Scotland is often hailed as a beacon of progressiveness in the media and by our politicians, though as many of you are aware, there remains a great deal of ignorance in our communities towards members of other ethnic groups and in particular, members belonging to the gypsy/traveler community.
Despite the existence of the Race Relations Act there remains a considerable amount of racism and prejudice towards people from the gypsy/traveler community. In a 2003 IPSOS Mori Poll, 34% of respondents in England reported being personally prejudiced towards people from the gypsy/traveler community.
Recently in Scotland, there have been numerous reports in various local press outlets about the ‘problems’ gypsy/travelers present when they set up encampments in their local area.
In Port Glasgow, Councillor David Wilson, the Conservative Deputy Provost urged people in the local area not to employ gypsy/travelers when they set up an encampment in the local community stadium’s car park out of fear that they may return. In a racially charged quote, he said:
“Council officers must have the travelers removed quickly — we cannot have a mess in our prime leisure site…They wouldn’t come here if local people didn’t hire them to do jobs for them.”
There had been reports from local people saying that the gypsy/travelers had left human waste and mess in the nearby woodland area. Some of the more vitriolic comments include the words “get rid of them” like it’s pest control and how much of a problem they seem to be causing.
In Ayr, it was a similar story. Gypsy/travelers set up a camp in the playground of Queen Margaret Academy in Ayr. During the summer holidays. The Ayrshire Post called the travelers ‘arrogant’ and local residents had a very skewed opinion of the reason the gypsy/travellers ended up in a school playground.
Before this incident, in 2011, another gypsy/traveler encampment in the Mossblown area of the town came under scrutiny by local MP Brian Donohoe who called travelers a ‘scourge’ and also mentioned the “Tamworth Solution” which was widely associated with Nazi Germany and their attempts to exterminate Roma people and gypsies during the holocaust. Mr Donohoe never has taken criticism particularly well, as I know all too well when I sent him an email about the equal marriage vote last year, and received another stinging reply. This exchange of emails between Ellie Dooks and Brian Donohoe (Which you can read here: http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2011/07/05/enough-is-enough-mp-bigot-exposed/) got pretty poisonous pretty quickly. Donohoe went so far as to claim that gypsy/travelers were not a race, so as to justify his blatant racism. He then tried to justify the sweeping claims that he made about gypsy/travelers because the only gypsy/travelers he had ever met, tended to be ‘problematic’. He was challenged on this by Dooks, but them, reasserted his white, settled, privilege by dismissing her claims. Donohoe’s position as an MP really should be questioned. People in the Labour Party conveniently forget that Donohoe actually exists within their ranks. You never see him at party conferences, he’s never allowed on the television. I hope the Labour Party deselects him for next year.
Donohoe aside, this sort of attitude towards gypsy/travelers is endemic in Scotland. How often in our communities do we hear horrible comments directed at gypsy/travelers? How often do we see people making complaints about them, about their mess, about supposed crimes they have committed-often without evidence? Pretty much all the time.
There is a lack of understanding of the gypsy/traveler community and their traditions and ways of life. Programmes like My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings don’t help matters. If anything, they just propogate more negative stereotypes of the gypsy/traveller community being a misogynistic, violent and dirty community when that is not strictly true.
According to Show Racism the Red Card there is no evidence that crime rates in the gypsy/traveller community is higher than that of the settled population. The Gypsy/traveller community is very strict about cleanliness, often having different bowls and areas for washing themselves, their clothes and their dishes. A quarter of the gypsy/traveller community are legally homeless because of a lack of sites and ammenities. Thus, this means they have no access to facilities like rubbish collection.
Therein lies the problem. If the gypsy/traveller community had official sites, with running water, basic sanitation and basic electricity hook ups, then there would be no need for encampments in public areas. Instead, we are forcibly removing people from their homes simply because they live differently from the settled population. We have to make more land available to gypsy/travellers so that they have a safe experience of living their lives so that we can all live harmoniously in society, together.