On Friday 6 October, Edinburgh Hope Not Hate hosted a panel discussion asking how welcoming and inclusive Scotland is, as part of the Edinburgh World Justice Festival 2017.
Speakers included Tommy Sheppard, SNP MP for Edinburgh East and Sally Witcher OBE, CEO of the Disabled People’s Organisation, Inclusion Scotland.
The theme of inclusivity ran throughout the discussion, with each speaker applying it to different aspects of community life.
Caitlin Rodgers, who works for The Welcoming – a charity working with people who are new to Scotland – commended Scotland’s receptiveness to migrants.
She praised the country’s schemes including ones that enable people to pursue careers in the fields they worked in before coming to Scotland.
Rodgers also said that Edinburgh houses around 1600 Syrian refugees, whereas London has just 33.
She also pointed to statistics that state that proportionately Glasgow has welcomed more asylum seekers than the rest of the UK. She criticised the ‘crisis’ rhetoric seen in much of the modern media and pointed out that this ‘fear’ is unfounded, as only seven per cent of Scottish people are migrants.
Murid Laly, a student from the University of Edinburgh, who comes from a family of refugees, stated that though the Scottish identity is less exclusive with less connotations of whiteness than an English identity, racism is still a problem in Scotland. Research led by University of Strathclyde in 2015 revealed that a third of BME Scots have experienced discrimination, with a fifth believing the problem was getting worse.
Laly went on to criticise Scotland’s watered-down history curriculums and their tendency to diminish British imperialism.
He highlighted that Scotland also celebrates problematic historical figures without acknowledging their downfalls.
The University of Edinburgh itself has a building named after David Hume, who believed that the white race was intellectually superior.
In 2016, a petition was put to Edinburgh Council that called for the addition of a plaque to the monument for Henry Dundas to highlight the part he played in delaying the end of slavery. Activists have previously glued such a plaque to the monument before it was promptly removed by the council.
Tommy Sheppard MP said he’d “happily sign” a petition to remove the statue of Henry Dundas.
He insisted that Scotland shouldn’t rest on its laurels and that social attitudes need to be improved, as – although he believes attitudes in Scotland are marginally better than in England – Scots are “still a long way off ‘good enough.”
The SNP MP denounced Westminster for being too “blinkered” to see the positives of immigration into Scotland.
He criticised the general media’s use of the ‘immigrants are taking out jobs’ narrative before blaming British social problems on withdrawal of public funding over an influx of foreign nationals making their homes in the UK.
Almuth Ernsting from Migrants Scotland highlighted that Brexit has left many people living in limbo.
While the majority of Scotland voted against Brexit, she said the Scottish government are unable to reverse the damage caused by Westminster.
Ernsting also emphasised the distinction between those who can and cannot get citizenship, with women and carers predominantly negatively affected by government regulations.
Witcher was also in attendance. She is the CEO of Inclusion Scotland, an organisation of disabled people who make decisions on behalf of disabled people.
She praised the Scottish government for being good at launching national conversations and developing plans but called them out for not delivering tangible results.
Jules Stapleton-Barnes, who works for LGBT Health and Wellbeing, concluded the discussion by saying, “we’ll know when we belong when we don’t question if we do.”
The Edinburgh World Justice Festival continues until 16 October.
Image: Paul Henni