Meeting date: Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Meeting of the Parliament 04 October 2016
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Draft Budget 2017-18 (Timetable), Higher Education and Further Education (European Union Referendum), Business Motion, Decision Time, Hate Crimes against Polish Migrants
- Time for Reflection
- Topical Question Time
- Draft Budget 2017-18 (Timetable)
- Higher Education and Further Education (European Union Referendum)
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
- Hate Crimes against Polish Migrants
Hate Crimes against Polish Migrants
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-01257, in the name of Kenneth Gibson, on hate crimes against Polish migrants. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament condemns recent hate crimes perpetrated against people from Poland living in the UK; recognises that Scotland and Poland have a long-standing, strong and fruitful connection and that this thriving relationship has brought great benefits to both countries, including from the wave of long-settled Polish migrants who came to this country after World War II having resisted Nazism and Stalinism; understands that 92% of Polish-born residents in the UK are in employment or education, which is considerably higher than the figure for people born in the UK; acknowledges that Poles and other migrants from Eastern Europe play a key part in many areas of the Scottish economy, particularly services, agriculture, construction and business; appreciates the high skills and excellent work ethic of Polish people and all that they bring to Cunninghame North and Scotland; believes that the negative rhetoric against Eastern Europeans in Britain has been built up and encouraged, in part, by irresponsible and shameful reporting by sections of the media; understands that, even after over 40 years of EU membership, less than 5% of Britain’s population were born in the other 27 EU countries; strongly condemns hate crimes of all kinds and the upset and fear that they cause; stands in solidarity with Polish people, both in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and will continue to welcome and support Polish migrants in Scotland.17:33
I thank all those Scottish National Party, Green Party and Labour Party members who signed the motion so that we could have this debate on a topic that is so relevant and important at this time. I am disappointed that none of the 31 Tory or five Lib Dem MSPs felt able to support it.
Hate crimes of any type, directed at any group of people, should never be tolerated in our society. In recent months, it has transpired, sadly, that a number of people find it acceptable to act out their dangerous and prejudicial views. As the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance has pointed out, there has been a rise in recent years of alleged attacks on Muslims, and anti-Semitism reached record levels in the United Kingdom only two years ago.
The focus of hate crimes in recent months has been on east Europeans, who appear now to be bearing the brunt of such crimes—particularly our largest and most visible east European community, the Poles. Polish migrants in particular have suffered at the hands of bigots. Only a few short weeks ago, a Polish migrant lost his life allegedly solely because of his ethnicity. As that case is sub judice I cannot refer to it specifically, but I am sure that all our hearts go out to the family of the individual concerned.
There are more Polish nationals in Scotland than there are members of any other group from outside the British Isles, and our two countries share a deep, rich history that has been important for both nations. The links go at least as far back as the 1400s, when trade agreements between Aberdeen and the old Hanseatic sea port of Danzig, now known as Gdansk, were signed. It is thought that around 30,000 Scots migrated to Poland over the following 200 years as they embraced the new opportunities. Scots integrated completely in Poland and often acquired great wealth, and the relationship between the two nations was greatly strengthened by prosperity as numerous Scots contributed to the growth of charitable institutions in their new home while still supporting their roots back in Scotland. Robert Gordon University, as it is known today, is a famous example of that. It was originally a hospital built by Aberdonian Robert Gordon, who earned his money trading in Danzig.
However, it was not until the second world war that there was a reciprocal arrival of Poles in Scotland. The two countries became more deeply intertwined as they fought a common enemy, and in Ayrshire there is a plaque on the Polish monument in Prestwick to commemorate the service personnel who died in the battle of the Atlantic. The majority of Polish soldiers who were based in the United Kingdom during the war were stationed in Scotland, and Wellshill cemetery, in Perthshire, is the largest of the many burial grounds in Scotland where Polish soldiers are laid to rest.
After the war, even stronger connections were drawn between Scotland and Poland as many Poles chose to stay on, and it is estimated that around 2,500 Polish-Scottish marriages took place in the immediate post-war period.
Those fruitful links between our two countries continue to this day and must be protected. They range from the informal twinning arrangement between Kraków and Edinburgh to steps taken by local councils to welcome Polish migrants, such as the offer of English language lessons on a one-to-one basis as well as through colleges and learning centres.
The Polish community brings much to Scotland and more often than people realise. Figures from the National Records of Scotland show that 86 per cent of people of Polish ethnicity who live in Scotland are economically active, and in the UK the figure rises to 92 per cent, making them the most economically active group in the country—significantly above the figure for Scotland and the UK as a whole. Similar figures can be found in education, with Poles in Scotland having a considerably higher than average level of qualification. Indeed, 41 per cent of the Poles in Scotland are educated to degree level or above, compared with 22 per cent of those who define themselves as white Scottish.
The work ethic of the Polish community is renowned, and I have had personal experience of it. Many Poles came to Scotland during the recession and struggled to find an appropriate job despite their qualifications. Polish migrants have therefore taken roles in many areas of society, particularly services, agriculture, construction and business, and they have boosted the Scottish economy with their skills and hard-working attitude.
We should be extremely proud of the fact that people choose Scotland as the country they wish to call home. The Polish community has brought much to Scotland and should not suffer assault or the insecurity that the recent surge in reported hate crimes has caused in other parts of the UK. Sadly, the matter goes further than simply the Polish community. In recent months, the number of hate crimes committed against migrants from all areas has risen, and the number of reports of hate crimes increased by 42 per cent in the week before the EU referendum and by a similar figure in the week after it. Studies show that only around one in four hate crimes is reported to the police, so the real figure is likely to be significantly higher. A large part of that rise is undoubtedly due to poisonous and irresponsible reporting by certain sections of the media. “Patients at risk from EU Doctors” screamed a front-page headline in a particularly xenophobic newspaper only 10 days ago.
Sadly, a small minority of individuals seem to believe that the result of the EU referendum is a licence to behave in a racist and discriminatory way. We must ensure that Scotland’s reputation as an open, accepting and tolerant country continues. There is no room for complacency regarding potential attacks on our neighbours, no matter who they are or where they come from. In the aftermath of the EU referendum, it is more important than ever that that reputation endures and that Scotland’s—and, indeed, the UK’s—message of welcome continues. No one should be made to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in the country that they have chosen to call home.
There is no place for prejudice or intolerance, be it racial, religious or of any other kind. Recorded crime is at a 42-year low and our country is an increasingly safer place to live. We must therefore work even harder to ensure that intolerance of any form is not accepted, and the latest social attitudes survey gives cause for hope. Although it appears that Scotland has experienced nothing like the spike in hate crimes that has been seen in England over the summer, one hate crime is one too many. It is the duty of us all—both in the Parliament and in Scotland as a whole—to condemn such acts of hatred and bigotry and do all that we can to protect and welcome all those who choose to live their lives here.
In times like these, solidarity is more important than ever. Scotland stands by the people of Poland and will continue to welcome and support our Polish community in the months and years ahead.17:40
I echo Kenneth Gibson’s comments and thank him for securing a debate on this important issue. Such crimes of hate that are perpetrated against people from Poland who have made their home in Scotland and the United Kingdom must be categorically condemned in the strongest terms.
There has been a long tradition of migration from Poland to Scotland and the United Kingdom. Poland played a crucial role in the second world war. The Polish were the allies’ fourth largest force, and they helped to secure essential victories against the axis and ensure victory.
The United Kingdom has a long history with our Polish friends. Between the 1930s and 1940s, more than 100,000 people from Poland settled in the United Kingdom. Moreover, in 1947, Parliament passed the Polish Resettlement Act, which recognised the outstanding contribution of Poles in the war and offered British citizenship to more than 200,000 Polish troops who had been displaced by the conflict.
Many of those Polish migrants found new employment in Britain and played a vital role in rebuilding it following the second world war. Mr Gibson talked about Wellshill cemetery. It was my honour and privilege to be the councillor for Wellshill from 1999 until 2007, when my ward was enlarged to become Perth City South. For the past 18 years, I have attended ceremonies at that cemetery and look forward to laying a wreath there on 6 November on behalf of the Scottish Parliament.
Today, Polish migrants continue to engage fully in British society and our economy. As is mentioned in the motion,
“92% of Polish-born residents in the UK are in employment or education”—
that level is much higher than the average across the population. In terms of character and work ethic, individuals from Poland have a huge contribution to make to our society. They participate, engage and become pillars of the establishment within any community that they live in and represent. That has to be welcomed.
There is no doubt that hate crimes against anyone in this country, whether they are born here or have chosen to live here, are totally and utterly unacceptable. I believe that there is a limited number of perpetrators of such crimes and that they are on the fringe of society. The vast majority of people in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom recognise the information and opportunity that Polish people have brought, and continue to bring, into our country. We must ensure that any perpetrator is always challenged, subject to the law and punished.
Mr Gibson commented on the media, which very much has a role to play in the process. It has had a role to play in migration throughout the centuries and generations, but even more so today. Social media instantly makes things happen across a network—information can go viral instantly.
Every member of this Parliament must condemn these acts and make it clear that we in this country hold dear the true values of inclusion and acceptance. We must send a strong message, from within the chamber and outside of it, that such behaviour must not be tolerated in any shape or form.17:43
I thank Kenny Gibson for bringing the motion to Parliament and allowing us the opportunity to speak on an important issue.
As Kenny Gibson said, the links between Scotland and Poland are long and deep. In the 16th and 17th centuries, there were, across the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, well-established transport links that offered opportunities for trade and migration in both directions. A sizeable Scottish community grew in Poland. By 1650, up to 40,000 Scots were living in that country, working as everything from travelling pedlars to officers in the Polish army. Alexander Chalmers served as mayor of Warsaw in the 1690s. Many of those people maintained links to their homeland—which was then, of course, an independent Scotland—and many settled and intermarried with the local population. Those family ties occurred at all levels in society. Perhaps none is more famous than the marriage of the Old Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart, to Maria Sobieska, who was the granddaughter of one of Poland’s most famous kings, Jan Sobieski. Yes—Bonnie Prince Charlie was a Pole.
The late 19th century saw the wave of emigration from Poland known as “za chlebem”, which means “for bread”, as people escaped the starvation levels of poverty in a Poland that had, by that time, lost its independence. Many emigrants reached the USA and made Chicago the largest Polish city outside Poland. France was another popular destination. Mariana Bzrezinska from the district of Lódz—my great-grandmother—found herself, at age 14, in the melting pot of cultures that was Glasgow at the turn of the 20th century.
Another wave of Polish emigrants arrived in Scotland during the second world war. The Sikorski Polish Club in Glasgow is named after Wladyslaw Sikorski, who was the Prime Minister of the Polish Government in exile during those dark years in Polish and European history. The immense contribution of the Polish Air Force pilots in the battle of Britain is well known.
The adaptability of language plays an intriguing role in the integration process. I first met the great Scots language enthusiast and historian Billy Kay in a restaurant in Warsaw. Billy was on a tour of Polish universities lecturing on the historical links between Scotland and Poland and promoting his fine book about the diaspora, “The Scottish World: A Journey into the Scottish Diaspora”. He spoke of the history of Polish place names that had been adapted from the original Scots names that were given to them by their 17th century Scottish founders.
Interestingly, in my constituency I recently noticed a couple of Polish surnames. Perhaps it was a spelling mistake or maybe it was a case of creeping Caledonianisation, but Maculewicz, simply by capitalising the U, was transformed into MacUlewicz, and Mackowiak similarly to MacKowiak. That process works well in reverse: McKee is read in Polish as “Mitskie” and it is a small step from that to Mickiewicz, the surname of Poland’s greatest national poet.
For the most recent wave of Polish arrivals to Scottish shores, budget airlines rather than steam ships have been the transport of choice. Many have been here since Poland joined the EU in 2004 and are well integrated, with children who were born in Scotland. They contribute immensely to Scotland, its economy and its culture. Many—my wife included—have married Scots. Others are even more recent arrivals and are still baffled by the unpredictability of the Scottish weather.
However, Polish friends in Warsaw recently brought to my attention an incident that occurred in Edinburgh and which was reported in the Polish press, of a Polish family who live in our capital city being the victims of racial abuse and vandalism. That is an unacceptable situation that is, unfortunately, part of a recent trend that we must all take steps to eradicate.
We welcome all, wherever they come from, to contribute to the complex tartan that is modern Scotland. Sadly, we do so in a Europe that is witnessing growing and dangerous levels of intolerance and xenophobia. Scottish and Polish societies need to be open to people of all faiths, colours and creeds. Tolerance is a two-way street. Some 50 years ago, a politician stood in solidarity with a people and said, “Ich bin ein Berliner”. Today, I send a message from the Scottish Parliament across this country and beyond: “Wszyscy jestesmy Polakami”—which means, “We are all Poles”—“Witamy w Szkocji”, which means, “Welcome to Scotland”.17:47
I apologise for my croaky throat.
My goodness! We will all have to listen. Take your time.
I thank Kenny Gibson for lodging the motion and for the work that he has done on raising awareness of the rise in hate crimes against the Polish community in Scotland. Sadly, in Scotland as well as throughout the rest of the UK, we have witnessed a rise in hate crimes motivated by race and particularly aimed at Polish migrants, since Britain’s vote to leave the European Union on 23 June.
It has been acknowledged by many prominent politicians and journalists that the rhetoric of the leave campaign during the EU referendum was divisive and dangerous. In the aftermath of the referendum result in the summer, the former Government minister Baroness Warsi described elements of the leave campaign as “divisive and xenophobic”. She was correct then and that remark still stands. The leave campaign was divisive and xenophobic. It was designed to scare people, divide communities and scapegoat European migrants as being the root of all the problems that we face throughout the UK. Such rhetoric is dangerous and divisive, because it simplifies the many complex issues that we face as nation by scapegoating European migrants for all those problems.
Scotland should lead the UK by ensuring that we are a modern, tolerant and inclusive nation that accepts people of all races, religions and nationalities. Polish nationals in Scotland should feel safe from threats, abuse and attack.
The motion refers to the historical strong relationship between Scotland and Poland. The important historical links between Scotland and Poland stretch back, as we have heard, to the 15th century and cannot be understated. In the late 15th century, trade agreements were made between Aberdeen and the former Baltic seaport of Danzig, now modern-day Gdansk—a city that I was happy to visit during the summer. In the 250 years that followed those agreements, more than 30,000 Scots moved to and settled in Poland. Later, in the 17th century, the Aberdonian merchant Robert Gordon would make his wealth from trading out of Danzig and settling in the city. In the early 20th century, after the fall of Poland to Nazi Germany, around 38,000 Polish soldiers came to be stationed in Scotland and took over the coastal defence of Fife and Angus as they were unable to return to occupied Poland.
In 2016’s Scotland, the links between Scotland and Poland are as strong as ever, and Polish nationals continue to contribute to the diverse and rich fabric of our society. Recent figures from the National Records of Scotland highlight the considerable contribution that the 55,000-plus Polish diaspora in Scotland are making to the modern Scottish economy, 600 years after the first Polish-Scottish trade links were established.
It is crucial that we unite against the dangerous rhetoric that aims to divide our society with xenophobic scaremongering. We must challenge, condemn and report all hate crime, if we witness it. Scotland has to lead the way in the UK by ensuring that Polish nationals who choose to make Scotland their home always feel welcome, safe and appreciated.
Thank you, I understand that you have to leave early. Perhaps a lie down and a gargle would be a good idea.17:52
All members in the chamber today agree that hate crimes in Scotland and the wider UK should always be condemned and that we should do our utmost to make sure that everyone who lives in this country feels welcome. I am proud that this country is one where we tolerate one another’s beliefs and actively celebrate our diversity in a way that strengthens our society.
Scotland and Poland share a rich history, as we have heard, and it is estimated that nearly 80,000 Polish people are living in Scotland. In Glasgow alone, more than 8,000 people identified themselves as Polish in the 2011 census. My great-grandfather was Polish and came to Scotland at the start of last century as a navvy, helping to build Scotland’s railways. I whole-heartedly support the sentiments of the motion.
The referendum, however, has left us in a position where we have to increase our efforts to make sure that we come together as a nation and curb the worrying increase in racist and xenophobic acts. I was shocked to see neo-Nazi stickers going up around Glasgow during the summer, and shocked to learn about the worrying increase of hate crime in the wider UK, including an incident in which a Polish community centre in Hammersmith was vandalised with graffiti.
The vote on the EU, which was an exercise in democracy, must not be turned into something contemptible and racist. I am pleased that in Scotland that has largely been seen to be the case. More generally, the proportion of charges that specifically relate to racially aggravated harassment and behaviour in Scotland has fallen by over 15 per cent since 2008. Police Scotland has reported that it has not seen an increase in the number of reported crimes since the referendum, which must be reassuring indeed.
Although that is very positive, I acknowledge that there has been a 14 per cent increase in the number of hate crimes across the UK as a whole. They are crimes that affect not just the Polish community. I do not condone that and it concerns me as much as it would any other member in the chamber today. It is more than unfortunate that the increase is linked with our exit from the EU, but I am reassured that the UK Government is taking decisive action to tackle the rise in hate crimes.
The UK Government’s new hate crime action plan was implemented in England and Wales this summer. It will increase numbers of people reporting hate crimes, prevent hate crimes on public transport and provide stronger support for victims. In addition to that, £2.4m will be made available to places of worship for extra help with security and installing equipment in mosques, synagogues and other religious institutions that need extra protection.
The UK Government also continues to develop and fund national projects, such as the “True Vision” website and the tell MAMA—measuring anti-Muslim attacks—project, which were set up to raise awareness of hate crimes and to encourage victims to report them.
In Scotland, and closer to home, I welcome Glasgow’s involvement in this month’s national hate crime awareness week initiative, during which a host of events will take place to raise awareness about hate crime and how to respond to it, and to encourage victims and witnesses to report it.
Such initiatives show that, ultimately, the UK is an inclusive and tolerant country, and one that celebrates diversity. If we stand together, we can work to stamp out the racism that exists at the periphery and make all communities who live here feel welcome.17:56
I, too, thank Kenny Gibson for giving us the opportunity to have this debate. When I was a minister in the Scottish Government, I found myself very regularly representing the UK in discussions with Polish ministers. I have never been quite sure why that was the case; perhaps the UK Government simply recognised the natural affinity that we Scots have with many people in Poland.
I first became aware of the Poles through a friendship with the person who became my boy scouts patrol leader, Zbigniew Klemens Skrodzkie. He was a result of one of the 200,000 marriages between Scots and Poles, when Janet Barclay married Captain Stanislaw Skrodzkie of the Polish cavalry. Zbigniew and his sister Felicja were the result of that marriage. Bush—Bush is the nickname by which people who are called Zbigniew are pretty universally known in Poland—was a terrific character. He was much admired by my friends, and perhaps envied because he had a Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle.
I could tell many tales about Bush. He continued the record of service that existed across the Polish community to Scotland and the UK. He followed in the steps of many Poles who had come to fight against the Nazis. It is worth making the point that the four Polish squadrons based in Scotland had a strike rate against the enemy that was two and half times greater than that of the pilots in indigenous squadrons. Bush joined the Royal Naval Air Service. Perhaps not surprising to us, he managed to have three crashes in his first four years. Unfortunately, the last one was fatal. We still miss Bush to this day. Bush is just one of the many Poles who have contributed enormously to our community.
The history of the connection between Scotland and Poland is significant. To this day, many towns and cities in Poland have parts of their city called Nova Scotia—new Scotland. Gdansk also has somewhere called Stary Sztoky—old Scotland. Warsaw has a similar place and Kraków, which used to be the capital of Poland, similarly has a new Scotland.
The links between us go deep and they have been long established. Indeed, in 1585, the Polish-Lithuanian king Stephen Batory said, of the Scots:
“Our Court can not be without them, that supply Us with all that is necessary ... Let a certain district be assigned to them.”
The Scots were singled out in the 1500s for their contribution to Polish life.
Today, the Poles are contributing enormously. In each of the four secondary schools in my constituency, Polish is one of the languages that are represented among the pupils. On Saturday, I attended the graduation ceremony at my local college, where a significant number of people from Poland were graduating and making the most of their potential.
Let me address the more fundamental issue that has led to this debate, which is the ill treatment and racism to which too many of our Polish friends have been subjected. Robert Kennedy, the well-known United States politician, said:
“when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies—to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.”
He was correct. He was also correct to say that such a view is unacceptable in a civilised society. Tonight, we unite to send a message to our Polish friends: we are with you; stay with us.18:01
I congratulate Kenny Gibson on bringing this highly pertinent debate to the Parliament.
“Hate crime” is an ugly term, but it graphically describes what I think that Kenny Gibson called acting out “dangerous and prejudicial views”. There must be—and I am delighted that there is—unanimity in the Parliament about how we address it.
I will not rehearse all the historical references, which are well established and have been mentioned by other members. The references to the second world war resonated with me, because of the affection that my father and his brothers had for the Polish people who joined in the fight against fascism. We know that 16,000 families settled in the UK at the end of the war, who contributed greatly to our country. Who were those people? They were the parents of classmates, and they were joined—certainly where I am from, in Lochaber—by many people from the Baltic states.
There has been recent migration to Scotland and the UK, and some 7 per cent of Scotland’s population was born outwith the UK. It is pertinent that Poland became a member of the EU in May 2004 and it is estimated that 44,000 Polish people migrated to the UK each year between 2004 and 2012. As members said, Polish people constitute the largest group of residents of Scotland who were born outwith the UK.
Anne White, professor of Polish studies at University College London, has written about the pattern of Polish migration to the UK. It is interesting that it tends to be young families who migrate, rather than young single migrants, who return to Poland after several years. Many parents move to the UK for a year or two before they bring their children over, and many Polish migrants start their own businesses after a few years. Anne White has written:
“this is a generation of Poles at home in the UK.”
There are certainly a great number who are at home in the Highlands and Islands, and long may that be the case.
Members talked about EU migrants’ contribution to the UK economy. Figures that I have for 2000 to 2011 suggest that the contribution was £20 billion. EU migrants are 43 per cent less likely to be in receipt of benefits and 7 per cent less likely to live in social housing than UK-born people. As members said, they are also likely to be more highly educated.
There are some disturbing figures. In a poll in 2015, in advance of the referendum, 23 per cent of Polish respondents said that they had experienced discrimination, and 23 per cent of those people felt that that had happened on more than one occasion—of course, discrimination will be underreported, given people’s fear of retaliation and victimisation in the workplace. There is also the fees issue, which prevents people from taking up employment cases.
Kenny Gibson talked about poisonous reporting, and the motion refers to “irresponsible and shameful reporting”. I take issue with my Conservative colleague in that regard: I do not think that such reporting was just on the fringes, and I would ask to what end it was being used. We have all seen collages made up of lurid headlines from the Daily Express and the Daily Mail. I do not doubt for a second that those headlines passed some legal test, but they did not pass the moral test and they certainly caused me great offence. The EU certainly does not offend Mr Dacre, the owner of the Daily Mail sufficiently to stop him claiming a quarter of a million pounds in EU funds for his sporting estates here.
The EU referendum was characterised by lies, distortions and threats. Racism needs to be challenged at all times, including—as we have heard about—the graffiti and the stickers that have gone up. We need to be cautious not to be complacent in Scotland—the far right is on the rise across Europe and Scotland is no different. As many previous speakers have said, I stand in solidarity with Polish people. In fact, I stand in solidarity with all people and I say to them, “Fàilte a h-uile duine”. You are all very welcome.
On one partisan point, the Green Party European campaign had the tag line of a just and welcoming Scotland, which I am sure that everyone would subscribe to. I add to that tag line: a safe and secure Scotland for our Polish residents.18:05
I commend Mr Gibson for bringing an extremely important issue to the Parliament and creating a welcome opportunity for us to talk about the important role of the Polish community in Scotland, as well as the long history of Scots who have settled in Poland—a point made by Mr Gibson, Mr McKee and many others.
As a nation, Scotland has a long history of welcoming people of all nationalities and faiths, and of supporting their integration into the Scottish community. That is a two-way street: those who choose to make Scotland their home help to influence our culture for the better, and so it is with the members of the Polish community who have chosen to make Scotland their home.
There are more than 61,000 Polish people living in Scotland and we have a close and enduring partnership and relationship with the Polish people and the Polish nation. We have strong cultural and historic links, as demonstrated recently when our Governments worked together to support the Wojtek the bear memorial, which now stands proudly in Princes Street gardens as a symbol of the enduring friendship between our nations. The memorial also provides us with an opportunity to remember with respect all those Poles who fought to ensure our freedom during world war two, which Mr Stewart, Mr Stevenson and others alluded to.
I say to all Polish people here, and to anyone else who has come from elsewhere in the EU to make Scotland their home, “Scotland is your home, you are welcome here and we appreciate your contribution.” Indeed, Scotland would take a different approach to the issue of migration if we had the powers to do so. The relentless focus of the UK Government on reducing net migration, irrespective of the value that migrants bring to our country, is harming Scotland’s economic prospects. In Scotland, we welcome our important established migrant populations and the contribution that they make to our economy and our society.
The outcome of the EU referendum has caused understandable anxiety within the Polish community and I deeply regret that. Almost immediately following the vote, I took the time to visit local Polish communities and businesses in Edinburgh and to meet Poles in my own constituency to hear their concerns and to seek to offer reassurance, and I am sure that other members did likewise. That work continues: my ministerial colleague, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, will attend the unveiling of the panels of history and sacrifice in Glasgow’s Polish house this weekend. We remain committed to engaging with Scotland’s Polish community, to listening to their concerns and to understanding their priorities.
The reality is that, despite the UK Prime Minister’s speech at the weekend, we do not yet know what Brexit means. It is a disgrace that the UK Government has not yet guaranteed the position of EU citizens, and I repeat my call for the UK Government to do the right thing and to stop using human beings as bargaining chips.
In other parts of the UK there has been a sharp increase in reported incidents of hate crime against ethnic minority groups, including Polish people. As Ms Wells mentioned, there have been reports of a Polish cultural centre in London being daubed with graffiti. The toxic debate around immigration that so dominated the EU debate seems to have created an environment in which some feel that it is acceptable to show prejudice and to target others on the basis of their nationality.
The recent report of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination held that
“the referendum campaign was marked by divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric, and that many politicians and prominent political figures not only failed to condemn it, but also created and entrenched prejudices, thereby emboldening individuals to carry out acts of intimidation and hate towards ethnic or ethno-religious minority communities and people who are visibly different.”
The committee also noted that the surge in hate crime was absent in Scotland. I think that that demonstrates that, despite political differences, the debate in Scotland was conducted in a different way. Like Mr Finnie, I do not say that in a complacent way, nor do I think that we can pretend that the toxic debate from elsewhere has not impacted either on EU nationals living here or on the views of those in Scotland who still believe that it is acceptable to be prejudiced. We will continue to work with Police Scotland and others to monitor the situation closely, and we will continue to engage with the Polish community on their concerns and issues. I encourage anyone who feels that they have been the victim of a hate crime to report it to Police Scotland. The police take all such reports very seriously and will conduct thorough investigations to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
We have published a race equality framework, which will run until 2030 and will take a long-term approach to improving outcomes for Scotland’s minority ethnic communities. We will shortly announce the appointment of a race equality framework adviser to help drive that work forward. Our independent advisory group on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion has published its findings, and we will consider them carefully and use them to inform our future work in this area. Through our Scottish approach to building community cohesion, we are focused on ensuring that fundamental principles of social justice, human rights and an inclusive national identity are woven throughout everything that we do as a Government.
Let me be clear: there is absolutely no place for bigotry and prejudice in Scotland. The Scottish Government is committed to tackling hate crime and we will continue to work with communities to create a Scotland that celebrates diversity and creates equality of opportunity for everyone.Meeting closed at 18:12.