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22/03/16 12:15

First Minister speaks at "Scotland – no place for prejudice conference"

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
22 March, 2016

We are gathering to talk about tolerance, diversity and tackling hate crime as quite horrific news is emerging of what appears to be a devastating terrorist attack in Brussels.

My thoughts are with everybody caught up in these events and indeed with the people of Belgium.

It is a stark reminder of the importance of work we are doing to tackle hate crime and to strengthen diversity and community cohesion.

But we should also not lose sight of the positives. The Parliamentary constituency I represent – Glasgow Southside – is one of the most diverse constituencies anywhere in Scotland. So I see on a daily basis just how much Scotland benefits from the contribution made by different racial and religious communities.

And I also see regularly the importance of the work being done by Police Scotland and Crown office to address hate crime. We can’t create a fully inclusive society in Scotland if hate crime persists – if some people and groups are subjected to verbal abuse or physical assault as a result of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
So today’s conference is a very welcome and timely discussion on a hugely important topic.

My remarks today will be relevant to all aspects or categories of hate crime. However it’s maybe worth noting at the start that today’s focus on combatting race hate is in some respects very timely, not just for the reasons I’ve spoken about but for Scotland in general as well. The Scottish Government published its revised Race Equality Framework yesterday.

Now, as you’d expect, that framework covers a much broader range of policies than criminal justice. Tackling discrimination, fundamentally, is about changing people’s attitudes and the Lord Advocate has rightly reminded us of how attitudes have changed in recent years. It’s about encouraging people to celebrate diversity instead of fearing difference.

So education and information programmes have an important role to play.

So does diversity in employment – we need to ensure that public services set an example in being representative of their local communities. And the language we all use – as politicians and as public servants – also matters. Any attempt, for example to dehumanise people when we describe them – whether they are refugees, people of different religions, or people with a particular sexual orientation - plays a part in creating the wider atmosphere in which hate crime can happen.

The race equality framework recognises all of that that. It sets out proposals for action in education, in promoting equal employment rights, in public service provision and in many other areas.

It’s vital to tackle inequality – whether it relates to race or to other issues – right across our society. That broad-based approach is essential to improving people’s lives.

But within that wider work to tackle inequality, the justice system has a very important part to play.

The law is critical in ensuring that individuals and communities can live in peace, and that perpetrators of hate crime are held to account. It also sends a clear message to wider society about what constitutes acceptable behaviour.

That’s why the Scottish Parliament strengthened the law on hate crime – to ensure the recording and prosecuting of hate crime offences was made more effective. The Scottish Government has also introduced the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications Act. Which seeks to tackle sectarianism in football, and therefore highlighting its unacceptability in society more widely.

But some of the most important changes we can make, often aren’t to legislation. They’re improvements to how we apply existing legislation, and also changes to how we work with and support local communities.

That’s an area where I know that police and Crown Office – working closely with third sector organisations and community groups – have done a significant amount of work in recent years.

And so one of the main things I want to do today is to say thank you to all of you. The work that you are doing to tackle hate crime is already having a big impact.

I visited Garnethill synagogue last August. It was clear how much they value their relationship with Police Scotland – your willingness to respond to their concerns, and to make available any support, protection or assistance they need.

I know from discussions with the Muslim community – for example when I visited Glasgow Central Mosque on the day after the Paris terror attacks – that they would echo that appreciation of the work of police and other agencies do. A lot of the work the police does with faith groups and ethnic minority communities is responsive, constructive, community policing at its best.

That ongoing community liaison is backed up by practical steps. For example Police Scotland’s support for third party reporting centres makes a big difference. It enables victims of hate crime – who may often feel isolated, or nervous of public authorities – to report their experiences in a safe, supportive environment. It’s a crucial way of addressing the under-reporting of hate crimes that we know does exist.

And the work of Crown Office has also been hugely significant. For example the presumption that cases will be prosecuted - when prejudice is an aggravating factor, and when there is sufficient evidence – sends a very strong statement.

It sends a clear message to potential offenders. And it also sends a signal to victims of crime, and members of communities that are sometimes victimised. It makes it clear that we as a society stand with them and, as a society, will not accept bigotry and intolerance.

The good news is that it looks as though all of these actions might be having some effect. The total number of charges that Crown Office reported for hate crimes fell in 2014-15. For example cases involving racial hatred – which accounts for more than twice as many offences as the other categories put together – fell by 9%. That is hugely encouraging and a real tribute to the work from everyone here today.

But it still leaves us with a lot more to do. For example, although there has been a fall in religious hate crime, cases relating to Judaism and Islam increased.

In fact, when I went to Garnethill, one of the things which we discussed was a survey finding that there was an increase in the number of Jewish people considering leaving Scotland. That is unacceptable. There had also been an increase – as a result of negative experiences – in individuals hiding their Jewish identity which is, again, completely unacceptable.

And something I’ve discussed with members of our Muslim community is the fact that after terrorist atrocities, they often feel a double burden, and we should be especially mindful of that today. They feel the same shock and horror and revulsion that everyone else does, but they've also got to cope with knowing that there are some who would point the finger of blame at them. We need to be sensitive to that and to counter it.

And in addition to those specific issues – the increase in offences relating to Judaism and Islam - there are still far too many hate crimes overall. In fact, there are more than 100 cases a week being reported by crown office. Most of them, as I mentioned earlier, relate to race hate. Even if – as seems possible – the number of cases is declining, that’s far too many.

And since this is an area where we suspect cases may be under-reported – the actual number of hate crimes in Scotland may be significantly higher.

That’s why we’re taking additional steps to tackle the issue.

We’ve invested more than £3 million this year in tackling racial and religious intolerance. This includes support for organisations such BEMIS - Black and Minority Ethnic Infrastructure Scotland – Interfaith Scotland, and local community groups

We have established an independent advisory group, chaired by Dr Duncan Morrow, which will make recommendations later in the spring about how to tackle hate crime and prejudice, and build community cohesion. I know that MSPs of all parties in the next parliament will consider its recommendations very carefully.

The Race Equality Framework makes it clear that we will work with Police Scotland to encourage minority ethnic entrants in the workforce.

At the moment, only 1% of Police Scotland’s workforce comes from a minority ethnic background. Let me be clear, Police Scotland certainly isn’t the only employer which needs to increase its diversity, and I know that some very valuable work has already been done. But we do need to do even more in terms of recruiting members of different faith groups and ethnic minorities. It’s a vital part of ensuring that our police service is representative of the communities that it serves.

Finally, we’re working closely with COSLA, the Scottish Refugee Council and many others to help refugees to build their lives in Scotland, and to make a full contribution to our society.

As the Lord Advocate rightly said, Scotland is a nation of immigrants and we’re also a nation of emigrants. Scottish people have gone to live in every single corner of our planet. Therefore we, perhaps more than any other country in the world, should understand the importance of welcoming those who come here from other parts of our world.

First and foremost, our duty is a humanitarian duty. Many of the refugees we are currently welcoming from Syria have lived through horrors that, to us, are simply unimaginable.

We also know from our previous experience of welcoming refugees – whether the Jewish community who settled in Glasgow before World War, or the Ugandan Asians who came here in the 1970s, or people fleeing from Kosovo more recently – that they will make a hugely valuable contribution to Scotland’s culture, economy and society.

So it’s important that we do everything we can to help them to settle in their new homes. Ensuring that Scotland is a country where hate crime is seen as unacceptable - and where the police and criminal justice system treat it with the seriousness it deserves – is an important part of that.

So it’s hugely encouraging to see so many people gathered here today, to further improve how Crown Office and Police Scotland address hate crime.

In some ways, in fact, the very existence of this conference helps to demonstrate how much progress we have made in recent years. The simple fact that hate crime is now recognised, recorded and prioritised by the criminal justice system, to the extent it is now, is in itself a significant step forward.

The Crown Office’s commitment, under Frank Mulholland’s leadership, to prosecute hate crime offences has been admirable. The police have done some outstanding work to encourage hate crime reporting, and to build stronger relationships with different faith groups and ethnic communities. And in all of this, you’ve established good working relationships with the third sector organisations make such a huge contribution to our local communities.

But as all of us know, there is still a long way to go if we are to succeed in preventing, reducing and ultimately eradicating hate crime. Make no mistake, that must be the ambition we have. The criminal justice system can’t achieve that on its own, of course– but it does have an important role to play.

So today – as we look forward to a new parliament – is a good day to think about the further steps we can take. Because if we succeed, we can make an important contribution to building the Scotland we want to see – one which promotes tolerance and celebrates diversity. And by doing that, we can help to create an even fairer, more diverse and more welcoming country. That is a prize worth striving for.