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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 22 September 2020

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Covid-19, Minority Ethnic People and Communities, Decision Time, Residential Outdoor Centres


Minority Ethnic People and Communities

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-22770, in the name of Shirley-Anne Somerville, on advancing equality and human rights for minority ethnic people and communities.


The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People (Shirley-Anne Somerville)

I do not believe that it is an overstatement to say that we are all living in unique times. In the past few months, we have faced some unique challenges as a society. The Covid-19 pandemic has also exposed, exacerbated and amplified some of the long-standing issues that we face here in Scotland and indeed worldwide, and one of the foremost among those is the journey that we still face to achieve real and meaningful equality for minority ethnic people and communities.

I am sure that everyone in the chamber is aware that, as we have moved through the Covid-19 crisis, we have seen tragic evidence of the stark health inequalities that some minority ethnic groups face. Again, I extend my heartfelt sympathies to everyone who has lost a loved one as a result of the pandemic. Covid-19 has shone a harsh light on the long-standing and deep-rooted racial inequality that exists not only in health, but across all areas of life including education, housing and employment. Racism and inequality are not new, and they will not resolve themselves even as we move out of the crisis into recovery. We must take action.

As the First Minister said in her introduction to this year’s programme for government, we have an opportunity as we move forward from the Covid-19 crisis not simply to return to how things were before, but to address the challenges that we face as a society and to build Scotland back fairer and stronger. We must take that opportunity. We must address the inequality that is experienced by minority ethnic people and the systemic problems that allow that inequality to continue, and we must make the changes that are needed in order to make society fairer.

Before I come to the particular commitments in the programme for government and our wider work across Government, I want to make it clear that no single action that we can take will achieve equality. No one person or group of people carries the responsibility for this work. Every one of us, across every part of society, can and must think about what we can do to advance and promote equality for and with minority ethnic communities.

I know that others in the chamber have spoken about the need to be more than just not racist, and to be actively anti-racist. We can all take on that responsibility. Whoever we are, we can choose to educate ourselves on inequality. We can choose to speak up when we see something that is not fair. We can choose to talk to our children about right and wrong so that future generations are clear about the responsibility that they have, too.

However, there is, of course, a responsibility on the Government to drive that work forward and set the pace for progress. That is why we are working towards ensuring that equality and human rights are embedded throughout our work across portfolios. It is why, as the First Minister announced earlier this year, we will be scaling up our commitment with a new equality, inclusion and human rights directorate. That will help to ensure that we can continue to put equality and human rights at the forefront of everything that we do, and it will be central to all our future ambitions to create a stronger, fairer Scotland.

Supporting our young people to fulfil their potential is a key part of achieving long-lasting equality. We must amplify their voices today so that they can be heard clearly and loudly tomorrow. To help to achieve that, we announced in our programme for government that we would fund a leadership development programme for minority ethnic young people. The programme, which will be delivered by the John Smith centre, will offer living wage placements for up to 50 people across the public and third sectors. I very much hope that some of my colleagues who are here today will be able to take up the opportunity to have a young person placed with them. I have no doubt that the benefits of the programme will be felt by both parties in the arrangement.

Crucially, the programme is not just about short-term work experience. It is about helping us to break down the barriers that young people face when entering public service, and supporting them to develop the skills that they need for lifelong professional and personal success. It is about improving representation in public service, which will help us to deliver on our commitments to genuinely reflect the rich and diverse society in which we are fortunate enough to live.

Of course, such focused action is only one piece of the jigsaw. We must also look at the bigger picture, which is why we are exploring how to take forward the recommendations of the expert reference group on Covid-19 and ethnicity across all portfolios. That includes a commitment to look closely at undertaking an audit of our past and current initiatives to tackle systemic racism so that we can understand not only what we have done well but also, importantly, how we need to improve.

In a health context, the expert reference group made a number of recommendations in relation to data. We intend to act on those in order to improve our evidence base on health outcomes for minority ethnic people and allow us to take appropriate action to respond to those disparities.

There is far more to be said about the work of the expert reference group and its recommendations, which are wide ranging. They address real and very challenging circumstances for the Scottish Government, and rightly so. We will publish our response in the coming weeks, and it will reflect the actions that we are taking across many portfolios and the responsibilities that we have across Government. Today’s debate will help us to formulate our response to that report.

I take this opportunity to thank the co-chairs and the members of the group for the remarkable work that they have done to date. They have given such a significant amount of their time to the group since it was established in June, and their contributions, which have been in-depth and complex, have been delivered to an incredibly challenging timescale.

The expert advice that the group’s members have brought to the Scottish Government’s Covid response has been and continues to be very valuable. That the group also provided evidence on systemic issues beyond the immediate aspects of Covid is invaluable.

This is a good point for me to say that I am happy to support the amendments in the names of Pauline McNeill and Jeremy Balfour. Jeremy Balfour’s amendment could be construed as suggesting that we should not commit to responding to the expert reference group’s recommendations until after the public sector equality duty review concludes. Given the impact of Covid-19 on minority ethnic people and communities, we would not want our response to the expert reference group to be delayed due to that separate work, and I am sure that Mr Balfour would not want that either. I reassure him that there has already been extensive engagement ahead of our review of the Scotland-specific sector equality duties, and that will continue.

I say again that inequality is felt across every part of society, and I have no doubt that the breadth of the expert advisory group’s recommendations will be a guiding light on our forward path.

As well as the work that was outlined by the expert reference group, we have of course continued to take forward the activity that has been on-going since before Covid struck. It is clear that education has a vital role to play in building a society that actively challenges racism, eliminates racial discrimination and advances equality. Our curriculum for excellence provides opportunities to teach black history and race equality. However, we are clear that that is not always the experience that our pupils have. We will work with our stakeholders and partners on what further opportunities there are to make sure that all children and young people understand Scotland’s history and how that history impacts our society today.

Although minority ethnic representation in teaching has increased since 2015, we are working to ensure that the numbers continue to improve. We are exploring alternative pathways into teaching for minority ethnic and other underrepresented groups, and we will do that in part through the increasing diversity in the teaching profession working group.

Beyond the formal education in our schools, we are all continually learning at every age and stage. Our museums and cultural offerings play a huge part in that, which is why we confirmed in our programme for government that we will sponsor an independent expert group to advise on how Scotland’s existing and future museum collections can better recognise and represent a more accurate portrayal of Scotland’s colonial and slavery history. That understanding of our history is vital. However, we are all very clear that, even today, racism is something that no country, Scotland included, can claim to be immune from.

We remain committed to taking the opportunity to shape hate crime legislation so that it is fit for 21st century Scotland and, most important, that it affords sufficient protection for those who need it. The bill will make it clear to victims, perpetrators and communities that offences that are motivated by prejudice, including racism, will be treated seriously and not tolerated. Sending that strong message is a vital part of ensuring that minority ethnic communities are able to live in a fair and equal society. Our national task force for human rights leadership is considering as part of its recommendations incorporation of the United Nations convention on racial discrimination.

My colleague the Minister for Older People and Equalities spoke in the chamber in June about our race equality action plan and the progress that we are making and still need to make to achieve its goals. She spoke about the £2.6 million of funding that we have allocated over the past financial year and noted that, in 2021, we will publish our final report on the current race equality action plan. That report, along with the actions that I have touched on today and the work that is progressing across the Scottish Government and its partners, will help to shape our focus and direction as we move forward.

I end by saying again that the Government cannot do this alone. All of us, in every sector of society, must shoulder our share of the responsibility to tackle racism and injustice and to move towards the fairer society that we all deserve and want to see. I am committed to doing my part, and this Government is committed to doing its part. I hope that this Parliament can come together and join in with that commitment.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that promoting equality and human rights for minority ethnic communities should be a priority; reiterates the deep belief that there is a responsibility on everyone in society to tackle racism, prejudice and discrimination and take specific action to remove the barriers and injustices still faced by minority ethnic communities; acknowledges the work and advice of the independent Expert Reference Group on COVID-19 and Ethnicity; believes that its recommendations will be invaluable in responding to the inequalities that have been further exposed by COVID-19, and notes that the Scottish Government will present to Parliament the actions it plans to take as soon as practicably possible on the high incidence of COVID-19 among the BAME population and will continue to advance race equality across all spheres of society.


Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

I am pleased to open the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. I thank the Scottish Government for bringing the debate to the chamber and allowing us, as a Parliament, to discuss this important issue.

Last week, I spoke in a members’ business debate on a motion that Stuart McMillan lodged, on how we can better recognise and present a more accurate portrayal of Scotland’s colonial and slavery history, which is an action in this year’s programme for government. All the speakers agreed that, if we want to build a more equitable future here in Scotland, we must not forget Scots’ participation in slavery.

Nor should we assume that, simply because we live in the modern era, everything is much better. Recent events have shown that that is clearly not the case. I hope that we all share the deep concern that so many feel about continued racial injustice across the world and in this country, and that we all stand in solidarity with those who are calling for change.

We must also recognise that we all have a responsibility to identify and remove the barriers of structural racism that still exist in our society. We must make that a priority. No one should be marginalised or discriminated against because of their race or background, yet, sadly, there is evidence that many black and ethnic minority people in Scotland continue to experience discrimination, despite political action to address the issue.

The last census, carried out in 2011, showed that the size of the black and minority ethnic population in Scotland had doubled since 2001, accounting for just over 200,000 people or 4 per cent of the total population of Scotland. Despite that increase in the population, critical issues of concern continue to be revealed and it is to our shame that many minority ethnic communities continue to experience racism and greater inequality than the rest of society experiences.

In the 2019 Scottish household survey, 19 per cent of ethnic minorities reported experiencing discrimination. In 2019, the employment rate for members of the minority ethnic community aged 16 to 64 was 59.3 per cent, lower than for the white population, which had an employment rate of 75.7 per cent. The minority ethnic employment gap is much higher for women than for men and people from minority ethnic groups are more likely to be in poverty.

The Covid-19 pandemic has delivered a profound shock that has affected everyone, but evidence suggests that the UK’s minority ethnic groups are being disproportionately affected by the virus. A number of reviews, including by the Office for National Statistics and Public Health England, have confirmed that that is the case, suggesting reasons that include existing health inequalities, poor housing conditions, public-facing occupations and structural racism.

Minority ethnic people are disproportionately employed in the NHS and other key-worker industries and in some cases have a higher likelihood of living in multigenerational families. Both factors might increase the risk of Covid-19 transmission and infection. Minority ethnic people also have higher rates of certain underlying health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, which can increase the risk of severe health effects for those who get the virus.

Data has been slow to emerge on the risks for minority ethnic groups in Scotland, but analysis is beginning to appear. I welcome the Scottish Government’s decision to establish an expert reference group on ethnicity and Covid-19. Since the ERG was established, more recent analyses by Public Health Scotland and National Records of Scotland have confirmed increased risks associated with Covid-19 in south Asians. However, the robust analyses that we need are still not available for minority ethnic groups.

I welcome that the membership of the ERG includes academics and expert advisers. We have to learn from lived experience too, so it is important that we listen to those who have experience and to their suggestions for what we do next and the practical changes that can make things better. I hope that the creation of the ERG and the other actions that the Scottish Government is taking forward in response to the virus will help those with difficulties to understand why they have been affected more than other groups.

The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights is clear that Scotland’s public bodies and Government have ethical and legal imperatives to manage how we come through these difficult times. It is therefore vital that all bodies with a role in gathering and sending out data are able to monitor that.

There is no time to waste. We heard in the First Minister’s statement earlier that virus cases are increasing and that, sadly, that is likely to continue for the next few months. CRER is concerned that the proposals outlined in the Scottish Government programme for government are not enough to tackle racism and warns that good intentions are not enough. There needs to be a sense of urgency. CRER suggests a number of practical steps, including commencing immediate engagement with stakeholders. That is why we lodged our amendment, and I welcome the Government’s acceptance of it.

We need to hear from those who live with the issues day in, day out. This chamber does not reflect ethnic minorities. Like disability, race is an issue that has been left behind over the years by those of us in the political class. We need to hear from the grass roots as well as from academics. We stand with the ethnic minority population in Scotland and we recognise that more needs to be done to uphold their rights and fight for equality.

I move amendment S5M-22770.2, to insert at end:

“, and that, before reporting any recommendations back, it commences immediate engagement with stakeholders on the review of the Scottish-specific sector equality duties.”


Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

We risk this being yet another debate about equality and rights for the BME community while not enough changes. We must help to lay the foundations now, in the final stages of this parliamentary session, to ensure that we are on track to tackle the underrepresentation of BME communities everywhere and to get in place the systems of data that will pinpoint where the biggest failings are, so that we know where we must act immediately.

We also need to give urgent priority to the work that needs to be done to improve the lives of BME women in employment and education, and protect them in law. In particular, we need to take a radical approach to tackling the underrepresentation of BME people in the Scottish Parliament and in our society.

We could have included many action points in Labour’s amendment, but we chose to focus on the work of the independent expert reference group on ethnicity and Covid-19—mentioned by Jeremy Balfour and the cabinet secretary—because we are in the midst of a pandemic. I am glad that the Government has accepted our amendment. The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights called for the Scottish Government to undertake an equality impact assessment on the programme for government, believing that the Government has not done so for a number of years. CRER also suggested that an independent expert advisory group be appointed to work alongside the Government’s race equality programme board. We call on the Government to respond in full to the group’s recommendations as soon as possible.

A year ago, in September 2019, CRER wrote an open letter to MSPs criticising the lack of focus on race in the Scottish Parliament over the past 20 years. It is therefore incumbent on us to ensure that we make the appropriate progress. The impacts of Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have served to highlight pre-existing inequalities.

In a recent Scottish Labour race equality group meeting, a local organisation expressed alarm when it was suggested during its consultation that Black Lives Matter is a phenomenon that will pass. None of us in the Parliament believes that. It will not pass. It has awoken the younger generation, who are campaigning for action and change, which we must back.

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on many people in the BME community. Data in England and Wales suggest that BME people are disproportionately dying with coronavirus. However, due to a lack of data, it cannot conclusively be said that the situation is the same in Scotland. There has been a lack of disaggregated data covering the BME community in Scotland for some time, and Covid has really brought into sharp relief what a problem that is.

More needs to be done to work out why Covid-19 is affecting the BME community. One thing that we know is that the socioeconomic factors at play in the lives of many black and minority ethnic people make them more at risk of dying from coronavirus. It is truly shameful that we do not yet know why.

In its report, the expert reference group on Covid-19 and ethnicity stressed

“the lack of adequate data to monitor the needs of different minority ethnic groups, particularly in relation to the health consequences of the pandemic”.

It went on to say:

“a lack of ongoing monitoring of ethnic inequalities in health within Scotland has been longstanding.”

Professor Shaun Treweek, from the University of Aberdeen, said:

“Within Covid studies, it’s often the case that not only is there no special attempt to make it easier for black, Asian and minority ethnic groups to take part but there’s no record of the ethnicity of any participants.

We clearly need to have high proportions of individuals from across the spectrum of ethnic communities—often we don’t.”

International studies suggest that BME people have an increased risk of an acute reaction to Covid and, indeed, dying from the disease, so we need to take steps now. Risk assessments should be developed as standard working practice for black, Asian and minority ethnic workers in roles in which they are exposed to a large section of the general public or people who are infected with the virus.

This evening, we will support the amendments in the name of Jeremy Balfour and John Finnie.

The experiences of asylum seekers during Covid have been particularly tough. In Glasgow, the city that I represent, asylum seekers were moved out of their accommodation into hotels and their allowances were taken away. The charity Positive Action in Housing has described asylum seekers in Glasgow as being left

“malnourished with food not fit for human consumption”.

We must address the tragedy of the deaths in Glasgow, including the recent death of Mercy Baguma and the awful events in Glasgow city centre in May. Reports suggest that asylum seekers might be housed in hotels until the end of the year. We need to address urgently how people who are already living with trauma are living their lives. Therefore, it is appropriate to hold a fatal accident inquiry into those deaths.

Scottish Labour stands against prejudice and injustice in all its forms. In Scotland, we have an obligation to recognise and oppose racism. The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a light on the systemic racism that has existed for centuries in Scotland and in the UK, and which still impacts the life chances, life experiences and life outcomes of BME groups.

We must not be content to see racism as something that others perpetrate. We also need to recognise that all of us have unconscious bias and be alert to the possibility that, at times, we might inadvertently be part of the problem.

I move amendment S5M-22770.3, to insert after “Expert Reference Group on COVID-19 and Ethnicity;”:

“calls on the Scottish Government to respond in full to the Group’s recommendations, giving a clear rationale for what aspects it has and has not accepted;”.


John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

[Inaudible.]—on both amendments at decision time. The motion mentions the independent expert reference group on Covid-19 and ethnicity. It is rightly considered that

“its recommendations will be invaluable”.

That being the case, I would hope that the Scottish Government will give a clear rationale for not progressing any recommendations, were that to be the case.

Of course, that is not the only review on the topic. The Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee has an on-going inquiry to

“identify what the Scottish Government and other public bodies, including regulatory and oversight bodies, need to do to ensure that measures taken in relation to the pandemic minimise negative effects on equality and human rights”.

I am involved with the cross-party group on multiple sclerosis, and we—and other cross-party groups—would encourage participation in that consultation.

The motion speaks of

“promoting equality and human rights for minority ethnic communities”,

which it says

“should be a priority”.

One would have thought that a global pandemic would be an opportunity for a worldwide focus both on that priority and on the laudable goal of promoting equality and human rights for all. However, it will have come as no surprise to anyone that the pandemic has delivered a disproportionately negative impact on many already embattled minority communities.

Sadly, the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly opened last Tuesday, with scheduled speeches from Presidents Bolsonaro, Trump and Erdogan, and President Xi Jinping of China. As the executive director of Human Rights Watch said,

“Hardly a stellar group of human rights defenders. It’ll be up to other governments to provide the counterweight.”

Only last week, in her first state of the union address, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen denounced Poland’s LGBT-free zones as “humanity-free zones”, which have no place in the union. It is welcome that the Commission will soon propose a strategy to strengthen LGBT rights in Europe.

We should be under no illusion that, around the world, forces driven by the same ideology that attacks minorities and welfare, and demonises non-compliance with its narrow, pernicious outlook on humanity and society, are hard at work and have developed gentler ways to portray their bile. What they say is not the blunt statement, “We hate immigrants”; rather, they say, “Isn’t it a shame that poppies won't be sold in some areas so as not to offend immigrants?” It is important that we challenge such behaviour. Vigilance and consistency are required. That follows for all of us.

It is disappointing that the UK Government’s disregard for the rule of law, even when that would have implications for an international peace treaty, sets such a bad example. It is consistent with its dismissive approach to judicial rulings that go against its hostile environment outlook. It is also continuing its callous attack on our welfare state—and we all know who suffers as a result of that.

Human rights are everyone’s responsibility, but we will look for leadership on them. The Scottish Government has acted more progressively and compassionately than the others that I have mentioned. The incorporation into Scots law of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a positive step, but I am sure that, as we heard from the minister, there is no complacency about that—nor should there be, as we have a long way to go. For example, the Gypsy Traveller community has welcomed the progress that has been made, not least on the question of engagement. However, we still have a long way to go to address the ever-pervasive toxic masculinity that has an impact on our domestic abuse figures. The legislation was a welcome step forward, but we can still see the disgrace of sexual crime victims awaiting access to—[Inaudible.]

However, the responsibility that I have mentioned does not fall only on parliamentarians. I am delighted that the trade union movement continues to be at the forefront of diversity training—for example, last week I noticed that the Fire Brigades Union was advertising courses. Further, there is no hierarchy of special groups.

We must recognise that we need to continue to talk—that is important. We need to “take specific action”, as the Scottish Government’s motion says, but arguably more important is the need to improve lives and alter the narrative so that it leads to a more inclusive, just and welcoming Scotland.


Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

The motion, together with all the amendments, will command the support of Scottish Liberal Democrats at decision time.

I welcome the part of the motion that says that we all have responsibility for tackling racism in Scottish society—whether we call it out in the institutions in which we work, online or in person. We will not see anything close to an end to racial discrimination without everyone playing their part. Therefore we absolutely need to tie every one of the excellent contributions in the debate into action. We need a plan with more concrete action points, such as the one that we have seen from the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, to which I will come later. We cannot carve out a route towards breaking down prejudice and racism without such action.

The initial recommendations of the expert reference group on Covid-19 and ethnicity have now been published. It seems that there have been problems with obtaining conclusive data, but the group has given helpful suggestions on how to improve that aspect, on which I look forward to hearing the Government’s response.

Any one of us might legitimately feel frightened or vulnerable at this time of national crisis, while we are in the teeth of the coronavirus. However, for anyone who is black or from an ethnic minority background, the knowledge that they are more at risk because of that must be absolutely terrifying. They are greeted by that reality in the shocking news that we are all seeing, every day and every week, as the crisis unfolds.

As we work to understand the virus, the more we can learn—and the faster we can do it—the better.

Just last week, we took evidence at the Equalities and Human Rights Committee on the efforts to improve diversity in public bodies. Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary Gill Imery’s report was sobering reading in terms of its review of Police Scotland’s lack of diversity and leadership training. Gill Imery found that there was a general lack of leadership training in diversity skills for senior officers that required particularly urgent attention.

During the committee’s evidence session last Thursday, I asked about the wellbeing survey that is conducted right across the force for all staff at all levels. The most recent survey was undertaken in 2015; that is so long ago. How are we to understand how officers and staff from black and minority ethnic backgrounds feel if the last time we asked them how they felt was some five years ago? Although a survey was due this year, it was delayed because of the virus. Five years is definitely far too long to wait between surveys so I was glad to hear that Police Scotland intends to move to more regular surveys and I will wait to see the outputs of those surveys, because how can we possibly begin to understand unless we capture that lived experience?

Currently, around 1 per cent of police officers are from a minority ethnic background so there is a long way to go before our police force looks like the country that it seeks to serve, but we would all seek to make that happen because I think that it would make it a more responsive force. I welcome the proactive recruitment initiatives that we were told about in the committee meeting last Thursday and we will monitor those. I hope that the initiatives translate into better recruitment statistics and I hope that there is internal promotion as well, so that we see more minority background police officers in leadership roles.

I am pleased to see black history month in October grow each year, particularly in our schools. Making sure that young people have a good understanding of black history is important, but so too is society-wide education. There is certainly a huge gap in knowledge about Scotland’s role in the slave trade. That is why I fully support the creation of a museum of empire to look at the chequered history of Britain and Scotland in relation to the slave trade. I hope that the work that the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights has already undertaken, which has so far produced an online museum, will result in an actual museum that is a permanent reminder for visitors for years to come. The museum could be the centre of a more accurate portrayal of Scotland’s colonial and slavery history.

We need to recognise that all too many figures that are memorialised and revered—

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

Please conclude.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

It is my great pleasure to support the Government’s motion today.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I could listen to you forever, but you do not have forever, Mr Cole-Hamilton.


Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

I share the Scottish Government’s belief that promoting equality and human rights for minority ethnic communities should be a priority and reaffirm my belief that there is a responsibility on everyone in society to tackle racism, prejudice and discrimination. While I stand here, saying that, I am acutely aware that our Parliament is not yet representative of all the communities we serve and, in acknowledging that, I state again that it is incumbent on all political parties to take action to address that.

The cabinet secretary outlined in her opening speech that equality for minority ethnic people and communities is a key part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to a fairer Scotland. The mainstreaming approach that the Government is taking by weaving race equality throughout the programme for government is the right one and it has been welcomed by the Scottish Trades Union Congress black workers committee for its broad focus on supporting BME workers and communities across different policy areas, including employment, education, health and housing. The committee also commented positively on the announcements covering BME young people, older people and parents.

I am not speaking on behalf of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee this afternoon. However, I will briefly mention our inquiry into race equality, employment and skills. The committee is currently taking evidence as part of that inquiry and will report in October.

The themes emerging from our inquiry are not unfamiliar; there have been few surprises. The key test for our committee will be how to make meaningful progress rather than just once again flagging up issues. We are very focused on that, and the work of the expert reference group on Covid-19 and ethnicity provides an opportunity to do just that—to move forward. Although the group’s recommendations are specifically in relation to Covid-19, they address other known issues and themes that would assist greatly in making progress towards equality more generally—data, accountability and participation.

Recommendation 9, which is an urgent recommendation, is on participation by minority ethnic people and communities. It states:

“people and communities must be at the heart of any initiatives to improve ethnicity recording and closely involved in driving forward such initiatives. Minority ethnic communities racialised by the data process need to be involved to make sure it is worthwhile and not just another tick box exercise. This will help ensure the work meets the needs of Scotland’s diverse communities and also facilitate success.”

Interestingly, the report states:

“not being willing to provide ethnicity information is rare when the reason for its collection is appropriately explained.”

That principle of participation is crucial. I echo Sikh Sanjog’s request that there must be wide representation of lived experiences when considering and informing the Scottish Government’s approach to Covid-19 on BME communities.

The expert reference group also recommended that

“Consideration should be given to reporting related characteristics in addition, whenever possible. Ethno-religious communities, such as Jewish and Sikh communities, should be better identified and responded to by enabling a religious indicator in data collation.”

That is a really important point, so I would welcome the thoughts of the Minister for Older People and Equalities on that when she closes the debate.

We all agree that action is required, so let us make sure that we take that action. As CRER said recently, we cannot find ourselves in 10 years’ time having the same discussions and making the same recommendations.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I remind members that speeches should be of four minutes.


Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate on the incredibly important issue of promoting equality and human rights for minority ethnic people and communities across Scotland. We all share the desire to uphold the rights of people from ethnic minority backgrounds, to fight for equalities and to tackle discrimination and racism wherever it takes place.

Although significant progress has been made in recent years to address the discrimination and marginalisation of those from BME backgrounds, there is still much work to be done in the area. To tackle the issues, we need to ensure that we properly understand the challenges that individuals face. Only last year, nearly one in five ethnic minority individuals said that they had experienced discrimination. That has to change, and it has to be challenged at every opportunity. It has to stop. In addition, those from BME backgrounds face significant employment issues. The in-work rate is 16.4 per cent lower for the ethnic minority population than for the white population. As we have heard, the employment gap is much wider for ethnic minority women than it is for men.

The UK and Scottish Governments are tackling the issue. The Prime Minister has established a commission on race and ethnic disparities. The 10 commissioners on the group, who have experience in a variety of sectors, will consider inequalities in many different policy areas, including health, education, criminal justice and employment.

The Scottish Government has made further progress in the area. It is extremely welcome that the Governments are working together to see what can be achieved. I am particularly pleased to see a comprehensive approach to data collection. The analysis of data is important, so we must try to achieve that. The progress on the race equality action plan is another real step forward.

The pandemic has shone a light on issues for individuals who are in the minority and the majority. It has been found that minority ethnic individuals and communities are much more susceptible to coronavirus. That has been recognised by the Scottish Government, the UK Government and organisations around the world. Those disparities seem to have resulted in a fixed risk factor. Economic factors also have a role, because people from some groups disproportionately work in public-facing jobs or as key workers, and individuals in those jobs might find themselves exposed.

We have also heard that individuals from the Bangladeshi community are much more susceptible and that Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and other Asian people are between 10 and 50 per cent more likely to die from coronavirus disease because of their ethnicity. That has to be recognised. Getting the information on health and ethnic minorities on record and making sure that we tackle the disparities is vitally important.

Like many others in the chamber, the Scottish Conservatives will do all that we can to promote, protect and enhance the rights of people from minority ethnic backgrounds, which are vitally important. By working together we can ensure that further progress is made in rooting out discrimination and marginalisation to ensure that everybody in Scotland has equal opportunities, no matter what their background.


Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

I emphasise my sincere thanks to the members of the expert reference group on Covid-19 and ethnicity. We are able to participate in an informed and targeted parliamentary debate because it is centred on a report of high quality that was created by people with care for its outcome.

This should be not a box-ticking exercise but a means by which effective change can be made. The ERG has engaged with various complex factors surrounding Covid-19’s distinct impact on ethnic minority people and communities and done so in an honest and professional way. It is not a simple or easy task and I highlight my thanks for the time and thoughtful consideration that the group has put into it over recent months.

Following the publication of the group’s recommendations relating to systemic issues and risks for minority ethnic people as a background to Covid-19, the group’s comprehensive recommendations show a number of routes that could be pursued by the Scottish Government and public bodies.

The recommendations would allow serious engagement with the larger issues at hand and I echo the ERG’s emphasis on the importance of ensuring that any action taken in response is measurable and accountable. As the recommendations point out, it is no good continually highlighting similar or the same issues without real change being achieved. We need to build on existing research, rather than duplicate it.

Recommendation 9 relates to the Scottish Government’s race equality action plan, which is due to be renewed in 2021. It points to that as an opportunity to ensure that there are

“clear actions, outputs and measurable outcomes”,

which is an extremely positive and sensible suggestion.

The focus on accountability within the Scottish Government’s departments on the micro and macro levels is also important in pushing forward real movement in the underpinning issues of racial inequalities and Covid-19. We have an opportunity to lead by example. The sooner we discern concrete and deliverable next steps, the better.

I also urge the Scottish Government to consider recommendation 2, on the support that can be offered to people without recourse to public funds and to discern what steps can be taken to help asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking. They may be living in plain sight in Scotland, working in modern slavery without any awareness of what rights they have to health support. The pandemic heightens vulnerabilities, and those groups are no exception.

The backdrop of racial inequalities to the distinct health issues faced by minority ethnic people and communities during the on-going Covid-19 pandemic is incredibly important. It may be stating the obvious, but I highlight that we will only be able to tackle systemic racism and racial inequalities through an approach to change that is both systemic and systematic.

The ERG’s recommendations lay out clearly the complex and distinct issues facing minority ethnic people and the link to racial disparities that are underpinned by racism. Wider recognition of the persistence of racism has risen during lockdown with the Black Lives Matter movement, and it gives me hope that policy measures will be met on the ground with energised action and real motivation to tackle the issues head on.


Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

Yesterday, I was asked a question: “Aren’t you bored by and tired of debates about racism?” I am kind of bored by and tired of the debates. Politicians are brilliant at saying the right things but, when it comes to challenging prejudice and hatred, are we brave enough to do the right things?

There have been two significant issues in the past six months; one is Covid and the other is Black Lives Matter. They are connected; I will come to that in a moment.

I hear a lot of people saying that Black Lives Matter is a defining moment, that things will fundamentally change and never go back to the way that they were. We have said that many times before; we said it after the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the inquiry that followed. It is on this generation of politicians and political leadership to make it a defining moment.

We went out to applaud key workers during the peak of the pandemic. BME communities are more likely to be the victims of Covid-19 for specific reasons, including the fact that they are also disproportionately likely to be the ones that keep the country going. People from a BME background are disproportionately more likely to work in the national health service, food production, transportation, a retail setting, a corner shop, a supermarket or any other front-line service. If we are going to applaud and champion BME communities for helping to keep our country going through a pandemic, we also have to stand by them by making them a central part of the future of our country. Are we brave enough to do the right things and not just say the right things at the right time, when a movement or hashtag is trending around the world?

One way that we will learn to do the right thing is by knowing what our baseline is. How bad a situation are we in right now? Data is so important to that. Why have we not had, and why are we not having, a full race disparity audit in Scotland? I welcome more disaggregated data, but we can be bolder than that. How do we get proper, full data around hate crime? How do we also recognise that the vast majority of racism is not criminal; it is not something that we can report to the police or that someone can be prosecuted for. We need full data around what is happening in public, third or private sector workplaces, public sector bodies, the civil service, the Government and education settings, so that we know what our baseline is, in order to set ourselves a target of where we think our ambition should be for Scotland in five, 10 and 20 years’ time. I want us to commit to a race disparity audit and I hope that we can get that commitment from the minister.

We defeat prejudice through education. Why have we whitewashed our history and why are we teaching that whitewashed history in our schools? Why do I have to tell my children about the role of the British Indian Army in defence of our country in two world wars and in defeating fascism? Why are they not taught that at school? Why are our children not taught that our diverse and rich history makes Scotland and the United Kingdom what they are today? That is the perfect answer to the far right that seeks to divide rather than pull us together.

I am short of time, so I will close. Let us challenge not just systematic discrimination but everyday racism. Let us not have a hierarchy of prejudice; let us not pick and choose or see the issue as party political. Instead, let us come together with the ambition to change, not just to say the right words.


Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

Presiding Officer,

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

That comment was made by Angela Davis several decades ago, and it is still relevant today. Anti-racism is the active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organisational structures, policies, practices and attitudes. As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to deliver that across all policy areas. However, given the short time that we have today, I will confine my comments to the issues around health and tackling what causes the high mortality rate from Covid in people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The Scottish Government’s decision in June to set up the expert reference group on Covid-19 and ethnicity was very welcome. Its report of 18 September highlights the overlapping issues that help to explain that worrying heightened mortality. They include occupational exposure—Anas Sarwar touched on healthcare and transportation workers—income and housing issues that are faced particularly, although not exclusively, by those seeking asylum, and vulnerabilities as a result of higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. I share the disgust of members such as Pauline McNeill and Bill Kidd, who spoke about the UK’s deplorable treatment of asylum seekers. The expert group mentioned the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants under the UK’s no-recourse-to-public-funds policy as being a significant factor affecting health outcomes.

I was struck by the section of the report entitled “Differential access to treatment and other forms of support”. It says:

“Research shows a greater risk of adverse outcomes”

for ethnic minority people

“even after hospitalisation”

with Covid. There is, I am very sad to say, hard evidence of those poorer outcomes. The expert group also says:

“In three Scottish surveys of minority ethnic experiences of discrimination from 2015 to 2019, 18 - 20% of respondents reported experiencing discrimination in using health services.”

That is particularly worrying and sad, and that is why the expert group makes a number of recommendations on tackling racism, which is the root cause of so much of that inequality. I support the recommendation of

“a baseline audit of past and current”



to judge their effectiveness. Given that the Government’s existing race action equality plan, which was launched in 2017, runs until 2021, a systematic audit would seem both appropriate and timely.

Such an audit would also address the point that was made by some members and by the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, which points out in its briefing that a lot of excellent work has already been done, particularly in the area of cultural education, that has been shaped by black people themselves. It is very important that we acknowledge and build on that, instead of reinventing the wheel.

The group’s report also recommends

“An Observatory which brings together quantitative and qualitative data on ethnic and racial inequalities in Scotland.”

As others have said, and as the report emphasises, improved data is essential if we are to be anti-racist and change those systems, organisational structures, policies, practices and attitudes that I mentioned at the outset. The importance of accurate data was also flagged up in today’s Amnesty briefing.

I will conclude by flagging up the importance of the census in gathering excellent data. Scotland is the only part of the UK to postpone the 2021 census. National Records of Scotland argues that there are very good reasons for doing that, and there may well be. However, after taking evidence from it last week, the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee remained concerned about the ability to deliver. I would ask that attention is paid, right across Government, to ensure that we have a census in 2022 that is accurate and that helps us to tackle the scourge of inequality, particularly the racism that we all want to eliminate.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

It is very hard when you are remote, but I am afraid that you must conclude there.


Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

I, too, welcome today’s debate. We know that the Scottish Government has allocated more than £2.6 million in 2019-20 to fund organisations working to advance race equality, but at the heart of this debate is the message that it is the job of all of us to tackle inequality. That is one of the benefits of this type of debate.

We can see from the number of briefings that we have received from stakeholders how important this issue is. As members have said when they have drawn to a close, four minutes for each speaker is not really enough time to cover all the main issues. We could be speaking about museum collections or about the work of Intercultural Youth Scotland—an organisation that I know Mr Sarwar and the minister know very well—to increase diversity in our teaching profession and ensure that our education system gives a true account of slavery and imperialism in Scotland and the UK.

I will focus my remarks on the impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minorities. I welcome the motion, noting that the expert reference group’s recommendations

“will be invaluable in responding to the inequalities that have been further exposed by COVID-19”—

How important they are following the First Minister’s announcement today of further restrictions!

As convener of the cross-party group on racial equality, I take the opportunity to elaborate on our last meeting, which was held virtually during the summer recess, at which we heard from Professor Raj Bhopal on the issue of Covid-19. At the time, evidence was emerging—or had already emerged, in the early stages of the pandemic—that there was a disproportionate effect on ethnic minority communities. As Ruth Maguire touched on earlier, we also found that in evidence to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, of which I am a member.

Professor Bhopal’s contribution was very interesting and hard hitting. I can make available the transcript, or even a link to the video, to ministers and their teams, should they wish. His overview included an explanation that viruses—and respiratory diseases, in particular—tend to be more common in ethnic minority and migrant groups. On that basis, he stated that he had provided advice to the Scottish Government to expect something similar from Covid-19.

The main points that Professor Bhopal made at that meeting about minority and ethnic migrant groups in Scotland having been affected by Covid-19 included the fact that mortality rates in south Asian populations are about twice as high as in the white Scottish population; that mortality rates in Chinese-origin populations are somewhere between those of the south Asian and white Scottish populations; that people with recent ancestry from Africa are about three or four times more likely to get the disease and to have serious complications; that people from a south Asian background are two or three times more likely to get the disease; and that it varies greatly in the different groups. For example, Indian populations are less likely to get it than Pakistani populations and, based on data from England, Bangladeshi populations are also less likely to get it than Pakistani populations.

Professor Bhopal also commented that there were not enough numbers, at the moment, to produce accurate statistics about other populations, and not enough information about what is going on with refugees or asylum seekers. He said that some of that was to do with low numbers in Scotland of those groups.

The members of the cross-party group had a wide array of questions on that presentation, which I will relay now. Perhaps the minister will refer to them in summing up, if she has time, or even in a written response—I think that a letter from the cross-party group is coming to the Government.

At the meeting, the members of the group wanted an understanding of how poverty affects the likely—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Will the member wind up, please?

Fulton MacGregor

That was only two minutes.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The clock had stopped. You had not talked for only one minute and 52 seconds. [Laughter.] Members must not be unkind. It has been very interesting.

I ask Mr MacGregor to conclude.

Fulton MacGregor

I had so much more to say, Presiding Officer. As I do not have the time to go through all the questions, I will conclude by saying that, as convener of the cross-party group, I will write to the minister with the questions that were asked at the group’s last meeting.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you. I am sorry about that.

I warn members that I do not know whether the clock is working again. We will have a look. It has been a bit funny.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I am very pleased to speak in such an important debate, which is achieving consensus among members. The debate is about humanity and about treating others as we would have them treat us.

As a starting point, we should look at the subject of the debate, which is about promoting equality and human rights for minority ethnic people and communities. The fact is that we are all equal. There is no hierarchy in equality. Why, therefore, in 2020 should we need to promote equality and human rights? It is because we live in a society that is not framed around diversity and inclusiveness; nor can it honour those rights for all people in society, regardless of race, gender or creed.

A shocking immigration system has been imposed on us, which we in Scotland would not choose, if we had the power to change it. We have a society in which asylum seekers who are fleeing the most appalling circumstances in their homeland are not allowed to work, when—or if—they finally manage to enter Britain. Their human rights are denied from the outset by their not being allowed to work and to contribute to the society that they have fought to be a part of. That makes no sense.

Several of my colleagues at Westminster have this week called for an inquiry into the recent tragic deaths of three asylum seekers in Glasgow.

It does not have to be like that. As the Government motion says, it is incumbent on us all to do our part to make sure that minorities’ rights are promoted and protected in our communities.

I was struck when, in an episode of BBC Four’s excellent series on Africa, a participant said that, globally, people of colour are not in the minority—they are the majority. Some intolerant people would do well to remember that.

The village of Twechar in my constituency provides a fantastic example of how to promote equality and inclusiveness. It has an impressive record of welcoming refugees into its small community. I have attended social events that have been organised to promote different cultures through cooking exhibitions or musical displays, for example. Community leader Sandra Sutton, who runs the healthy living and enterprise centre, makes sure that no one goes short of the basic essentials and that every family is looked after. She is the point of contact for anything that is needed to make those families feel welcome and comfortable. It is probably easier to do that in small rural communities, but you need someone with the will and humanity to do it. In our cities and towns, it is logistically different, but fantastic third sector organisations are on hand to provide help and support.

We need a political solution with humanity at its heart. I agree with all the points that have been made about the importance of data. The excellent organisation Close the Gap tells us that BME women face an intertwined set of gendered and racial barriers that affect their ability to enter, progress and stay in good-quality employment. Indeed, Covid-19 has highlighted and exacerbated BME women’s pre-existing inequalities in the labour market. Brexit is likely to further exacerbate that inequality.

In that respect, the work of the independent expert reference group on Covid-19 and ethnicity is crucial in assisting the Scottish Government to present to the Parliament with the actions that it needs to take to address the high incidence of Covid-19 among the BME population.

It is our collective responsibility to do what we can, however small or seemingly insignificant, because that will make all the difference to those who we welcome in an inclusive, integrated Scotland, and it will help us to embrace what unites us as human beings.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before I call Ms Hamilton, I say that this area of the Parliament has been placed on alert pending investigation of a potential fire. Everyone who is present in the chamber and the gallery—although there is no one in the gallery—should remain where they are until further directions are provided. As all our speakers for this item of business are present, I propose to continue with business and issue an update when further information becomes available.

What a cue for Ms Hamilton to come in on. [Laughter.]


Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

I am definitely on fire.[Laughter.]

First, I would like to thank the Scottish Government for bringing the debate to the chamber and the Presiding Officer for allowing me to step out of the chamber.

We continue to live with the effects of Covid-19. The First Minister’s statement today on the rising number of infections is a wake-up call: the virus is out there and is spreading. Sadly, we know that people from BAME backgrounds are worst affected by the pandemic, with a high proportion of that population experiencing the devastating consequences of the disease.

We are all too aware of that concerning trend. The UK Government’s “Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19” report on the impact of the pandemic on the BAME population highlighted that

“people of Bangladeshi ethnicity had around twice the risk of death than people of White British ethnicity. People of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Other Asian, Caribbean and Other Black ethnicity had between 10 and 50% higher risk of death when compared to White British”,

which was mentioned by Alexander Stewart.

The impact of Covid-19 and associated lockdown has been far more pronounced for BAME women, in particular. Women are more likely to be unemployed as a result of the pandemic. The Institute For Fiscal Studies and University College London’s institute of education found that mothers were 47 per cent more likely to have permanently lost their jobs or quit and that 14 per cent were more likely to have been furloughed since the start of the crisis.

The employment rate for ethnic minorities is lower than that for white Scots—there is an employment rate gap of 16.4 per cent, which means that ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by the economic impact of Covid-19. We know that two sectors that are expected to be hardest hit in the post-Covid world are hospitality and retail, both of which employ significant numbers of BAME female workers.

We must remember that Covid-19 has not created health and structural inequalities: it has highlighted and exacerbated existing structural and institutional inequalities, and barriers that exist across healthcare and wider society. Those have been laid bare during the course of the pandemic. I know that I speak about it a lot, but I repeat that the pandemic is acting, and has acted, as a catalyst for exposing those entrenched inequalities.

The UK Conservative Government has acknowledged that the massive inequalities that exist must be examined. In July, the Prime Minister announced the commission on race and ethnic disparities. It has been tasked with investigating how inequalities in the UK manifest in areas including health, education, criminal justice and employment, and its findings are to be reported on by the end of the year.

I am very proud that my party has acted not only at Government level but at party level. Scottish Conservatives Friends of BAME was recently launched as an umbrella organisation that works directly with the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party to support the BAME communities of Scotland.

I am glad that the Scottish Government has also recognised the need to take affirmative action to ensure that promoting the equality and human rights of minority ethnic communities is a priority. We are happy to support the Government motion and the amendment from Pauline McNeill.

I also welcome calls from the Royal College of Nursing that echo the data collection recommendations of the Scottish Government’s independent expert reference group on Covid-19 and ethnicity. As was stated by Pauline McNeill, we need the Government to get in-depth detailed data on the impact of BAME backgrounds if we are to establish where best to target support. The Government must take on board the recommendations from that group immediately.

I will stop there, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The excitement has died down—it was a false alarm. I call Annabelle Ewing as the last speaker in the open debate.


Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

The lights have come up—I do not think that I am rising to the occasion with my speech, but I will try. Thank you for calling me to speak in what is an important debate.

I have said many times, but it has to be said again, that there can be no more important mark of whether a society is civilised than how it treats its minorities. It is clear from speeches from across the chamber that everybody here firmly believes that.

I listened to the cabinet secretary’s opening remarks and am very pleased to note that the Scottish Government, too, is determined, as a priority, to play its part in eradicating racism, inequality and injustice, and to tackle the scars that they bring. When reading for this speech, I was interested to note that the Scottish Government is intent on proceeding with mainstreaming those issues right across Government portfolios. Things can often get lost in silos in Government, so it is really important that there is a cross-portfolio approach. I also note that there was a funding allocation of £2.6 million in 2019-20 to support organisations that work to advance race equality. That work on the ground is hugely important.

I noted, too, that Parliament had strongly indicated its determination to establish a museum of slavery and its impact in Scotland. I appreciate, further to emails that we have received, that the importance of that project requires that it proceed with maximum input from all those who wish to have their voices heard, and that it proceed with great sensitivity. I welcome the Scottish Government’s sponsoring of an expert group to progress that work.

A key development has been the report of the expert reference group on Covid-19 and ethnicity. I think that I am hearing that the Scottish Government is going to take up all the group’s recommendations, but we must wait to hear the detail of how it plans to do that.

The Government has already taken forward the group’s important recommendation on making ethnicity a mandatory field in health databases, which would link to data in the census and ensure that ethnicity data collection is embedded in the NHS. That was a key request by the group; rightly so, for without reliable data, we are not proceeding as best we should in terms of looking at what needs to be done. If there are gaps in the evidence, the task is made that much more difficult.

Another key area on which more disaggregated data is needed is the labour markets. There is a need to hear directly from minority ethnic workers, particularly women, of their experiences in the labour market, as was highlighted by Close the Gap.

In that regard, it is concerning to note that the expert reference group found that people who work in health and social care settings have experienced discrimination. That is truly unacceptable—especially when we take into account the heroic efforts that they have made in contributing to tackling coronavirus. That must be addressed.

On the wider human rights agenda, there have been calls from Amnesty International and other organisations for the incorporation into Scots law of the United Nations’ International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which I know is being considered.

I also wish to commend the Scottish Trades Union Congress’s black workers committee for all its hard work, and to intimate my support for its “Break the race ceiling” campaign, which intends to create a level playing field for minority ethnic workers in the private, public and third sectors. I also welcome the efforts of the Fife Centre for Equalities and its work on inclusion across the kingdom of Fife.

It is evident that a lot of good work is going on, but, as has rightly been said, it is not just the responsibility of Government; it is a responsibility for each of us. It is all very well to continue to talk, and talking is good, but actions are much more important. We need to get on with it. I am conscious of my responsibility as the MSP for Cowdenbeath, so I pledge to do what I can to help to make a difference.


Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

This has been an excellent debate with an unusual level of cross-party agreement on the need for action across society. It is about leadership, monitoring and implementation to give people real opportunities. As several colleagues have said, we need to tackle the deep-seated inequalities that have been reinforced by the pandemic.

I want to refer to the life of one of my former constituents—Saroj Lal, who passed away in the spring. When she started teaching at South Morningside primary school in 1970, she was not just the first BAME teacher at South Morningside; she was among the first in Scotland. Her training as a teacher was instrumental in preparing her for her work in multiculturalism and anti-racist education. So many of the teaching materials that she had to use presented a skewed and prejudiced view of the world. She went on to challenge perceptions and stereotypes throughout her career, and she fought for more equal and balanced representation of minority ethnic communities at the point at which it really matters—in children’s education. The point that Anas Sarwar made today about the change that is still needed was incredibly powerful. Saroj Lal worked with key organisations in Edinburgh—namely, Nari Kallyan Shangho, Milan and Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council, which continue to work in my community and to strive for equality.

Although groups such as racial equality councils are vital in driving a change in attitudes and in supporting people from BME backgrounds to stand up, we need Government leadership and action to bring the transformational change that is needed.

A survey by Business in the Community found that one in three black people—compared with 1 per cent of white people—felt that ethnicity would be a barrier to their progressing in their workplace. As many members have said today, the pandemic has starkly highlighted the concentration of BME workers in low-paid jobs, and it has disproportionately affected their safety through poor access to personal protective equipment and variable implementation of safety measures.

We want to thank trade union representatives from across the country who have put in the hard slog of negotiating with the employers, and have worked hard to raise the issues. Those people include Ian Mullen, who is one of Edinburgh’s Unison representatives. Whether in councils, integration joint boards or the care sector, some fundamental changes need to be made now.

One of the key recommendations in the UK Government’s 2017 McGregor-Smith report was that it should be ensured that the public sector uses its purchasing power to drive change by setting and publishing targets to ensure that it does not entrench inequalities. That needs to be done at Scotland level, as well as in our local authorities.

Community wealth building has been talked about recently. We need to make sure that we also link that to ethnic minority communities. We need a fine-grained analysis of how money is being spent and its actual impact.

Finally, I will focus on the overrepresentation of black and ethnic minority workers in low-paid jobs, because that links to other inequalities in what is called intersectionality or multiple discrimination, particularly in relation to the gender pay gap. In Scotland, women still earn 15 per cent less than men, and still see obstacles to progression in the workplace. As Close the Gap has highlighted, we must fix now the lack of data on the experiences of black and ethnic minority women in the workforce, because we still do not know exactly how challenging the situation is and we are still not focusing on the solutions.

In her opening remarks, Pauline McNeill mentioned that she has not included a requirement that the Scottish Government carry out an equality impact assessment on its programme for government. I am sure that that means that her amendment to the motion will be accepted today. However, it is an important point, because an EqIA enables policy to be truly inclusive, by assessing how it will impact on different groups of people and enabling adjustments to be made before a policy is enacted. An EQIA on the programme for government would not be merely symbolic; it would help to drive real practical changes.

Anas Sarwar summed up very well the need for data and evidence. In the chamber today, there is cross-party agreement on the need to make the changes that we have all argued for, and to advance human rights and equality for minority ethnic people and the wider community.

It has been a really good debate. I do not think that it has been boring—it has focused on changes that need to be made. Let us make sure that we push the Government hard, and that Government ministers know that they have our support.

The pandemic has pushed back progress on equalities. That is what prompted our amendment; I am sure that it also prompted the Conservative amendment. If both amendments are agreed to, let us say that we need urgent action, that we need to make progress, and that we need accountability. People from our black and ethnic minority communities need to know that we will all push for that—not only in a debate, but in committees, as others have talked about. Let us make it happen and make the change that we need.


Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

I am pleased to close for my party and contribute to a thoughtful debate that has involved many excellent contributions from across the chamber.

This is an emotive subject to discuss. Although, as a country, we pride ourselves on being open and welcoming, it is clear that we are not all the way there yet. It is right to aspire to an equal society while recognising that more action needs to be taken to achieve it. We must aspire to be an equal society: not only is it our responsibility to do so, but it will help to unlock the potential of people and communities who contribute so much to our national life.

Despite a lot of work, there is still progress to be made. I recognise that just by looking at the city that I am proud to represent. Today, Glasgow is one of our most diverse and multicultural cities—welcoming to all, regardless of background. However, sadly, it is not always welcoming. Only a few years ago, racially motivated attacks in Glasgow schools were on the rise, and only a few months ago, there was a coronavirus-related racial hate crime incident in the west end. When it comes to demonstrating the prejudice and discrimination that are faced by minority communities to this day, the experiences of parliamentary colleagues—Anas Sarwar and Humza Yousaf, in particular—have given us a chilling insight into real life for many minority ethnic people, whether such incidents are in person or online. It is profoundly difficult to hear about those examples, especially when most of us do not see or hear such sentiments as part of our daily lives. That makes it all the more important that we take every opportunity to eradicate such behaviour whenever it appears. In that regard, I appreciate the unity of purpose that has been expressed by members across the chamber.

The debate today has focused on the effect of structural inequalities on the increased danger that coronavirus poses to our BAME communities. The early evidence appears to support the conclusion that people from minority backgrounds—particularly those who work in healthcare—face a higher risk from Covid, and we need to work out why. Therefore, I welcome many of the actions that have been discussed during the debate. The expert reference group on Covid-19 and ethnicity will, I hope, prove to be a valuable resource when it presents its recommendations in the coming months.

As the Royal College of Nursing has said, although Covid did not create the structural inequalities in health that are faced by minority communities, it exacerbated them. Research from the expert reference group will go a long way towards establishing the extent of the problem that is being faced, and can only be a useful resource as the Scottish Government shapes its response.

Other recommendations from the group have been taken forward already, such as the publication of workplace assessments to help minority ethnic staff who work in healthcare settings and direct engagement with minority ethnic communities to address their concerns as quickly as possible. Those are welcome steps and I hope that that work will continue in the weeks and months ahead. I welcome the minister’s continued commitment.

However, there are other ways in which Covid has exposed areas where we need to do better, such as in relation to the labour market and the effect of prolonged shutdowns on the availability of secure work, particularly for BME women. As we have heard, research from Close the Gap shows that BME women are more likely to be in insecure work—putting them at increased risk of significant loss of earnings—and that those insecure jobs are more susceptible to redundancies.

Close the Gap indicated that almost a quarter of BME mothers have been struggling to feed their family during the pandemic. As much as we might think that a global pandemic affects us all in the same way, the evidence tells us a different, and increasingly disproportionate, story.

That said, there is another side to this. We face one of the most difficult periods in our recent history, which has exposed structural disparities that put minority ethnic communities at heightened risk, but which also gives us opportunities to fundamentally correct those problems. It gives us a chance to make sure that minority communities are protected throughout the pandemic but also to ensure that they have the opportunities to thrive afterwards.

Think of the benefits across society if we pulled down the barriers to success that have thwarted people for years. Think of the difference that it will make to kids growing up today, no matter where they live, to know that they have just as much of a chance of achieving greatness as anyone else.

The action that we take as a consequence of the pandemic can ensure that we protect people from the disproportionately adverse effects that their communities are experiencing. Public health rightly remains the priority. However, our action can also challenge inequalities that are not new and which for years have held people back from achieving their potential.

If we can use the collective will that has been demonstrated today, I am confident that the right solutions can be found to protect, uphold and further the rights of our minority communities and support their fight for equality.


The Minister for Older People and Equalities (Christina McKelvie)

I thank all members for the way in which they have conducted the debate today. It has been incredibly informative. I hope to answer everyone’s questions, although that may be a challenge given the number of questions that have been raised. I thank the organisations that have provided us with briefings; there has been some amazing work in those briefings, with lots of challenges and questions—we have to take responsibility for responding to them.

We all know that there is more to be done if we want to see the truly equal society that we have spoken about. I hope that it is also clear today that, in our words and actions, we are sincerely committed to achieving that goal for minority ethnic communities, along with everyone in Scotland.

When the expert reference group on Covid and ethnicity sent us its recommendations, I wrote to our Cabinet colleagues, asking them to consider what they could do within their own portfolios to contribute to that work. Fulton MacGregor mentioned Raj Bhopal, who was a member of our expert reference group. I commend his presentation to all members. I will also look out for Fulton MacGregor’s cross-party group letter with all his questions.

I am delighted to say that, in their responses, my Cabinet colleagues and ministers across all portfolios have taken up the challenge set by the expert reference group. We will have a full response to the group’s recommendations as soon as we possibly can. I am sure that that will be music to the ears of Annabelle Ewing and others who asked us about how we are mainstreaming and working across Government to make that difference. I hope that I have given members an example of how we are doing that. We will publish all those responses for people to see.

I want to pick up on Annie Wells’s comment in relation to hate crime and some of the issues that we have all faced, not only during the past few months, but over many years. I appeal to members, now that we have made some progress on the hate crime legislation, to work together, because there are many individuals, organisations and communities that really need a modern piece of legislation on hate crime that works for them.

In the programme for government, we can see that equality and human rights are approached not as a standalone subject but as a golden thread that weaves together all our ambitions for Scotland. That is the process that the mainstreaming team has been taking in its work across all portfolios. It is providing support with EqIAs and progressing equality and human rights in all its work.

I am very proud that the programme for government includes specific initiatives, some of which the cabinet secretary noted in her opening speech, that are designed to promote equality for minority ethnic communities. I am equally proud of the underpinning commitments to an equality-focused approach to all our work across all portfolios and responsibilities. That will help with the mainstreaming that Annabelle Ewing and others have called for. It also relates to intersectionality—someone with a minority ethnic background might also be an older person, have a disability or be a woman. All those issues are being taken very seriously by the Government.

However, we know that we cannot stop there. We need everyone in every corner of society to follow the lead that all of us in the chamber are setting, and to think about what we need to do and why we need to live up to our responsibilities by enacting real and lasting change for minority ethnic communities.

Annie Wells and Jeremy Balfour said that it is our responsibility to set an example and to challenge racism wherever we find it. We agree completely.

I, too, commend the work of the STUC black workers committee, whose members I met last week, and its break the race ceiling campaign. The members gave a great presentation—I am hoping to see it again, because there was so much in it.

Sarah Boyack mentioned trade unions. Every Friday, I meet the STUC to discuss my work on safer workplaces. The impact of that work is incredibly important to its member-led organisations.

I, too, pay tribute to Saroj Lal, who was a real inspiration through the work that she did. I am sure that she is a huge loss to Sarah Boyack’s community and to all of Scotland.

I have heard at first hand about the incredible work that is being done by organisations of all sizes across Scotland in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. There are too many to mention, but there is one big group that I can mention. If members have not seen the work that is being done by the ethnic minority national resilience network, doing so will give them much hope and inspiration. The network has done amazing work. I have been so impressed by its resilience and innovation and by how communities have worked and come together to ensure that, for example, older minority ethnic people have access to culturally appropriate food, which is incredibly important. The network has ensured that younger people have access to support and counselling sessions in a way that suits them, and online workshops have been provided to help them to navigate these really difficult times.

I am very pleased to be able to support organisations throughout the Covid pandemic with funding over and above the £2.6 million of funding for 2019-20. The funding will support all the work that organisations are doing to advance race equality.

As the cabinet secretary said in her opening speech, instead of returning to how things were, we have an opportunity to learn the lessons that have been taught to us by Covid-19 and, of course, by the Black Lives Matter movement.

John Finnie mentioned our work with Gypsy Travellers, and I have spoken about the action plan a lot in the chamber. We set up a Gypsy Traveller group to respond to Covid. If people want to see inspirational work in how a community can pull together and use tiny bits of money to ensure that people are supported properly, they should have a look at that work.

A number of issues were raised during the debate on the recommendations about what we need to do around data. We face challenges in relation to people working in environments where they might be more at risk. We have created guidance that includes a simple risk-assessment tool to support individual decision making not only for employers but for employees. The risk-assessment tool is based on clinical and scientific evidence that takes into account personal characteristics. I am sure that such a tool is of interest to everybody, whether in relation to ethnicity, age, gender, body mass index or health conditions. The tool assesses an individual’s overall vulnerability to Covid-19, and I know that Jeremy Balfour, Anas Sarwar, Rachael Hamilton and Fulton MacGregor were all interested in that.

On data and data collection, NRS has been part of the expert reference group, and it managed to do a piece of work that linked to the census. Members will know that one of the group’s recommendations is to link the data that we currently collect to the census, but the group also has also recommended collecting more data that is appropriate.

We will look very closely at those recommendations and how we can take them forward. I know that members had a number of concerns about that area and how we link to the census. NRS is happy to take part in that work and to respond. Joan McAlpine was very interested in that.

I will make a couple of quick remarks on asylum. I agree with Rona Mackay that the right to work should be an absolute, and while it is not we still have work to do on people who have no recourse to public funds. My Cabinet colleague Aileen Campbell has written to the UK Government on a number of occasions to seek solutions to some of the challenges in that regard. Pauline McNeill, Bill Kidd, Ruth Maguire and many others were interested in that.

On the public sector equality duty review, the mainstreaming team has been working with all my Cabinet colleagues to ensure that EqIAs are embedded in the work that we are doing. We will pivot back to looking at the public sector equality duty review work that we need to do in the coming months. I will be able to update Parliament on that very soon.

The Scottish Government is also looking to review all its initiatives, whether or not there is a race disparity audit. We are looking at how we can do better and are seeking some understanding of how the UK Government is also taking such work forward.

Anas Sarwar said that we need to be brave and asked whether we are brave enough; I hope and think that we are. I really want us to take up this opportunity, because I am absolutely committed to this work. We can be bold, we can take meaningful action and we can move forward together. We just want a fairer, stronger and more equal society for everyone, and I hope that today’s debate has taken us further down the path to those positive steps.