26 September 2002

S1M-3423 Race Equality

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3423, in the name of Margaret Curran, on race equality and two amendments to the motion. I observe that we are six minutes late in starting and warn members that that will affect the way in which I regulate time in the course of the debate.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): We should be aware that homo sapiens is not a rational animal; he is a rationalising animal. Therein lies the challenge for each and every one of us.

I say to Alex Johnstone that I doubt whether we have all reformed our actions, thinking and instinctive responses. That applies to each and every one of us in the chamber.

On this topic, as in so much else, the community will judge us politicians not by what we think, nor by what we do, but by what they think we do. It is important that we communicate on that basis. Challenging, changing and consolidating new attitudes is not a quick fix. We must start by recognising that we are all part of the problem. Similarly, we must all be part of the solution.

Over recent months, I have asked parliamentary questions that aimed to identify how employment in the public service is doing. The proportion of ethnic minority employees in the Scottish Parliament is less than half of the proportion of ethnic minorities in the wider community. In the Scottish Prison Service it is less than one third, and its recent employment has not shown any particular improvement. We clearly have much to do throughout the public service.

I do not say that in a carping, critical way. I say it simply to illustrate the challenge that we face. We must make our public services—as we must make our wider community—more welcoming so that more people from a wider range of backgrounds feel that they can apply for jobs. In our discrimination policies we must ensure that those people succeed and join in employment. That is how we join society. That describes some of the challenges.

The media is a major part of the Executive's campaign. However, the media is also potentially part of the problem. We might spend £1 million on a campaign, only to have it overturned by 1,000 foolish words written by a single careless journalist working for a sloppy editor. The editorial choices that are made by some in the media are distinctly unhelpful in promoting inclusion and equality, and negating racial discrimination.

I ask ministers to publish the success criteria for the campaign, which I hope will be successful, as we all do. How will the success of the campaign be judged? That is particularly difficult, because inevitably it is a long-term campaign. If ministers feel that publishing the criteria might compromise the integrity of the campaign because the results will be discussed at an early stage, I invite them to give the criteria in confidence to the working group that is being set up. I would be content with that.

I am glad that the Tories have withdrawn their amendment, because my commitment to equality is absolute, and the words "but" and "tokenism" were unfortunate proposed changes to the motion.

I close by telling members about the first law of genetics, which states that the more highly optimised an organism is for one environment, the more it will be damaged by a change in that environment. There is diversity of opinion in this Parliament. That is of value. I tell Robert Brown that there is diversity of language outside. That is of value. There is diversity of origin in our society. One Scotland needs many cultures.


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