Black History month: Holyrood candidates call for more diversity in Scottish politics

6 October 2020, 06:09

By Bekki Clark

With exactly seven months until Scotland goes to the polls - Holyrood candidates say it's time for more people from ethnic minorities to be "in the driving seat" of Scottish politics.

At least 4 per cent of the population in the country identified as Black, Asian or from a Minority Ethnic background at the last census in 2011 - but in the twenty years of the devolved parliament, there is yet to be a Black MSP of either gender, and there has never been a woman from a non-white community appointed to the chamber.

Michelle Campbell of the SNP is an Executive Member of the party's BAME network, and is now putting herself forward for the Renfrewshire North and West seat.

She's sat on the local Council for the past three years, and believes now is the time for her to take the seat of disgraced former colleague Derek Mackay.

Campbell is part of the Pass The Mic campaign, pushing for women of colour to make headway in the media - and she says it's time to be seen and heard.

"We have strong women, we have strong women of colour, strong men of colour in our party, and across Scotland as a whole, in candidacy," she said.

"Why shouldn't we have a level playing field? If you can't see that's what this is about, you haven't read enough about it.

"Anyone who is considering putting their name forward, who hasn't read up on this, I think that's actually a disgraceful position to take given the public interest in ensuring that we have diversity in our elected membership."

Candidate lists are yet to be finalised, with much of the selection process delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but the SNP is planning for at least 4 people from BAME backgrounds and two self-declared disabled members standing in constituency seats next year.

Speaking to candidates across the main Holyrood parties, out-dated attitudes they have experienced in the community have informed much of how they feel about their political lives.

Glasgow City Councillor Ade Aibinu - who is originally from Nigeria - is standing for the Scottish Conservatives. He believes people "do not aspire to what they can't see", and it's time for black people to be represented by someone with a similar experience as their own.

He's faced racism while out campaigning, but says he's well prepared for it.

"As a politician, I welcome the fight. I want to see someone display their ignorance, and be vocal in their foolishness so we can nip it in the bud," he said.

"I'm not scared of people displaying, what is, quite frankly, distasteful behaviours and things that shouldn't happen in the 21st century, but I think I want to confront it.

"I'm up for the fight. If you want to be racist, I think you'll find the majority of the population won't go with your disgusting behaviour - so I'm not scared of it."

Racism is something Rebecca Bell, who's standing for the Lib Dems has also faced. Growing up in Brixton, she became numb to the offensive names she was called by her classmates - but says now's the time to be inquisitive, without crossing the line.

"My mother was born in India, she came over on a boat in 1960, and she was shouted at in the street [*], and that wasn't that long ago. And we're in this post-PC world, where people think 'Oh, we're not racist' and I just don't understand how you can think that.

"When people say 'Where are you from?', and I say London, sometimes they wrinkle their nose. That is rude, I don't know how to respond to that, so I say 'Oh sorry, do you mean my genetic history?' and I think what I find really rude is I would never ask them that, like 'Oh you're Scottish, but what are you, were your family a clan?' I am British, OK? I never saw myself as English - I'm British."

Another who knows what it's like to feel different is the Greens' Nadia Kanyange - a single mum who has made Glasgow her home after leaving Burundi as a refugee.

Nadia resisted an attempt by the home office to deport her and feels strongly about social justice, and wants to change the conversation about asylum and race. She feared there was no place for her in Scottish politics.

"I'd never heard of Glasgow before I came, and people around me were saying, 'Don't go there, it's too cold, there are no black people', but I didn't know anything at all, so I accepted.

"And I wasn't alone here. I realised there were other people from Burundi here, and I had no idea, so we formed a community. One person knows someone else, and then that's how you get to know people.

"When I was an asylum seeker, I wish there had been someone in Parliament to stand up for me, to make things better for me."

As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gather momentum, Scottish political parties say they are investing in Diversity officers, and at least one has been seeking legal advice on how to ensure BAME representation on candidate lists, and ultimately on the benches at the Scottish Parliament.

It remains to be seen whether any of the 129 Scottish seats will be won by people from ethnic minority backgrounds - but there's no doubt the conversation around diversity in Scottish politics is getting louder every day.