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Response to the Cross-Party Working Group Report on Religious Hatred

UNISON Scotland's response to the Cross-Party Working Group's Report on Religious Hatred

February 2003

Executive Summary

    • UNISON Scotland welcomes the Scottish Executive's formal recognition that sectarianism continues to be a problem in Scotland.

    • We fully support the introduction of new legislation to make religious hatred an aggravated offence.

    • We do not believe that there should be an additional offence of incitement.

    • We look forward to the Employment Directive (EU Council Directive 2000/78/EC) introducing legislation prohibiting direct and indirect discrimination at work on the grounds of age, sexual orientation, religion and belief, and disability. UNISON Scotland is opposed to all forms of religious hatred, including religious prejudice in the workplace.

    • Unison Scotland agrees with the group's recommendations to introduce additional initiatives in order to combat religious prejudice on a wider front, as legislation alone cannot do this.

 

    • UNISON Scotland is calling for better protection for public sector workers. For example NHS staff can be at risk if sectarian violence is carried on from the streets into the hospitals.

 

Introduction

UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union with over 140,000 members working in the public sector in Scotland. UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Scottish Executive's Cross-Party Working Group's Report on Religious Hatred. We commend the Executive's and Glasgow City Council's formal recognition that sectarianism continues to be a problem in Scotland. In this Response the term "sectarianism" is used in the popular understanding of the word, describing religious conflict rather than religious difference. The proposal for new legislation relating to sectarianism and other forms of religious hatred is long overdue in Scotland. Unison also welcomes the group's recommendations for measures to combat religious prejudice on a wider front, as legislation alone cannot do this. Religious hatred, violence in relation to religious intolerance, and sectarianism have not been properly addressed as a national problem. As Jack McConnell said,

"… It is time for Scotland's secret shame to be put in the past" (1).

Although studies have shown that it is extremely difficult to change cultural norms. Stereotypes and cultural norms are deeply entrenched into the subconsciousness.

"There must be mechanisms in societies which permit the maintenance of stability in culture patterns across many generations… History has shown cases of people who have maintained an identity over hundreds and thousands of years, even in the face of …sweeping changes" (2).

We agree, nevertheless, that it is necessary to send a strong signal to the public that there is no place for bigotry in today's Scotland. We are of the view that sectarianism and religious hatred results in discrimination, and a continuation of inequality of opportunity. It is rooted in the past, and like racism must be abolished.

 

This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the Cross-Party Working Group's report on Possible Legislation to Tackle Religious Hatred in Scotland.

From the past to the present

As the Working Group's report states, "much of Scotland's history is related to religious differences". However religious hatred has no place in Scotland today. We acknowledge that this is a very complex issue as there is a blurred line between religion, culture, history, race, politics and patriotism, and it can sometimes be difficult to dissociate religion from all these factors. We agree that there must be a priority to tackle problems such as the violence related to inter- Christian sectarianism of certain football fans. In a survey commissioned by Glasgow City Council coinciding with the timing of this Consultation, entitled, Sectarianism in Glasgow, (3) it showed that only,

"9% of respondents agreed that discrimination along sectarian lines no longer exists".

Equally disappointing,

"67% disagreed that, sectarianism is becoming a thing of the past".

The survey distinguished sectarianism - mainly as an individual issue about relationships between people - and institutionalised prejudice. In relative terms, the survey concluded that sectarian crime and discrimination in Glasgow may not be as common as racist crime and discrimination. Therefore we would agree with the survey findings that,

"actions against other forms of prejudice may be as necessary, if not more so, than action against sectarian attitudes in Glasgow".

UNISON Scotland believes that the report should include a specific proposal to prevent further religious prejudice in the workplace. Religious hatred has affected workers over the years, as certain employers would not appoint people of a particular faith. As a trade union with members from a wide background from all races and religion, we are particularly concerned about religious prejudice in the workplace.

Glasgow City Council's survey on Sectarianism in Glasgow reported that a quarter of respondents felt that sectarianism was common in employment decisions. We feel that this needs to be more specifically addressed in the recommendations to the Executive. Tackling religious hatred in relation to the workplace is a tangible goal, unlike changing the culture or attitude of a nation. Employers must make it clear in their recruitment and employment processes that they do not tolerate any form of sectarianism or bigotry. The Scottish Executive, local authorities, police, voluntary organisations, the Scottish Football Association and the Old Firm clubs should be the first to set such an example. This would set a precedent for the Employment Directive on Equal Treatment, which will soon mean that direct and indirect discrimination at work will be prohibited on the grounds of age, sexual orientation, religion and belief, and disability.

Sectarian violence does not just affect football fans. Public sector workers such as health service staff can be particularly at risk when sectarian violence spills over from the street into hospitals. The violence, fuelled by a higher intake of alcohol after matches can pose a threat to safety of public sector workers. UNISON Scotland believes this is totally unacceptable.

Recent political developments

Unison Scotland has welcomed the all-encompassing powers of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the introduction of Article 9 which provides everyone with the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Similarly we acknowledge Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, which includes an Employment Directive requiring member states to make discrimination unlawful on grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in the areas of employment and training.

UNISON Scotland responded to the consultation document issued by Donald Gorrie MSP in October 2001 on the proposed bill to provide protection against sectarianism. In our response we agreed with the proposal to make sectarian behaviour an ‘aggravating factor' which the courts could take account of when sentencing. We took the view that the current breach of the peace laws are not utilised often enough when unrest occurs as a result of sectarianism. The argument for the introduction of new legislation in Scotland is further strengthened by the law on religiously-aggravated offences in England and Wales which received Royal Assent in December 2001.

The government's Race Relations and the Equal Opportunities legislation, particularly the review currently under way relating to sexual orientation, religion, age and anti-discrimination goes a long way towards combating prejudices. So do the provisions in several Scottish Bills requiring public bodies to undertake their functions in a way which encourages equal opportunities within the terms of the Scotland Act 1998. This includes the prevention, elimination or regulation of discrimination on various grounds, including "beliefs or opinions, such as religious beliefs or political opinions".

We cannot ignore the violence and religious prejudice related to football in Scotland. When Scotland voted for a devolved Scottish Parliament, the hope was that local Ministers would be more interested in, and more able to deal with local issues, and we believe that this is one such an issue. The Scottish Executive should and could make meaningful changes in this sphere. UNISON Scotland fully supports the new proposals for the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. This would make religious hatred an aggravated offence, coupled with measures to record religious hatred or motivation in police records, tighter licensing of street traders and football club action against supporters demonstrating or engaging in sectarian behaviour.

 

We have provided below our response to the two questions posed in the report.

Is further legislation required in Scotland and, if so, how might this legislation work in practice to provide protection both between religions and in the sectarian context?

UNISON Scotland is of the view that the current breach of the peace laws are not utilised often enough when unrest occurs as a result of sectarianism, perhaps because this issue does not have a high enough profile. In our view, sectarianism is still a taboo subject in Scotland for many people; making it a more easily prosecutable offence can only help raise the profile of this issue. We agree that the simplest way to achieve this is to make it an aggravating factor, rather than an entirely new offence.

However, the aggravated offence will only be an effective deterrent if it is used appropriately. We note with concern the views of certain police bodies in Scotland who have said that the current law is sufficient and that there does not need to be an aggravated offence; if the bodies responsible for making use of a new law do not see the need for it, are they less likely to make use of it if it is enacted? We are of the view that more needs to be done to highlight the damage that sectarianism does and change attitudes in the various bodies responsible for law enforcement, including the police and the procurators fiscal, to ensure that any new anti-sectarian measure is taken seriously.

This would be helped by ensuring that religious or sectarian hatred in any particular crime is recorded, so that offences are prosecuted in a consistent manner. And equally we agree that detailed statistics of cases involving religious or sectarian hatred are maintained, and are made available. While religious bigotry will not be changed by legislation, it is nevertheless a strong deterrent along with the other measures that the Cross-Party Working Group is proposing.

Should any legislation cover incitement to religious/sectarian hatred or should it be restricted to providing a statutory aggravation for existing offences?

UNISON Scotland agrees that legislation covering incitement to religious hatred, may interfere with legislation on freedom of speech. We concur with the Cross-Party Group that no specific offence of incitement should be proposed.

Could pro-active non-legislative initiatives (such as further/revised guidance from the Lord Advocate) deliver the same message of reassurance and deterrence without the potential legislative and enforcement difficulties?

We agree with the Group' s proposals to introduce non-legislative initiatives, however these should be introduced alongside relevant legislation. Alone these measures would not have the same effect. Together with the proposed legislation, they demonstrate the seriousness of the problem. Failure to do so would be tantamount to ignoring that there is a problem. We support the Group's 12 recommendations of initiatives relating to tackling religious hatred. We believe that there should be an additional and specific measure to tackle religious prejudice in the workplace. Religious prejudice can have the most detrimental effect on victims in the workplace or at school, as someone can choose whether or not to attend a football match, but at work or school, they do not have the same choice.

Conclusion

UNISON Scotland welcomes the Scottish Executive's formal recognition that sectarianism continues to be a problem in Scotland. We fully support the introduction of new legislation to make religious hatred an aggravated offence. We do not believe, however, that there should be legislation covering incitement to religious hatred. UNISON Scotland agrees with the group's recommendations to introduce additional initiatives in order to combat religious prejudice on a wider front, as legislation alone cannot do this. These include measures to record religious hatred or motivation in police records, tighter licensing of street traders and football club action against supporters demonstrating or engaging in sectarian behaviour. UNISON Scotland strongly recommends an additional measure which would specifically tackle religious hatred in the workplace. We have members from all races and religion, and believe that all forms of religious hatred, including religious prejudice in the workplace cannot and must not be allowed. We also recommend that specific actions be taken to protect public sector workers who are under threat of violence at work.

 

References:

(1) Staff and agencies, Thursday December 5, 2002. Scotland clamps down on sectarianism (Electronic Version). (Guardian Unlimited).

(2) Hofstede G, 1980. Cultures Consequences. Beverly Hills, California, Snape.

(3) NFO Social Research, January 2003. Sectarianism In Glasgow - Final Report. Prepared for: Glasgow City Council.

 

For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISONScotland
UNISON House
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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