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Opinion: Lucy Cowie

This week in the UK - 2nd April 2021

Race Report

This week, a report commissioned by the Government proposed that the UK was not institutionally racist.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities was set up by Downing Street in the wake of protests from the Black Lives Matter movement last summer. The report suggests that geography, family-influence, socio-economic background, culture and religion are a bigger barrier than racism and racial injustice.

The chairman, Dr Tony Sewell CBE found that 'We no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities'. The Commission still acknowledged the existence of racism, but that 'institutional racism’ should not be used as a 'catch-all phrase for micro-aggression'.

The report says that the 'idealism' of young people who focus on institutional racism only results in 'alienating the decent centre ground'.

Image: Clay Banks from Unsplash

Institutional racism was defined in the McPherson report, which was commissioned following the murder of Stephen Lawrence. It was defined as 'the collective failure of an organisation to provide the appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin'.

The report did not include anti-Muslim prejudice or anti-Semitism but calls for the end of the phrase BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) because the term encompasses a 'group that is held together by no more than what it is not'. The 258-page report recommends building trust, promoting fairness, creating agency and achieving inclusivity, to meaningfully address disparities and inequalities.

Many have been critical of the report, including Lord Simon Woolley, the former head of Downing Street’s race disparity unit. He said:

'If you deny structural race inequality then you’ve got nothing to do and that in of itself is a huge problem…to be not only in denial, but saying: ‘What are you complaining about? We live in a society that is much better than it was 100 years ago’ is monumental disrespect and disregard of peoples’ lived experiences, but above all a lost opportunity for systemic change'.

Shadow Women and Equalities secretary Marsha De Cordova rejected the report too, arguing that the pandemic has shown the existence of institutional racism.

Many of the organisations mentioned in the report have disagreed with the findings, such as NHS Providers arguing there was 'clear and unmistakable' evidence that there are more barriers for ethnic minority NHS staff than white staff.

Campaigners have accused the report of blaming inequality on individuals and noted many of the figures involved in writing the report have previously rejected terms such as institutional racism. For instance, Munira Mirza, a Downing Street policy advisor, wrote that this was “a perception more than a reality’ in 2017.

Alba

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has insisted that the SNP is 'not divided', following the emergence of Alex Salmond’s Alba Party. Salmond has stated he wants to work with the SNP to form a 'super majority' to advocate for independence, through extra votes for his party on the regional list.

The Scottish Parliament elections work through the Additional Member System, a form of proportional representation. This means voters have two options on their ballot; one vote for a constituency MSP who is elected for each of the 73 constituencies using First Past the Post; and one vote for a party, rather than a candidate.

Their party vote is to elect 56 ‘additional members’, 7 regional MSPs from each of the 8 parliamentary regions. Parties are allocated a number of ‘additional members’ proportional to their vote share, and MSPs are selected from lists compiled by the parties.

Image: Chris Flexen from Unsplash

The system is partially designed to encourage coalitions as overall majorities are far harder to achieve, as well as improving representation from smaller parties, like the Greens.

This means Alex Salmond’s new Alba party will stand candidates for the regional lists, but not in any constituency ballots. There’s already 32 candidates on the list, including Salmond himself standing for North East Scotland. They will seek to make it harder for the SNP to achieve an overall majority in parliament, by seeking to add additional members from the Alba party.

Image: Scottish Parliament from Wikimedia Commons

Campaigning for the Scottish elections has started this week, with a live TV debate held on Tuesday. The leaders included First Minister Nicola Sturgeon from the SNP, new Labour leader Anas Sarwar (elected last month), Conservative Douglas Ross, Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie and Green Lorna Slater.

The leaders agreed to tackle abusive any abusive behaviour in their parties, to which Douglas Ross cited independence as a key division and accused Labour of not understanding the 'threat we’re facing'. Sarwar reminded Ross that Labour doesn’t support a second referendum and told him to 'grow up'.

Post-debate analysis has placed Sarwar as performing the best, whilst Sturgeon appeared tired. The main issues were Scottish independence and how to recover from the pandemic, alongside traditional issues of health, education and the environment.

Tories under Scrutiny

There have also been stories this week of possible corruption within the Tory party. Last weekend, The Sunday Times led with a story on former Prime Minister David Cameron profiting from a banking deal.

In 2012, Cameron and his unpaid advisor, Lex Greensill, devised a policy for government backed loans to help smaller firms pay bills. This scheme greatly benefitted Greensill’s company, which Cameron went on to work for after leaving office.

Image: Tom Evans from Wikimedia Commons

The company, Greensill Capital, collapsed last year, but Cameron had reportedly asked the treasury to give emergency funding using tax-payer money. Cameron was investigated for breaking lobbying rules but cleared.

However, the former PM has been criticised for cashing in his expertise, with many arguing for greater scrutiny over the relationship between government and big business.

This comes as PM Boris Johnson faces questions about a four-year affair US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri has alleged. Arcuri was given thousands of pounds of public money from London and Partners, (L&P), the mayor of London’s promotional agency, during Johnson’s stint as mayor. Johnson did not register a conflict of interest, leading him to face the London assembly oversight committee later this year as part of an existing inquiry into the allegations.

Last year, the Independent Office for Police Conduct criticised Johnson for not declaring interest in Arcuri, which could have breached the ‘Nolan Principles’; the ethical standards public office holders must follow.

Going into next week, there will no doubt be more debate on the Scottish elections, as well as the relaxing of covid restrictions in place since Christmas.