Murdo Macleod, Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh), Mar. 27
Two years of anti-racism campaigning by the Scottish Executive have failed to make any impact on disturbingly high levels of prejudice.
Research commissioned by the Scottish Executive into the effectiveness of its £1m anti-discrimination drive has revealed that racism is just as much of a problem now as in 2001, before the scheme got off the ground.
One Scot in 10 believes there is nothing racist about attacking people from another cultural or ethnic background, and almost half think that words such as ‘Chinky’ and ‘Paki’ are acceptable.
The study shows that a significant number of Scots believe asylum seekers actually deserve verbal abuse and that almost 40% of Scots believe there is a real danger of race riots “occurring soon” in parts of Scotland.
Race equality campaigners said they found the figures “chilling” and claimed the anti-racism message had been drowned out by ministers’ warnings over the possibility of Islamic terrorism.
The concerns come amid warnings of a backlash from the Asian community in the wake of the trial and conviction of Dr Raj Jandoo, Scotland’s first Asian advocate and a temporary sheriff.
Jandoo was fined £2,500 after being found guilty of endangering an aircraft and of making bomb references during a journey from Edinburgh to Stornoway last March. Leading Scottish Asians have claimed he was unjustly treated.
The report, which was prepared for the Executive by System Three last year to analyse the impact of anti-racist campaigns, questioned 1,022 adults across Scotland.
It compared attitudes in 2004 with a study in 2002, shortly after the campaign had started, and with an earlier study in 2001, before the campaign had even been devised.
It found that although the campaign had initially changed attitudes for the better, it was losing its effect and that attitudes were no different than they had been prior to the advertising blitz.
Its disturbing findings include the fact that 43% of Scots do not think terms ‘Paki’ and ‘Chinky’ are racist and 9% do not believe it is racist to attack a person from an ethnic minority. These figures have not changed since 2001.
In addition, 28% thought it was not racist to speak negatively about people from other ethnic or cultural backgrounds as long as they were speaking in private to friends or family, and 13% believed there was nothing racist about being impolite or offensive toward people from other backgrounds. Again there had been no change since three years previously.
More than half of Scots (51%) admitted they would be worried if more people from other ethnic or cultural backgrounds came to live in Scotland. That compared with 52% who felt the same way in 2001.
A quarter of people (25%) believed that verbally abusing asylum seekers was justified, compared with 26% three years previously.
And 38% of Scots believe there is a real danger of race riots in Scotland.
On the positive side for the Executive and its advertisers, the research shows that more Scots regard racism to be a serious issue and almost half those surveyed were able to recall the Executive’s ‘One Scotland, Many Cultures’ slogan, which is aimed at fostering racial harmony.
But the report suggested that the £1m Executive anti-racism campaign might be struggling to make headway amid worries of Islamic terrorism.
It said: “Given the significant media coverage of religious and racial tensions around the world, the latest advertising has been running in a relatively unfavourable environment.”
Earlier this month, Home Office minister Hazel Blears said that British Muslims should accept that they would be more likely to be stopped and searched by police.
Her remarks were condemned by the Islamic Human Rights Commission.
Leading members of Scotland’s ethnic minorities have warned that the Executive’s message of tolerance risks being drowned by terror warnings from the UK government.
Jyoti Hazra, the former chairman of the Scottish Race Equality Council, said: “These figures are shocking and very very saddening. I had thought we were making real progress in Scotland. I think that 9/11 was a real blow to race relations and set us all back years.”
He added: “I almost cannot believe that so many Scots see nothing wrong with words like ‘Paki’. These words are so offensive to us. If you are going to refer to people by nationality, use Pakistani, or Indian, or just not mention it at all.”
Osama Saeed, the Scottish spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, said: “Half of me is stunned by the figures, but part of me wonders why I would be surprised. The Executive is right to campaign against racism, but the message is being drowned out by the suspicion against Muslims.
“A common experience among Asians is that people might bump into you, but when they see that they have bumped into an Asian they don’t even bother to excuse themselves. And these are people you think would be very polite normally.”
A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said: “The Executive is committed to promoting equality of opportunity for all and to raising the public awareness of racist attitudes and behaviour, as well as the impact this has on individuals and society more generally. An anti-racism campaign involves changing attitudes. The only way to achieve this is through targeted and strategic communication.
“It is important to note that the advertising campaign is just one part of an overall campaign — reinforced by extensive supporting infrastructure — an example of which is the detailed action plans produced by public bodies to tackle racism.”