In the 20 years since CRER was founded (under our original name, Glasgow Anti-Racist Alliance), we have never seen anything approaching the level of interest in racism and racial inequality triggered by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It is genuinely unprecedented. Indeed, you might be coming across our work for the first time right now – in which case, welcome!
The upsurge of Black voices and the strength of solidarity from allies (including most of Scotland’s prominent politicians) is immensely appreciated by those of us who have been struggling to bring about change behind the scenes for many years. It’s especially appreciated right now. Not because of the battles unfolding in the US, or even because of the enraging, unjust and unacceptably slow progress towards a public inquiry into the death in custody of Sheku Bayoh in Fife five years ago, but because we and many others doing the work here in Scotland have seen anti-racism actively being pushed down the agenda in recent years.
For a strategic organisation like ours, whose work relies on often blunt dialogue with policy makers, the sea change in recent days has been emotional and, to be honest, slightly baffling. We have not made ourselves very popular over the years. Our pesky insistence that racism and racial inequality are ever-present in Scotland’s structures and institutions is not to everyone’s taste.
Some time ago, we were fortunate to have a genuine, meaningful role in developing Scotland’s Race Equality Framework 2016-2030. We stood alongside dozens of Community Ambassadors from grassroots organisations, as well as practitioners from the voluntary and public sectors. Importantly, the process was led by civil servants in the Scottish Government Equality Unit who were dedicated to doing things differently. Together, we successfully ensured that every vision and goal within that Framework was based on the priorities expressed by over 400 people from minority ethnic backgrounds who engaged in the planning process.
Unfortunately, we were less successful in securing action. Despite the best efforts of the hard-working and committed people within Scottish Government whose thankless task is to convince the rest of the Civil Service that racial equality is their business, work on the Framework’s actions has largely faltered. A tenuously linked Race Equality Action Plan, published without a consultation process in 2017, hasn’t helped matters. We’ve pushed for a return to the original intentions of the Race Equality Framework, and still live in hope that this might happen.
Meanwhile, in the Parliamentary Chamber itself, the limited focus on equality for minority ethnic people seen in the early days of devolution had slipped away to almost nothing. A few determined MSPs have not given up, and can be relied upon to ask the right questions. But it's telling that in recent years, over 50% of parliamentary questions on race were initiated by CRER. We will always be grateful for the support of those MSPs who work with us on this; if you’re interested, you can use the motions, questions and answers search to see who the active anti-racists are in the Chamber.
In advance of today’s Scottish Parliament debate on ‘Showing Solidarity with Anti-Racism’, CRER has written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to call for immediate action on racial equality in Scotland. The letter sets out five simple, practical action points.
These action points are not exciting or sexy. We don’t expect you’ll want to put them on your placard the next time we (safely) take to the streets. They are, however, absolutely crucial. They’re also relatively easy for Scottish Government to implement, if they really are invested in anti-racism.
These actions each represent an excruciating, enduring inaction. CRER and others have campaigned on related matters for many years. This call is part of a complex policy landscape on race equality where progress is held back by these particular inactions.
These are the problems that won’t go away once the world, and most of the Chamber, has forgotten about George Floyd and the many others who have faced the same fate.
The actions we’re calling on Scottish Government to take now are:
1. Develop an action plan with annual targets to support achievement of the existing commitment on fair representation for minority ethnic people in the Scottish Government workforce by 2025.
2. Amend the Curriculum for Excellence Social Studies benchmarks to include a specific experiences and outcomes measure: ‘I understand Scotland’s historical role in empire, colonialism and transatlantic slavery, and the diversity of Scottish society in the past.’
3. Introduce mandatory recording of racist incidents and prejudice based bullying in Scotland’s schools, with data to be collected, analysed and published by Scottish Government on an annual basis.
4. Include analysis and narrative on racial disparities within all progress reporting on the National Performance Framework, and where data disaggregated by ethnicity is not available, make the necessary investments or policy changes to address this.
5. Working with the existing group co-chaired by CRER and Glasgow City Council, fund a scoping study for the establishment of a national museum dedicated to illuminating Scotland’s role in empire, colonialism, slavery and migration.
Some might struggle to see what these pen-pushing exercises have to do with the Black Lives Matter movement and the violence that makes it necessary. The truth is, they are undeniably part of the same thread. Deaths caused by racism are not always physically violent. Mundane things like lack of opportunity, poverty, overcrowded housing and the strain on mental health can and do kill. Structural racism and everyday discrimination are a quiet and insidious form of violence.
So next week, and the week after, and the week after that, we’ll still be making the above demands. We’ll keep making them until they’re agreed and achieved. In all honesty, anti-racism can be boring. But it doesn’t have to be lonely.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people all across Scotland now feel they have the power to insist that Black Lives Matter, to insist that those in power are accountable for change. Perhaps now, finally, a change is going to come.