Tuesday, 17 November 2009

No place for racism or fascism in Scotland

A few Sundays ago I was invited, at short notice, to attend a meeting of the Muslim Council of Scotland to discuss what action, if any, right minded individuals should take to protest against a meeting of the racist a fascist English and Scottish Defence Leagues in Glasgow on 14th November. While some elder members of the community felt there should be no counter demonstration, in order to avoid any conflict, it quickly became apparent that a counter demonstration could not be avoided and that Scotland United Against Fascism and Racism would hold a rally and march in Glasgow that day.

Looking at the list of participants, and understanding they would be supplemented by elements from far left politics, it was with some apprehension that I asked organisers for a speaking slot for the Conservative Party. To my delight they agreed immediately as they understood the need for all main political parties to unite in opposition to the politics of hate and division.

So, on Saturday Annabel Goldie MSP, Jackson Carlaw MSP and I attended the Scotland United rally in Glasgow Green. Annabel spoke from the platform alongside Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Mohammad Sarwar MP and Robert Brown MSP - as well as speakers from the Church of Scotland, the STUC and many other organisations from across the UK.

To say Annabel spoke with great passion, following our success in beating the BNP in the Glasgow North East By-Election despite the predictions of just about every pundit on the night, would be to do her a great disservice. She was, in my humble opinion, brilliant. Scotland and the United Kingdom are a great place because we are tolerant of each other, respect our differences and work together to make our communities better.

For me, one lesson for politicians is that individuals and communities seem to have been able to demonstrate this cohesion better than our political parties are able to articulate it.

Marching along Clyde Street, up Jamaica Street, along Argyle Street and then up Queen Street into George Square alongside 3,000 people was a terrific experience. Young and old; black, white, brown and every shade in between; Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Sikh and those of no faith at all - we all marched to the beat of a band of drummers and showed the good in Scotland, while at the top of the town around 80 racist, bigoted thugs were escorted to the City boundaries by Strathclyde's finest and told not to return.

There is no place for racism, fascism and bigotry in Scotland and it is now for political parties to conduct an open and honest debate about our collective failures on policy that have given people a reason to turn to the BNP. While the number of people voting BNP remains relatively small none of us should accept as much as one vote for these people.

My own anecdotal evidence from campaigning in Glasgow North East is that in part people looked to vote BNP to register their displeasure at immigration policy and that this concern about economic migration was not solely directed at people with a different skin colour or religion. I found a number of people concerned at an influx of workers from eastern European countries in an often misguided belief they are "taking our jobs".

No one would like to see our homegrown talent in work more than me. The sad reality is that in many cases domestic workers are not prepared to take low paid roles in less attractive industries and that without some economic migration to fulfil job vacancies our economy would suffer.

In the recent edition of Question Time that featured Nick Griffin a member of the audience asked Jack Straw whether the rise of the BNP was in part due to a failure in immigration policy by the current Labour government. Mr. Straw chose to say he did not believe this was the case when every other objective political commentator would conclude it is not only the case it is the primary reason for their success. The truth is that it is not only Labour who have failed on immigration but it is down to them that the past 12 years has given rise to a belief our borders are like an open door and that people move in and out of our country unchecked.

If you want to know the real truth about the BNP you can find it on You Tube. They would like you to believe they are patriots looking after their own but the truth is they are actually preoccupied by the colour of skin and the religion you follow. From Holocaust denial to compulsory repatriation based on the colour of your skin. If you do even the most basic web search you will find the evidence for yourself.

Last Saturday I was proud to stand up against the BNP, and its offshoots, and to claim the streets of Glasgow, Scotland and the United Kingdom for the law abiding majority who just want to live in peace. For us all to beat the BNP we need to be able to debate issues like immigration in a mature and responsible way and without any fear of being accused of being racist. Our country has so much to offer and that is why people from across the world chose to come here. But, as an island nation, we need to manage our resources wisely if everyone is to get a fair chance to achieve their potential. That is the task in hand for politicians of all our major political parties as we move towards the British General Election - it is a challenge I for one relish and a responsibility I am happy to take on.

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