Understanding extremism in Scotland: evidence review

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

6. Conclusion

The aims of this review were to explore how extremism is defined in the existing evidence base and to enhance understanding of the phenomenon in Scotland, by exploring available research on its nature and extent. This section will discuss the key findings of the review and the evidence gaps identified, as well as presenting recommendations for further research.

6.1. Summary of key findings

The first key finding is that there is no universally agreed-upon definition of extremism in the existing evidence base. The term is subjective by its nature, which has resulted in it being defined in a variety of ways.

The second key finding is that there is some evidence available which provides insight into the extent and character of extremism in Scotland, including data relating to terrorist activity, Prevent referrals, public attitudes, hate crime, intra-Christian sectarianism, and Islamist and right-wing extremism. A tentative conclusion that can be drawn from this evidence is that extremism may look different in Scotland to other parts of the UK. In particular, there is evidence to suggest that levels of extremism may be lower in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK, with less terrorist activity taking place, and fewer referrals to Prevent. There may also be differences in the types of extremism and their prevalence in Scotland. For example, while mixed, unstable and unclear ideologies appear to be a growing concern across the UK, there is evidence that right-wing extremism presents a bigger concern than Islamist extremism in Scotland, and also that Scotland may face unique challenges relating to intra-Christian sectarianism.

However, a fundamental limitation of the sources identified is that although they provide relevant contextual information, most do not specifically focus on researching the prevalence or nature of extremism in Scotland, which means there are significant gaps in the available data and evidence on this. Additionally, a notable gap in the evidence relates to how recent crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis, may have impacted engagement with extremism in Scotland. If these gaps are to be addressed, it is likely that further research will be required.

6.2. Recommendations for further research

Overall, while the existing evidence provides relevant insights, the conclusions that can be drawn about extremism in Scotland are limited. This review therefore recommends that further research is carried out to begin to address the gaps identified. Firstly, it is recommended that more work is undertaken to explore approaches to defining extremism. In particular, given that the focus of this review was predominantly on academic literature, it would be useful to review how governments in other countries have approached defining extremism, and what can be learnt from these definitions.

Secondly, it is recommended that a programme of research is developed to address the gaps relating to the extent and nature of extremism in Scotland. While this could be advanced in various ways, given the challenges with measuring extremism outlined in this report, it is suggested that in the first instance a useful approach could be to explore understandings and perceptions of extremism from the perspective of key groups and communities, such as the public, practitioners working to deliver Prevent in Scotland, and stakeholders who have an interest in Prevent or extremism in Scotland. The research could explore how these groups define and understand extremism, as well as their views on the extent to which extremism is a problem in Scotland, the types of extremism that are more and less prevalent, and how well they perceive current approaches to countering extremism in Scotland to be working. This would provide an opportunity to gain insight into areas of concern in communities that could form the basis of further research, as well as complementing work to review approaches to defining extremism.

This work should be undertaken alongside ongoing work to improve understanding of the Prevent referral data in Scotland, with the triangulation of different sources supporting a multifaceted and nuanced understanding of extremism in Scotland, and the development of an evidence-based narrative for Scotland's experience of different types of extremism.


Email: SVT@gov.scot

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