12 August 2011

Scottish attitudes towards discrimination...

In a particularly timely publication, yesterday the Scottish Government released the findings of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2010: Attitudes to Discrimination and Positive Action. Large-scale survey research whose findings are weighted, I've discussed the findings of previous SSA reports before, which always afford interesting insights into the complicated muddle of opinion on any number of subjects in contemporary Scotland. These findings are particularly pertinent on a spectre which was summoned up recently. It has been suggested in some quarters that Scotland is a more socially conservative place than England. Indeed, variations of this argument are sometimes pressed into Unionist service, furnishing a reason why we should be feart about governing our own affairs. I don't propose to enter into a detailed examination of the report's findings just now, but a quick whizz across the main themes it addresses should allow folk to follow up the issues which particularly interest them, pending future, more fulsome blogging on point from me. As the researchers explain in the introductory section of the document...

1.1 In 2010, the Scottish Government promoted a year of 'homecoming', celebrating Scotland's contributions to the world and inviting people across the globe to celebrate Scottish culture. To tie in with 'homecoming', the Equality and Human Rights Commission (the Commission) in Scotland held a public debate in Edinburgh which posed the question 'Is Scotland worth coming home to?' It asked how true our image of ourselves as a fair, welcoming and hospitable nation actually is, and how well this image stands up when we look at Scotland's attitudes to people from different groups.

1.2 This report provides the kind of robust data about public attitudes required to answer difficult questions like these. It presents findings from the 2010 Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA), providing a detailed picture of public attitudes to discrimination and positive action in 2010. Moreover, as this is now the third time SSA has included questions on attitudes to discrimination (following previous studies in 2002 and 2006) this report also provides valuable insight into how public attitudes in this area are changing over time.

The survey addresses a number of different equality strands, from disability, gender, sexualities, ethnicities, and particular "scenarios" of discrimination, from employment to relationships. Interestingly, this broad data is extensively broken down by gender, by education, by religion - and so on. Chapter two addresses respondents' more gender attitudes towards discrimination,whether discrimination is perceived as justified in general terms or not, including whether or not they know individuals from discriminated against groups - a Muslim friend, a gay cousin, and suchlike.  Particularly germane in the context of the outbreak of discussion on equal marriage for same-sex couples, Chapter Three...

"... examines discriminatory attitudes in the context of personal relationships. It compares how happy people would feel about people from different groups forming a long-term relationship with a family member, and also looks at attitudes towards the acceptability of same sex relationships and views about same sex marriage."

The researchers were exercised to discover what respondents thoughts of the idea of a "a close relative married or formed a long-term relationship" with an individual from various different categories, including:

"...someone who is black or Asian, a Muslim, a Hindu, someone who is Jewish, a Christian, someone who experiences depression from time to time; a Gypsy/Traveller; someone who has had a sex change operation; someone of the same sex as themselves; and someone who cross-dresses in public."

"Happiness" or "unhappiness" with the idea of kin forming relationships with individuals from these groups is correlated against a number of other concerns, including how ancient respondents are, how educated.  Unsurprisingly perhaps, those over 65 entertain a series of prejudices which the youngest cohort of respondents do not share. One paragraph will particularly catch the eye of those interested in the coming session of Holyrood...

3.18 The issue of obtaining equal rights for gay and lesbian couples to marry, and not just to form civil partnerships, has been a subject of significant campaigning by some within the gay rights movement in the UK in recent years. In 2010, 61% agreed or agreed strongly that 'Gay or lesbian couples should have the right to marry one another if they want to', while just 19% disagreed (see Annex C for full results). These findings certainly suggest that a change in the law would receive support from the majority of people in Scotland.

The fourth Chapter explores...

"... discriminatory attitudes in the context of employment, comparing views of the suitability of people from different groups to be a primary school teacher. It also explores beliefs about maternity and paternity leave and older people working, and perceived labour market competition from different groups of people."

Relations within employment are also germane to Chapter Five, which posed a new series of questions on attitudes the symbols of religious piety. The researchers asked their informants to imagine a scenario where a bank is conducting interviews, attracting applicants from a range of religious dispositions. Respondents were questioned about whether this banking employer should be able to force individuals to remove their religious dress or symbol while at work.  Depending on the symbol and religion, views differed substantially. While few seem enthusiastic about stripped anyone of their crucifix (15% thinking the bank should probably or definitely be able to order its wearer to remote it), there is a stark degree of enthusiasm for employers to be able to insist that female Muslim employees remove their veils. While about a quarter of respondents were up for forcing a Sikh to shed his turban, or a headscarf - a very large percentage - 69% of respondents - thought the bank should be able to force its employees to dispense with a veil. Interestingly, more men than women hold this position.

Chapter Six looks at attitudes towards measures for promoting equality and positive action. Subjects addressed include attitudes to reasonable adjustments for disabled people, and other forms of spending, to held folk from different group find work, amongst others.  Chapter seven compares these answers with the findings of past SSAs, exploring how views may have changing over time, including attitudes towards same-sex relationships - by gender, religious attendance, age. Eight asks about the impact of the recession, and touches on respondents' attitudes to ethnic minorities. Do respondents agree that people from ethnic minorities take jobs away from other people in Scotland? What about Eastern Europe? For those after a brisk summing up, a gander at the conclusions is a fine way of short circuiting labouring through the (not always vivid) prose used in government reportage.  I'll close with the first part of the researcher's concluding remarks, which give a savour of some of the main themes addressed elsewhere...

9.2 This report has shown that, for the most part, only a minority of people in Scotland hold attitudes that could be described as discriminatory. Moreover, given that such views are strongly related to age, education and knowing someone from a particular group, all other things being equal, we might expect such attitudes to become even less common in the future. As more highly educated younger generations replace the older generations, and as people come into contact with more people who are different from themselves through work, family and other routes, we can expect that prejudiced views will continue to decline.

9.3 However, this report also includes numerous findings that should warn policy makers that this process is not inevitable.

9.4 First, while it is true that for the most part only a minority express discriminatory views, that minority is not always a small one. Some groups - particularly Gypsy/Travellers and transgender people - appear to be the subjects of fairly widespread discriminatory attitudes.

9.5 Second, discriminatory attitudes towards a group of people with particular characteristics often appear more common than discriminatory attitudes towards individual members of that group. In this survey, this appeared to be particularly the case with respect to attitudes to people from ethnic minority groups. Perhaps groups of people with characteristics that may be perceived as different trigger concerns about cultural diversity and economic competition in a way that individual members of that group may not.

9.6 Finally, the incidence of discriminatory views is not evenly spread across Scottish society - there remain certain sections (for example, older people and those with lower levels of educational attainment) that are relatively more likely to express such views. Neither are individual people's views towards a particular group necessarily constant - our data suggests that attitudes may vary widely depending on the specific scenario involved.

9.7 Thus although the findings in this report show Scotland in many respects to be a relatively liberal society, policy makers cannot afford to be complacent, and need to be willing and able to address the specific circumstances that may give rise to discriminatory attitudes towards particular groups.



  1. I have lost count of the conversations I have found myself in that start with the key phrase "I'm not a racist but..." I groan inwardly and think to myself "here we go again"

    The wellspring from which this argument flows is so tainted, I believe it to be all but impossible to shift opinion from knee-jerk-ism and outright hypocrisy. To quote a line from a war move of all things: "It’s all an accident, an accident of hands. Mine, others, all without mind, from one extreme to another, but neither works nor will ever.Yet we stand here in the middle of no man’s land"
    The recent eruption of community self-harm has been a pundits paradise from left to right, all of them muddying the waters. The politicians who should rise above all this have descended in to full finger wagging righteous indignation mode; waffling on about responsibility and respect. Which is a bit rich from a group caught with their hands in the nations biscuit tin helping themselves to a few more jammy dodgers than they were entitled to.

    When you try to strip away the bile and the rubbish to get at the truth, I am inclined to believe we are the architects of our own misfortune. This is were I get back to my earlier quote. We as a society tend to stack up these troubles without considering potential problems or flashpoints. Its an issue of empathy and the lack thereof. Its an issue of taking an easier route to deal with an immediate problem, then moving on to the next one, thinking the last was solved. For example our city fathers have a tendency to dump immigrants into poorer neighbourhoods, with little or no support - then leave it at that. We expect communities like this to bond together, without ever taking the time to introduce one to the other and explaining the decisions.

    The communities themselves don't take the time to do it, but retreat into victim-hood mentality - convinced that the immigrant is getting special treatment. Countless times I have heard the refrain "you always see them with new tellies - aye it's no fair them getting new tellies" You could take the time to explain to them that there is a large outdoor car boot sale nearby and these "new" TV's are in fact "old" TV's but you know in the pit of your stomach they'd have something to moan about that as well. Lending truth to the old statement that Ignorance breeds misunderstanding. Misunderstanding breeds fear. Fear breeds contempt. Contempt breeds hatred.

    The solution would then be to develop a sense of empathy as well as to take responsibility....hmm were I have heard that one recently?

    So, its a right old mess. I could go on, but this post would end up being larger than LPW's initial post. I will leave the floor to other speakers ;o)

  2. Hi there,

    Let me firstly declare myself as a gay man. I remember sitting in various meetings of the SNP's National Council again and again where matters of gay concern were aired. From the times of Dr. Robert McIntyre until relatively recently it was never "convenient" to support gay rights as it was seen as being a divisive issue and not appropriate for the Nationalist movement to express a supportive opinion.

    Andrew Welsh, several of the Ewing clan, Roseanna Cunningham and many others have all made statements at one time or another that have been less than helpful to the progress of gay equality in that, or other forums. I just had to sit and bite my tongue as I knew that they were mostly right - public opinion was not on the side of gay rights, far less equality, and there was no advantage, possibly some disadvantage, to the party in advocating those rights.

    This survey confirms that that train has long since left the station, taking the BNP and associated cooks, nutters and sycophants, both political and religious, with it. While I would not accuse any of the above, or more recently John Mason, of being homophobic, I would accuse some of them of breathtaking political naivety, at least on this subject, as it is now confirmed that public opinion is clearly in favour of gay equality.

    So I issue a challenge to those in positions to make statements identified with the SNP, who cannot bring themselves to support this concept unilaterally. Any statements must be wholly pro. No ambiguity, no weasel words, no get-out-of-jail-free conscience clauses, because only fully supportive statements will do. Then - ZIP IT!, because in doing otherwise you are on the point of damaging my party irretrievably.