Showing Solidarity with Anti-racism

SNP, by Humza Yousaf

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 10th June 2020.

Before I come to the substance of my speech, let me make two points. First, I should say that my party will vote for both the Labour and Green amendments. With regard to the Green amendment, I reiterate what was said by my colleague Christina McKelvie and by Patrick Harvie: we urge people to protest using digital means and other methods that do not include mass gatherings outdoors.

Secondly, a number of members have mentioned the need for disaggregated data on hate crime. I agree with the points that they made. I recently raised the issue and had a good discussion with BEMIS and some other equality organisations. If it was not for the pandemic, Police Scotland would have brought forward work on that. I will re-engage with Police Scotland on when we can produce disaggregated data, because—as members have pointed out—it is hugely important that we have it.

I will start and end my speech in the same way—by saying that I am angry. I am angry that in 2020 we are once again confronted with scenes of horrific racial injustice. I am angry that in 2020 we are still dealing with overt racism, subtle racism, institutional racism and structural racism. Whatever form it takes, it is still racism.

Members may well think that as time has moved on, racism has declined and manifestations of overt racism are no longer commonplace. I am afraid that that is not the case. I do not have to cast my mind back particularly far—I suspect that the same is true for Anas Sarwar—to remember somebody calling me “Paki”. Do not even start me on my Twitter timeline, which is—to be frank—a cesspit of racism.

I am angry because, in this day and age, we are still telling people of colour to “go home”. Brian Whittle, in a really excellent speech, said that he remembers a bygone era when he would see casual racism on the TV. He does not have to go back to a bygone era; I heard it just yesterday. I watched a video clip of the social commentator and author Afua Hirsch speaking on a panel that was chaired by LBC radio presenter Nick Ferrari. She explained her view that we need to confront the racism of figures in British history. Nick Ferrari’s response was to ask, “If you don’t like Britain”—which is her home—“why do you stay?” He would simply not have asked that question if a white person had been sitting in her chair, but people of colour are still fair game when it comes to racism.

Forget the racial jibes and the slurs that we still have to put up with; racism is literally killing minorities, as we have all seen, and as members have all said today. However, as every member has mentioned, racism does not exist only in the United States. The events in the US force us to hold a mirror up to ourselves and to confront the racism that exists here: the unconscious, the subtle, the overt, the institutional and the structural racism. On all those fronts, Scotland is not immune.

This is the part where we should all begin to feel uncomfortable, because we have to accept the reality and the evidence that is in front of us, that Scotland has a problem of structural racism. As members have said, we can take the Parliament as an example. More than 300 MSPs have come to and gone from this Parliament—our nation’s Parliament. In 20 years, there has not been a single black member of the Scottish Parliament, to our shame; there has not been a single woman MSP of colour, to our shame; and the only four ethnic minority MSPs have all been Scots Asian males.

Take Anas Sarwar and I. We are hardly even diverse between us. We are both male, we were both born and raised in Glasgow’s south side, we are both in our mid-30s, we went to the same private school, we are both middle class and our fathers even come from the same region in Pakistan. His father happens to be the governor of the region; my dad did not quite get there.

The Conservatives, Greens and Liberal Democrats have never had a single person of colour in their MSP ranks in 20 years of devolution. I do not say that to point the finger; I say it because we have to make change. They have never had a single non-white MP from Scotland in their history.

To my colleagues in the Government, I say that we know that we are not immune, either. Some people have been surprised or taken aback by my mention on my social media that at 99 per cent of the meetings that I go to, I am the only non-white person in the room.

Why are we so surprised when the most senior positions in Scotland are filled almost exclusively by people who are white? Take my portfolio, for example. The Lord President is white, the Lord Justice Clerk is white, every High Court judge is white, the Lord Advocate is white, the Solicitor General is white, the chief constable is white, every deputy chief constable is white, every assistant chief constable is white, the head of the Law Society is white, the head of the Faculty of Advocates is white and every prison governor is white.

That is not the case only in justice. The chief medical officer is white, the chief nursing officer is white, the chief veterinary officer is white, the chief social work adviser is white and almost every trade union in the country is headed by white people. In the Scottish Government, every director general is white. Every chair of every public body is white. That is not good enough.

I do not doubt that across the private sector, black and minority ethnic people are similarly underrepresented at senior levels. That is a collective failure that includes every single one of us. I hope that we are sitting uncomfortably, because those should be uncomfortable truths for us all.

So, do not just tweet “Black Lives Matter”, do not just post a hashtag and do not just take the knee. As people of colour, we do not need your gestures. Yes—solidarity is helpful, but what we need from you is action and for you to be anti-racist by your deeds. Do not just tell us how you are not racist—I take that as a bare minimum. You must be anti-racist.

Many members have rightly mentioned Sheku Bayoh in the debate. I will start by saying how much I, too, admire the dignity of the Bayoh family, which Claire Baker referenced in her speech. They have shown great dignity on their long journey for answers. They have every right to be angry about how long they have been fighting for those answers. Because the public inquiry is established, I will obviously not prejudice it. I will simply say that when the state is faced with such tragic circumstances, we have a choice: we either attempt to hide the truth or we go in search of the truth. I hope by instructing the setting up of a public inquiry, we have demonstrated that the Scottish Government seeks the truth in that matter.

There is no black MSP in the Parliament. In a debate about Black Lives Matter, there is not a black voice here, to our shame. I want the last words in the debate to belong to George Floyd, but before I read out his last words, I ask every member here to imagine that these words came from your brother, your father, your son, your cousin or your nephew, while they had a police officer’s knee on their throat for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Here are George Floyd’s last words:

“It’s my face man

I didn’t do nothing serious man please please please I can’t breathe please man please somebody please man

I can’t breathe

I can’t breathe please

(inaudible) man can’t breathe, my face just get up

I can’t breathe please (inaudible)

I can’t breathe, shit

I will

I can’t move mama mama

I can’t my knee my nuts

I’m through

I’m through

I’m claustrophobic my stomach hurt my neck hurts everything hurts some water or something please please

I can’t breathe officer don’t kill me they gon’ kill me man come on man

I cannot breathe

I cannot breathe they gon’ kill me they gon’ kill me

I can’t breathe

I can’t breathe please sir please please please I can’t breathe”

Presiding Officer, I hope that we are all angry. That should be our overriding emotion when we are confronted with racism. I hope that every single one of us takes that anger and uses it to recommit ourselves as anti-racist. Let us be judged by our deeds, Presiding Officer—by our deeds, and not just our words.