Post-referendum racism - the Brexit fallout

Written by Tom Freeman on 1 July 2016 in Inside Politics

Police Scotland urge people not to allow hate crimes go unreported as social media reports of racism in the wake of the EU referendum spread

Equalities secretary Angela Constance visited the FRAE (Fairness Race Awareness and Equality) Fife project this morning, an organisation committed to supporting minority communities. In the current climate, those communities may be asking for more support than ever.

“We have a social, moral and international responsibility to ensure those who are originally from outside of Scotland feel safe and welcome here," said Constance, reiterating recent attempts by Scottish politicians to reassure ethnic minorities they are welcome in Scotland.

Why has the issue been escalated? Aside from the economy, one of the most discussed fallouts from the EU referendum result has been a rise in violence, intimidation and abuse directed at minorities.


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"It’s no coincidence this has come off the back of the EU vote,” a UK police source told The Guardian.

Human Rights Watch called for authorities to “take strong action to curb xenophobic attacks and abuse in the United Kingdom in the wake of the referendum”. 

In Scotland however, police have reported no spike in hate crimes following the Brexit result. 

Chief Superintendent Barry McEwan said: “At this time we have not witnessed any increase in the level of reports being received,” he said.

“However we acknowledge that often these incidents go unreported. I would encourage any person who has been the victim of, or witness to, any type of hate incident to report it to Police Scotland.”

However the story on social media has been markedly different. As stories of attacks, abuse and gatherings of far-right groups across the UK spread, the Polish Embassy in London said it was “shocked and deeply concerned” by what it said was a rise in incidents of abuse directed towards Eastern Europeans from every part of the UK.

Footage and pictures appeared online including taunts of ‘go home’, banners with the words ‘stop immigration, start repatriation’. Tweets of abuse were circulated widely.

One Edinburgh mother told Holyrood: “Yesterday a boy in my daughter’s school shouted ‘shut up you black c**t’ in her face. Coincidence? Maybe, but it’s not happened before. It seems the more progress UKIP make, the more racism is seen as acceptable.”

Yesterday at First Ministers Questions Glasgow MSP Anas Sarwar said: "neo-Nazi stickers have appeared in Glasgow proclaiming “white zones”. There are also reports that first, second and even third-generation migrants are being told to go home.

"Can we therefore send a unified message from this Parliament to our immigrants directly that, “This is your home”, and to the spreaders of hate, “The people who are not welcome here are not migrants but you and your hateful message?"

"Absolutely," answered Nicola Sturgeon.

Social media hasn't just been the bearer of bad news however. One Liverpool woman's campaign to wear a humble safety pin as a way of showing people who might feel intimidated or scared that they have an ally went viral, with many people tweeting pictures of themselves wearing one with the hashtag #SafetyPin.

 

 

Can it all be attributed the EU referendum though? A prominent theme in the Brexit campaign was the suggestion it was an opportunity to “take control” of the country’s borders.

Former chair of the Conservative Party, Baroness Warsi, had defected from the Leave campaign a week before the vote after noticing an atmosphere growing. 

“Are we prepared to tell lies, to spread hate and xenophobia just to win a campaign? For me that’s a step too far,” she said at the time.

And only days before the vote, UKIP leader Nigel Farage had displayed a poster which depicted a long line of Syrian refugees alongside the words ‘breaking point’.

In the immediate aftermath of the referendum result, MSPs began At the Scottish Parliament, political leaders made a point of welcoming immigrants. 

“Let us as a Parliament unite today to make clear that Scotland is an open and welcoming country and that prejudice, hate and racism will not be tolerated, now or at any time,” said Nicola Sturgeon.

Ruth Davidson added: “We need to say to people from across the European Union that you are welcome, you are wanted. Your contribution is recognised and this is your home. Let’s say it loud and clear – we don’t just need your labour, we want your values, your brains, your culture. You.”

But while the rise in hate crime may have stemmed from a sense of empowerment after the Brexit vote, not all of those who voted to Leave were so motivated, warned Kezia Dugdale.

“The Leave campaign contained some of the worst dog-whistle racism and xenophobia I have ever heard in my life. Dog whistles that turned to foghorns whenever Nigel Farage spoke or unveiled a poster. That does not make every Leave voter a xenophobe, or even a right winger. There are working-class communities here in Edinburgh and in Glasgow, just as there are in Sunderland and Sheffield who feel powerless and are angry at the establishment,” she said.  

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