, there is absolutely no excuse for hate crime and prejudice. The Scottish Government is committed to tackling it – wherever it happens, whenever it happens and whoever it happens to.
An attack on one is an attack against us all, and recent events have emphasised the importance of unity in the face of those who would seek to divide us. The terrorist atrocities in Manchester and London serve to remind us not just of the terrible dangers of hatred and intolerance, but also of the hugely inspiring way in which whole communities can rally round to demonstrate unity, support each other, and stand up to hatred.
At the Parliamentary debate on hate crime last November, I said that I would bring forward a full response to the recommendations of Duncan Morrow's advisory group on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion.
I'm pleased to update Parliament that we have today published a plan of action ('Tackling prejudice and building connected communities') to implement the advisory group's recommendations. I would like take this opportunity again to express my thanks to Dr Morrow and the group for their good work here.
The advisory group's work has built upon a long standing commitment to these issues in Scotland. This Parliament has a long history of championing equality and standing united against hatred, and the Scottish Government is actively working to build 'One Scotland' where diversity is celebrated and everyone has the opportunity to flourish.
We know that inclusive and cohesive communities that embrace diversity provide a better quality of life for everyone. Communities thrive when they feel a shared sense of belonging, when they learn and grow together, and when they feel able to live their lives in peace.
But cohesion is weakened when the things that push us apart come to the fore – isolation and loneliness, poverty and inequality, and intolerance and prejudice. These are the issues that need to be tackled if we are to remain united.
So we've worked tirelessly to promote equality and tackle discrimination, and I think that Scotland is in a relatively good place – we know social attitudes have changed for the better and equality is very much at the forefront of how we do our business.
But it's absolutely vital that we are not complacent. Last week's hate crime statistics show we still have work to do. A minority of the population still think it's acceptable to be prejudiced, and we know that people continue to experience hate crime and discrimination.
And unity is hindered by the toxic language we sometimes hear and read – about migration, Islam, refugees – which can serve to divide communities, condone prejudice and encourage hatred and abuse. Some have used recent events to target the Muslim community, which is completely unacceptable. This cannot be allowed to stand – and should always be challenged.
So Scotland is in a strong position – but as Duncan Morrow's Group has rightly recognised, there remains much more to be done.
In reading the group's report, I was struck by the experiences of those who suffer intolerance and discrimination, which can sometimes be lost in wider debates about policy and legislation. It is vital that we have that lived experience at the heart of our approach as we seek to tackle these issues. So we'll look afresh at the way we do this to ensure that we are hearing the range of voices and views within communities, and that these communities are actively participating in shaping our approach.
The advisory group's recommendations are wide ranging, so require breadth and depth in terms of approach to implementation. Important as it is, this is not solely the responsibility of the justice system to deal with. It requires a truly cross-governmental endeavour with communities, education, transport and justice portfolios working together to tackle these issues.
That's why I'm announcing today that we are establishing a multi-agency delivery group with Ministerial oversight to ensure that the advisory group's recommendations are progressed. In particular, this will look carefully at barriers to reporting hate crime and how to remove them.
It will also consider how we can better support work to build community cohesion within local communities, and we will invite the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to join the group as a key partner.
We'll also set up an advisory panel on community cohesion to ensure our work is informed by expert advice. And we need to make sure that our approach is informed by the best evidence – that's why we're working closely with Police Scotland to produce more detailed statistics on hate crime. We're also updating our national outcome on strong, resilient and supportive communities and will seek to improve the way we measure this.
And we'll continue to work with our justice agencies who provide frontline support to victims, tackle perpetrators and engage with communities to raise awareness and provide reassurance. This will include looking at what more we can do to tackle online abuse. There is no magic bullet to solving this problem: social media companies most certainly have a role in removing unacceptable content and ensuring their users have a safe experience, but we also have to ensure that we tackle the underlying behaviours and attitudes that drive people to act in this way.
Ensuring that police and prosecutors have the right tools to tackle hate crime is vital. That's why the Scottish Government has commissioned Lord Bracadale to conduct an independent review of hate crime legislation. This builds on the recommendation in Duncan Morrow's report that we consider whether the existing criminal law provides sufficient protections for those who may be at risk of hate crime – including in relation to their gender, age or their refugee/asylum status.
Lord Bracadale will make recommendations to Ministers in early 2018 and we'll consider these carefully. I know that Lord Bracadale plans to engage widely in the development of his recommendations – I look forward to meeting him myself later this month, and I am sure that other members will seek to engage with the review as it goes forward.
Looking beyond the justice system, making sure that our broader services are responsive to hate crime is also important. So we'll agree a hate crime charter with public transport operators which provides common standards and consistent processes for dealing with hate crime on public transport. And we'll develop our understanding of hate crime in the workplace, and work with the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and others to take steps to address it.
Important as having strong services and quick responses to hate crime is, it's not enough on its own. Awareness of hate crime needs to increase. In November last year I announced that in 2017 we would run a public awareness campaign on hate crime. This will aim to raise awareness, help people to understand the impact of their actions and increase wider societal understanding. It will build on previous campaigns like the 'Stand Up to Hate Crime' campaign we ran in 2014, and we plan to run it in conjunction with Hate Crime Awareness Week later this year.
All these steps are important ones, but we also need to tackle the prejudicial attitudes that cause hate crime – this is the fundamental route from preventing it from happening in the first place. Later this month, I'll be announcing funding through the Equality Budget to promote equality and cohesion across Scotland. We'll continue to support interfaith dialogue, and are also formally adopting the International Holocaust Memorial Trust's working definition of anti-Semitism. And we'll ensure that the advisory group's recommendations are locked into our work to promote race equality and the rights of disabled people.
And then there are the simple things that we can all do as members of our own communities. This weekend sees the 'Great Get Together' inspired by Jo Cox, which will see communities and neighbourhoods come together to celebrate what binds them. I'll be attending Edinburgh Pride to stand shoulder to shoulder with the LGBTI community in Scotland. I am sure members across the Chamber will have similar plans, and would encourage you to get involved. The Great Get Together is a fantastic initiative – let us put our differences aside and celebrate all we have in common.
Our response to the advisory group outlines what I consider to be an ambitious yet practical range of steps that will continue our work to build 'One Scotland' with many cultures, where everyone has the opportunity to flourish and everyone can live in peace. I know that the Chamber is united around the fact that hate crime and prejudice are unacceptable. Let us also unite around the continuing need to show leadership, remain vigilant and drive real change in the months and years ahead along with practical action that makes a real difference to people's lives.
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