Sunday, 10 October 2010

Non-Whites in Scotland

*)I should make it clear that whenI mention "race" I am not referring to the topic of "Anyone But England", i.e. some spurious and pathetic tribal rivalry on the football terrace. I mean visibly defineable characteristics which might induce prejudicial reactions from the locally prevalent majority. ('differance')

Living in Scotland is in many ways like living in a post-war society (dilapidation, social deprivation, poor housing, visible poverty, widespread health problems due to various forms of malnutrition etc.) But what makes living there very strange, unreal and out of touch with present times, is the almost exclusive white make-up of the population. Why is it that a whole part of Britain is ethnically/racially un-mixed?

"It is well known that black and ethnic minority communities in Scotland are faced with various problems such as: under representation, institutional racism, lack of coordination, lack of resources and disadvantages at various levels (health, housing, employment and education). This is coupled by a lack of understanding about the diversity of the black and ethnic minority communities in Scotland and lack of effective consultation and research work."

This is a quote from a Scottish Government publication.

I lived in Scotland for exactly one year. Time enough to be an observer. The government has obviously got the right (-on) intentions. No shortage, in fact a barrage, of well-meaning bumf, just like on every other issue (alcoholism, obesity, anti-smoking) so on race. But where are the people they are actually talking about? Where are blacks, the people from the Indian sub-continent? Where is anybody who's not white? Simple answer: Not there.

98.19% of Scotland is white. The biggest ethnic group are Pakistanis (0.63%) Blacks constitute a whopping 0.16% of the Scottish population. When you live there, you do not come across non-white people in your daily life. There was one black cashier at M&S, I remember that, in no other shop did I ever see a non-white person working (or shopping, for that matter.) I had some insight into the creative industry - to the best of my knowledge, there was no non-white person working in advertising or PR in Edinburgh (The capital, as well as the capital of the creative industry.) Of the 47 members of the SNP in Holyrood not a single one is from a non-white background.

Despite the constant barrage of well-intended (and taxpayer-funded) government declaration on racial equality, I cannot see this happening very easily. Otherness of any kind is met with total disapproval in Scottish society. It can only be remedied by total and complete adoption of anything Scottish. Neutrality is not allowed. Scottish supremacy would have to be reiterated at any opportunity, not as a one-off lipservice, but for ever, at all times. Scottish speech patterns and habits would have to be religiously adhered to. Any outsider is pressurised into that sort of behaviour. The issue of skin-colour would, however, remain and woud, in my experience, be insurmountable. In a middle-class environment it might just about be conceivable - at the price of being totally ignored, blanked and unintegrated. What would happen if a black person moved to one of the estates which are exclusively white-Scottish, and where national "pride" is the only currency, is open to debate.

Based on my observations and insights in Scotland, I can unfortunately not come up with an encouraging and workable model for racial integration. Even constant government reminders (in the form of adverts, admonition, factsheets, flyers etc.) will not break through the passive stone-walling of a society where any outsider is still met with suspicion and potential aggression.


  1. I always knew Europe was racist and the population in general has a lot of contempt for people of color. I mentioned this to an American friend the other day and he was shocked. It's amazing how Americans think that the USA is a planet in itself. The prospect of a different culture and style of life outside the US is a concept that is so difficult to understand for the regular American!

    Back to your blog topic - I honestly believe that I'll never feel at 'home' no matter where I live outside India. I've spoken to people of Indian origin who are citizens here and they express that they still feel like outsiders despite the lack of racism, subtle or otherwise.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Sabera! I really agree with you saying that the concept of a different lifestyle and culture is incomprehensible to the majority population of a country. I don't have enough insight into the US, but for Britain it is certainly true. It's also indicative that no British person commented on this blog, whilst they would all know that is true and unacceptable - but no: The Big Silence.

  3. Maybe they can't be bothered to argue the toss about racism for the millionth time?

    I used to live in Edinburgh, and your observations are entirely correct. There were a few clubs that had a predominantly non-white crowd, but on the streets? Mostly pasty caucasians. I would have thought that the whiteness of Scottish society was more a historical issue - immigration patterns, lack of economic reasons to settle there, and the fact that it's effing cold.

    Have you lived in other British towns? For a Londoner, most of the rest of the UK is surreal in its whiteness. But I suppose the issue you're talking about concerns integration, not just demographics.

    You're right to say that those white-scottish estates aren't beacons of inclusiveness - wherever you're from, if you don't fit into the purview of the majority of inhabitants, you'll meet aggression and spite, but there are a combination of issues at play there, not least the deleterious effect of economic deprivation on people's ability to play nice.

    My experience of five years living there suggested to me that metropolitan Scottish people weren't particularly xenophobic. Certainly, amongst a peer group that wasn't wholly white, people's "otherness" - e.g. religion, accents, interests - was never a concern, never threatened or questioned, but not ignored.
    That's an anecdotal observation, so perhaps has little weight, but your experiences in 'Scottish society' (whatever that means) just does not tally with mine.

  4. Hmm, so first you say "your observations are entirely correct" then you say "your experiences (sic) just does not tally with mine". Duh. And what's wrong with "Scottish society" when referring to Scotland as a population? And yes,as a matter of fact, I've lived in several British towns,including London, for a good many years. In none of them did I encounter an almost exclusively white population. For the record, I think it is worth pointing out racism for the "millionth time", namely as long as it still exists.

  5. I meant Observations = what you saw and Experiences = what happened to you. I see them as two different things, though I guess the meaning is ambiguous.

    Still think it's a more open society than you suggest - just because it's so white doesn't mean it's suspicious of other cultures.

    Unless you speak with an English accent, of course... a pointless xenophobia legitimised by the media and state.

  6. Failure to achieve multicultural integration is hardly exclusive to Scotland, as Angela Merkel can testify...

    On another note, "Where are blacks..." makes you sound a little bit like Alf Garnett. Maybe by 'the blacks' you mean 'black people'?