Understanding racism in Scotland

Submitted by SJW on 18 July, 2018 - 11:10 Author: Ann Field

No Problem Here — Understanding Racism in Scotland challenges “the conventional ‘race-blind’ narratives that Scotland and its elites have crafted over many years,” according to which “Scotland does not have a serious racism problem.”

This “now powerful myth that there is ‘no problem here’” has put down even deeper roots in recent years as a result of “the new common sense of Scottish politics, the dominant story that has been forged by the SNP and others.”

In fact, argues the collection of essays which makes up the book, “everyday racism remains a deeply structuring force distorting the lives of those we know as ‘black and brown Scots’. From racist harassment in the community to systematic discrimination in the workplace, these so-called new Scots remain a class apart.”

The book’s different chapters — all bar one being papers delivered at an international conference organised by the book’s editors — deconstruct different elements of that myth.

Some of the chapters focus on empirical evidence which demonstrates the extent of racism and racist discrimination in Scotland — in employment, housing, transport, and health services, and statistics for racially motivated crimes. Other chapters focus on specific groups and the specific forms of racism which they experience, such as anti-Muslim racism and the racism experienced by Roma, Gypsies and Travellers.

Three chapters address ″sectarianism″.

Two argue that “sectarianism” is a misnomer for racism towards Irish Catholics and that this constituted an indigenous Scottish development in which Irish Catholics became a “racialised other”. The concept of “sectarianism” has the added benefit of giving succour to the myth that Scotland is a largely racism-free country. One of the book’s contributors quotes a character in Rankin’s Fleshmarket Close: “We don’t have room for racism, we’re too busy with bigotry.”

The third, much more academic, chapter on “sectarianism” argues that it represents a form of “classic middle-class moral panic” focused on “male, working-class football fans” who must be subjected to the “civilising offensive” of the (now repealed) Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

The book’s opening chapters place Scotland’s contemporary racism in a historical context: the central and disproportionately important role played by Scots in the British Empire, especially on the Indian subcontinent and in relation to slavery in the Caribbean. But Scotland’s contribution to British imperialism is either written out of orthodox Scottish-nationalist versions of Scottish history or dissolved into the overarching responsibility of “a reactionary British/English establishment.”

This finds expression in the SNP-government-sponsored “Homecoming Scotland” events, marketed in Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Australia. By contrast, the Caribbean, where many inhabitants still see themselves as part of the Scottish diaspora, has been ignored.

What the book’s editors call “the most directly political intervention here (in the book)” is a contribution from Alan Armstrong, although it is difficult to see what merits its inclusion. According to Armstrong, the SNP’s “civic nationalism” contains “a universal element”, the 2014 independence referendum was the first phase of Scotland’s “democratic revolution”, and “only the break-up of Britain will open up the road to a genuine internationalism and the socialist transformation of society.”

As a collection of essays and papers, the book inevitably suffers from a lack of continuity. It also sidesteps the upsurge in anti-English hostility during and since the 2014 referendum, as it would be “misleading to analyse anti-Englishness through the prism of racism.” Fair enough — but that anti-Englishness also says something about the SNP’s “civic” nationalism.

And while some contributions to the book question how “civic” the SNP’s “civic nationalism” really is, none of them home in on the fact that, however it packages itself, nationalism is nationalism and, as such, seeks to mobilise people on the basis of national identity.

A contribution to the issue of antisemitism in Scotland might also have been of use — although that would have depended on the contents of any such contribution.

Even so, the book has the potential to help open up a long overdue debate about the prevalence of racism in Scotland (including anti-Irish racism) and the forms which it takes. As the closing contribution to the book puts it: “racism works differently in Scotland.”

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