I was interviewed on Good Morning Ulster this morning on the issue of rising numbers of race crimes in Scotland, and in particular, that more than one in three victims are white. The question from Ulster was, 'has Scotland become a cold place for migrants'. They were particularly interested in the increase in racist crime against English people. UNISON Scotland's role in anti-racism campaigns was the reason for my appearance - although the fact that I was born in England, added some human interest!
It is certainly the case that the number of recorded incidents against what are classified as 'White British' has been steadily rising. From 826 in 2004/5 to 1295 in 2011/12. There was also a big 22% increase in the last year. This is obviously a cause for concern as reflected in political reaction to the figures. Others, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, have urged further analysis of the data to identify any underlying issues and I would agree with that.
Having said that, I don't think we should over exaggerate the position. Scotland has not suddenly become a dangerous place for those born in England. The numbers are small in relation to the numbers of English people living in Scotland. The English are Scotland's largest minority at over 400,000. Of course nearly twice that number of Scots live in England. I believe we should be more concerned about the increase in racist crime against Scottish Gypsy Travellers. This number has increased from 130 in 2004/5 to 700 in 2011/12. This is one of the reasons for UNISON Scotland's guidance booklet published earlier this year.
The most common crimes were racially aggravated conduct - this means the racism is part of another crime. So there may be a link to law enforcement. However, we should recognise that these figures are the tip of the iceberg as race crime is always under recorded. Increasing numbers can be seen as a positive development, showing a greater willingness to report.
I was asked if I thought these numbers might be linked to a sense of increasing 'Scottishness' or the independence referendum. Extreme nationalism is rare in Scotland and the far right vote in Scotland is the lowest in Great Britain - despite the economic recession. The SNP's civic nationalism does contribute to that positive approach and successive Scottish governments have actively encouraged immigration. It is essential to growing the economy and to address demographic change with our ageing population and low birth rate.
So to return to the initial question. I don't believe these statistics represent any 'coldness' towards people who were not born in Scotland. Clearly racism and sectarianism is an issue in Scotland that needs to be addressed and there are a range of initiatives. However, the traditional Scottish values of hospitality remain strong and that has been my personal experience over 22 years. I won't be packing my bags anytime soon!