Understanding extremism in Scotland: evidence review

A report which reviews evidence on defining extremism and the extent and nature of extremism in Scotland.

1. Introduction

This report reviews evidence on defining extremism and the extent and nature of extremism in Scotland. This section provides an overview of the background to this evidence review and outlines the research aims and questions.

1.1. Background

Prevent policy

The purpose of Prevent is to 'stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism' (Home Office, 2018a). While counter-terrorism (and therefore Prevent) is a reserved matter and the responsibility of the UK Government, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (2015) places a duty on sectors that are devolved from Westminster to the Scottish Government (including local authorities, health and social care, education, prisons, and the police) to pay 'due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism'. This is known as the Prevent duty.

The Prevent duty guidance for Scotland (Home Office, 2021a) outlines how specified authorities are expected to comply with this duty. There is sector-specific guidance for further education institutions (Home Office, 2021b) and higher education institutions (Home Office, 2021c).

The Scottish Government supports the specified sectors to fulfil their obligations under the Prevent duty (Home Office, 2021a), and ensures that mechanisms are in place for safeguarding and supporting individuals who may be susceptible to being drawn into terrorism as outlined in the Prevent Multi-Agency Panel (PMAP) Duty Guidance (Home Office, 2021d).

In Scotland, the approach taken to Prevent is tailored to the Scottish context and the specific challenges faced by Scottish communities. Emphasis is placed on early intervention, safeguarding, and the prevention of people from becoming alienated or isolated, with the aim of reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience to extremist narratives.

Defining extremism

The UK Government currently adopts the following definition of extremism:

'vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas'. (Home Office, 2011: 107)

This definition was used in the UK Government's Counter-Extremism Strategy (Home Office, 2015), which set out the UK Government's approach to countering 'both violent and non-violent' extremism. However, counter-extremism is a devolved matter and the Counter-Extremism Strategy and the UK Government's definition of extremism were not adopted in Scotland. At present, therefore, the Scottish Government does not have an official definition of extremism.

1.2. Research aims and questions

The aims of this review were:

1. To explore how extremism is defined in the existing evidence base.

2. To enhance understanding of extremism in Scotland, by exploring available research on the extent and nature of extremism in Scotland.

To meet these aims, the review sought to answer the following questions:

1. How is 'extremism' defined in the literature, and to what extent is there a shared understanding of the term in the existing evidence base?

2. What evidence is available in relation to the prevalence of extremism in Scotland, particularly in comparison with the rest of the UK, and what are the strengths and limitations of these sources?

3. What evidence is available in relation to the nature of extremism in Scotland? In particular, what are the most common types of extremism, is this different or similar to the rest of the UK, and has this changed over time?

1.3. Report structure

The next section describes the methodological approach taken to conduct the review. The following sections summarise findings from the evidence with reference to the research questions. The report concludes with a discussion of key findings, gaps in evidence identified and recommendations for further research.


Email: SVT@gov.scot

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