Racism and Islamophobia 'getting worse in Scotland'

Media caption,
Transport Minister Humza Yousaf and Labour MSP Anas Sarwar have both been targeted

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf and Labour MSP Anas Sarwar have told BBC Scotland that racism and Islamophobia are getting worse in Scotland.

Appearing together on the BBC's Sunday Politics Scotland, they both said they frequently received violent death threats via social media and in emails.

The MSPs said members of the Muslim community and other faiths had reported increasing levels of abuse.

This included on the street and while engaged in work.

Some of the abuse Mr Yousaf and Mr Sarwar have encountered was highlighted recently.

'Vile abuse'

Earlier this week, a Dumfries and Galloway Labour councillor who admitted making an Islamophobic comment about Mr Yousaf was suspended by his party.

Jim Dempster told transport officials at a meeting that "no-one would have seen [Mr Yousaf] under his burka". Mr Sarwar told Sunday Politics Scotland that his party had to make a decision quickly on Mr Dempster's long-term future.

"It's right he apologises," he said. "It's right that Labour has suspended him but I think the Labour Party has got to make a decision in the long-term based upon on how we want to reflect in terms of society, whether he's truly remorseful or not.

"It's one thing after an incident saying you are sorry, but it's about changing yourself and changing your behaviour and how that reflects on wider society."

In January, another Labour councillor was suspended following allegations of racist remarks about Mr Sarwar.

Richard Leonard, the leader of Scottish Labour, has pledged to take action to drive racism out of the party.

'Undercover mission'

Mr Yousaf said the "vile abuse" targeted at him was on a weekly and, at times more frequent, basis.

The minister, who encountered racial abuse growing up, said what shocked him now was the level of violence in the messages sent to him.

He said: "People will constantly refer to taking a bullet to me.

"I think 99% of them are probably mouth and no trousers, but that being said if the 1% take up that threat it is very, very serious indeed."

Image caption,
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has pledged to drive racism out of the Scottish Labour Party

Mr Yousaf added: "What is worrying is that young people are seeing this face to face now.

"We are are hearing more Islamophobic and racist remarks right to our faces, and people are feeling emboldened post-Brexit and because of other factors too."

Mr Sarwar said he had received threats on social media, in emails and in message left on his office phone. They included threats to burn down his offices.

Other abuse included questions about his loyalties to Scotland and the UK and that he was part of an "undercover mission to impose Sharia law".

He said that while he and Mr Yousaf were "blessed in a way" of having a platform to highlight and challenge the abuse, the majority of people who were targeted in the same way were too frightened to their experiences in public.

Mr Sarwar said: "In wider society, it is the 'dinosaurs' who will say stupid things and crass, offensive things, but we shouldn't pretend it will be phased out with age and time."

He said not just Muslims, but people of other faiths, including Sikhs, were encountering the same types of abuse.

Mr Yousaf added that unlike previous generations who felt they had suffer their abuse in silence, people today were prepared to bring it out in the open in an effort to tackle it.

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