Increase in race hate crimes casts doubt on ‘One Scotland’ campaign

Racist crime is growing across Scotland despite a multi-million-pound Executive campaign to tackle the problem, new figures obtained by The Scotsman have revealed. Some 3,387 racially-aggravated crimes and offences were recorded by the country’s eight police forces between April and December this year, compared with 3,192 during the same period last year – a rise of 6 per cent.

The increase has cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Executive’s “One Scotland” campaign launched in 2002 to tackle racism in the country’s streets and classrooms, and sparked calls for Jack McConnell, the First Minister, to put the issue on a platform equal in size to the one given to sectarianism in recent months.

Ethnic community leaders are also accusing politicians of failing to wake up to the “elephant in the room” that is growing Islamophobia, saying thousands of Muslims and members of other minority racial groups are continuing to be victimised following the 11 September and 7 July terrorism attacks.

In 2005-6, 4,294 racially-aggravated crimes were recorded by police – 358 every month and more than ten times the level recorded in 2001-2. Since then, the number has continued to rise according to new figures obtained by The Scotsman, with reported verbal and physical attacks rising to 376 per month.

The biggest increase has been seen in the Lothian and Borders police area, where police recorded 970 assaults and other racially-aggravated offences between April and December this year – up 26 per cent on the 768 crimes recorded for the same period in 2005. Grampian also saw a big rise in reported race hate crimes, from 271 to 312, up 15 per cent.

Chief Inspector Doug Forsyth, who is in charge of diversity issues at Lothian and Borders Police, claimed a greater willingness to report incidents lay behind the increase, rather than more crime.

“If people don’t want to go to the police station, they can report crimes with other agencies such as the council and health service who will pass the details to us. I think the rise is mostly due to greater confidence within ethnic communities that the police will take these things seriously and investigate them thoroughly.”

But Osama Saeed, Scottish spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, disagreed, saying Asians were increasingly being victimised on religious grounds. “The police have not got to grips with the scale of the problem, which is vast. Incidents are not being reported because there isn’t a good link-up between communities and the police.

“People are more likely to be called a terrorist than a Paki. It’s more likely to be religiously-based abuse, particularly directed against Islam. The One Scotland campaign is fine but it isn’t really dealing with the changing face of racism. There’s an elephant in the room at the moment, attacks directed at Islam, which no-one is addressing. One Scotland isn’t hitting those buttons.”

The Scotsman, 26 December 2006