By Jason Michael

The Islamophobic attack on Humza Yousaf by yet another Scottish Labour politician is a symptom of a problem that is spreading right across the United Kingdom. If we do not have the backbone to stop this it will soon become an uncontrollable inferno.

Jim Dempster’s comment to Scottish transport officials that they would not have seen Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Transport Minister, “under his burka” will inevitably be leapt upon by the independence movement, and rightly so. Dempster, a British nationalist Labour councillor in Dumfries and Galloway Council has outed himself as a racist bigot, and he should be, as he said in his apology to Mr Yousaf, “ashamed and embarrassed.” Labour is right to suspend him. It should go further and expel him from the party. Echoing the Minister for Transport’s response, Mr Dempster should do the right thing and resign as a councillor. We do not need people like this in public life.

Important as it is to call Dempster out and hold him to account, we simply cannot afford to miss how virulent racism has become in Britain in recent years. Only last month Scottish Labour MP Hugh Gaffney was forced to apologise for his racist comments at a Burns Supper, and the party decided to suspend the leader of South Lanarkshire Council, Davie McLachlan, after his Islamophobic remarks about Humza Yousaf. Things are every bit as bad in the Scottish Tory Party where we know the party leader, Ruth Davidson, was willing to mislead the public about its suspended members attending equality and diversity training when in fact they had done no such thing.

During the chaos caused by severe weather last month this blog exposed the level of Islamophobic hate being directed at Mr Yousaf online from unionists because of his apparent inability to control the weather. Racism is nothing new. We have all encountered it in one form or another, but it is on the rise, and is, in many places, becoming more acceptable.

The increase in reported incidences of racist and xenophobic abuse and violent hate crime across England and Wales since the EU referendum has been described as a “tidal wave,” so great and so rapid has been its rise. Whether we are looking at this racism and Islamophobia in England and Wales or here in Scotland – where in the main it has been on the decline – we cannot fail to notice the relationship between them and national politics. Something is happening in our country at the political level that is having a direct effect on ordinary people’s willingness to express or otherwise act on their bigoted and racist opinions.

It cannot be denied that something deeply sinister and frightening has attached itself to the politics of Brexit and to unionism here in Scotland. Both have exploited and promoted a certain type of British nationalism that appeals to the lowest possible common denominator in our societies. In England this was a result of a general lurch to the right as both Labour and the Conservatives worked to claw votes back from the far right. In Scotland it was driven by the perceived need to mobilise the right in particular against the independence movement. The result has been the same in both countries; the most toxic elements of right wing British nationalism have been brought into the centre of British politics and as a consequence the right has been emboldened.

People the likes of Labour’s Jim Dempster, Hugh Gaffney, and Davie McLachlan, and the Tories’ Robert Davies and Alastair Majury ought to be held personally responsible for their racism and bigotry, but we must acknowledge that this is all part of a much bigger thing. I can do as I usually do at this point and remind people that this stems from ideas of racial supremacy at the heart of British nationalism – which it does – and that these passions are being stirred up by politicians for political purposes – which they are, but it is bigger than this. This tidal wave is connected to the resurgence of far right politics right across the northern hemisphere; over Russia, the whole of Europe, and Trump’s United States.

Even if the British government and the Brexiteer and unionist parties decided tomorrow to put the coolers on, the momentum of the engine they have set in motion is already too great for them to stop. What had been fanned up inside the UK is now being supported and encouraged from outside the UK. It does not take a genius to see how dangerous and volatile this situation has become. We are on the verge of a calamity we may not now have the power to prevent.

The seriousness of this cannot be stated enough. Homes all over the east end of London have been receiving mail over the past few weeks advertising 3 April as “Punish a Muslim Day,” a day in which people are encouraged to reward themselves points for abusing Muslims, harassing Muslim women, throwing acid at Muslims, and physically assaulting Muslims. We may shrug this off as the work of a deranged individual, which no doubt it is, but the reality is that Muslims are already being subjected to all of this as the number of hate crimes – specifically targeting Muslims – continues to rise.

Islamophobia is not just the stupid words of an ignorant Labour councillor in Dumfries and Galloway. Racism and Islamophobia are now motivating people who feel encouraged by the political establishment to attack, injure, and even kill innocent men, women, and children. Dempster is part of the political structure that is driving this insanity – and for this he ought to be punished all the more, but he is only one of the countless local politicians and members of various UK parliaments who feel emboldened enough to do and say the same vile and nasty things.

This is a problem we can’t afford to ignore. Left unchecked and left to progress as it is doing it will become increasingly normal and acceptable. Racists and bigots in government and in the various structures of the state will protect one another and further endorse this behaviour in every part of society and so embolden the worst to push towards new extremes. Remember, this has happened many times before. We know that it’s not true that it can’t happen here. It can and it will.


Racism on the rise in UK after Brexit vote: Watchdog

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2 thoughts on “Hatred Rising: Britain’s Real Toxic Nerve Agent

  1. Just a short note to commend you for writing a superlative blog piece. The UN’s human rights office has called on Britain to take action to prevent xenophobic abuse. (Since 2012, I’ve been reporting voluntary to the UN on the welfare crisis impacting Britain’s sick and disabled—and I also campaign daily on Twitter.)

    Montreal, Canada

    Liked by 2 people

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