Yesterday in the Scottish Parliament, Independent MSP Jean Urquhart launched Not My Xenophobia, a campaign focused on confronting xenophobia and anti-immigrant attitudes in public life.
The issue of xenophobia has flared up this week in Scotland after UKIP MEP David Coburn referred to SNP Europe minister Humza Yousaf, who is Muslim, as convicted terrorist Abu Hamza, sparking fury and widespread condemnation from all Holyrood parties and the media.
Ms Urquhart lambasted Coburn’s comments and said that they were symptomatic of xenophobic messages people in Scotland were on the receiving end of.
She said: “From exploitative programmes like Immigration Street to the UKIP MEP David Coburn’s disgusting, racist comments about Europe Minister Humza Yousaf, we are surrounded with xenophobic messages in politics and the media.
“But speak to ordinary Scots and you will find a very different attitude. Most of us value our friends, neighbours and colleagues from all over the world. The xenophobia we are being bombarded with isn’t ours – it’s being imposed on us by people in positions of power and influence who want to set us against one another.
“This influence is especially pernicious in the run-up to the General Election, as the big parties compete over who can be tougher on immigrants, never mind that immigrants are and always have been an essential part of the country those parties want to run.”
The campaign was today debated in the chamber in Holyrood under the motion ‘Celebrating Scotland’s Diverse Communities’ and the former SNP MSP said that it was “intellectually moribund” that the positive case for immigration was rarely made by politicians or the media. She added that she was “greatly concerned” that the tone of public discussion on immigration had contributed to a culture of hostility and fear.
Recent polls suggest that immigration is one of the top issues for voters coming up to the general election and both Labour and the Tories have announced tough measures to tackle immigration in recent weeks.
However, Labour received a setback yesterday with the party’s ‘poster girl on poverty’ Jack Monroe defecting to the Greens, citing the party’s recent toughened stance on immigration as a main reason for her departure.
Ms Urqhart said that she started Not My Xenophobia “to give a voice to majority of Scots who reject these hateful attitudes, and to name and shame the media organisations and politicians who promote them for their own gain”.
She added: “I’ve worked closely with the Polish community in the Highlands, and seen first-hand the real pain that is caused by xenophobic language, stereotypes and attitudes. The Polish contribution to Scotland has been huge, from the Polish soldiers who defended our east coast in World War II, to the nurses who support our NHS today.
“Newspaper headlines that scream about the ‘problem’ of immigration insult that contribution and promote discrimination and even violence.”
Not My Xenophobia has gained significant traction on social media since yesterday and has already amassed over 1,000 likes on Facebook. People have also taken to Twitter to document their own experiences of xenophopbia via the hashtag #notmyxenophobia.
Ms Urquhart says that she hopes her campaign will encourage more people to speak out against immigrant-based prejudice both in politics and the media.
“The Scottish identity is defined by migration,” she said. “Our own nation is a rich mix of peoples and cultures from all over the world, and Scots have settled all over the world in return. We are an exceptionally international country, and are better off for that.
“I hope very many Scots, old and new, will join in the Not My Xenophobia campaign to challenge xenophobic attitudes head on, and to show that our diverse and beautiful nation will not be divided.”