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12 June 2018

S5M-12690 Improving the Lives of Scotland’s Gypsy Travellers

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-12690, in the name of Angela Constance, on improving the lives of Scotland’s Gypsy Travellers.

15:25
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16:30

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Alex Cole-Hamilton referred to the Gypsy Traveller community as being disengaged from the political process. During the 1995 Perth and Kinross by-election, which brought Roseanna Cunningham her parliamentary debut when she won it from the Tories, one of the things that I was given to do as a campaigner was to go and talk to the Travellers who were just outside Milnathort. I found a group of well-engaged people who had some focused and relevant questions to ask of the person who called at their door to ask for their vote. We had an animated discussion, followed by a welcome cup of tea and a biscuit. I am sure that, although I did meet a Conservative voter among them, I can use the singular word.

Alex Cole-Hamilton: I was not suggesting that the Gypsy Traveller community is not engaged politically. The political class infers that they are not engaged politically, so politicians do not reach out to them.

Stewart Stevenson: I hope that, between us, we have made the point that we neglect the involvement of anyone in our society at our peril, including the Gypsy and Traveller community.

As my name is Stewart, it would be perilous for me to be disconnected. When my father was a GP and the Travellers used to come for the berries and the tattie howking later in the year, three names came to the door—the McPhees, the McAlindens and, of course, the Stewarts, who are a well-established Scots Traveller family. I have a wheen of people in my family who are called Stewart and I also have McPhees in my family. I do not know whether they were Travellers in either case, but I certainly cannot disregard the possibility.

The key thing that those people exhibited that we should tak tent of is that they were self-sufficient. They could teach us a lot about how to make the most of our circumstances and attributes. The rest of us often lie back while those who travel and seek work and success where they can find it are much stronger people in some ways.

Kevin Stewart referred to Jeannie Robertson, so I will, in turn, refer to Belle Stewart from Blairgowrie, who was a well-known Scots folk singer from a Travelling family. Just to illustrate how prejudice works in rather curious and irrational ways, in the early 1980s Belle Stewart went to the Sidmouth festival to sing at the festival’s invitation. Among the people attending were new age travellers, not Travellers in the traditional sense. They did not believe that Belle Stewart could possibly be a Traveller because she was far too clean. Is that not another example of the kind of prejudice that was embedded in the people that she met there?

Belle Stewart’s biography was written by her daughter and it captures the Travelling spirit and the spirit of Belle Stewart. It is called “Queen Amang the Heather”.

16:34

Stewart Stevenson
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