Scotland can lead way by adopting definition of Islamophobia, says Labour MSP

MSPs have been urged to set an example to the UK Government by adopting a definition of Islamophobia to tackle prejudice and hate in Scotland.

On a visit to Holyrood on Thursday, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Wes Streeting MP from Westminster’s All-Party Group (APPG) on British Muslims joined Scottish Labour MSP Anas Sarwar in calling for all political parties in Edinburgh to adopt the definition produced by the group.

It classifies discrimination against Muslims as a form of racism and reads: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

So far, the definition has been adopted by the UK Labour Party, the UK Liberal Democrats, the SNP Westminster Group, Plaid Cymru and several English local authorities – as well as many organisations including the Muslim Council of Britain.

Last month, it was also adopted in London City Hall by Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Mr Sarwar, who chairs Holyrood’s Cross-Party Group (CPG) on Tackling Islamophobia, said: “The issues of prejudice and hate go beyond party politics.

“The challenge we had in Scotland two years ago was trying to get people to believe that Islamophobia existed in Scotland.

“I think we won that argument. It’s sad we had to have it but we won that argument.

“The second phase is now to define what Islamophobia is and how it manifests itself.

“Once we get that put in place by all political parties in Scotland, and crucially by the Scottish Government, we can then turn our focus not on whether it exists or not and what does it mean but actually what do we do about it and that’s a big moment for us in Scotland.”

Mr Sarwar also said the Scottish Government would demonstrate leadership in adopting the definition.

“If we can get to a position where the UK Government is, to be kind, dithering on adopting the definition of Islamophobia but we get adoption from the Scottish Government, that’s a sign of leadership,” the Labour MSP said.

Baroness Warsi expressed her disappointment that her party at Westminster had failed to adopt the definition but said the Scottish Conservatives gave her optimism the issue could be tackled.

She said: “What I have seen within the Scottish Conservative Party is a real political will and interest in taking on this definition and if the Scottish Conservatives, as well as the Scottish Government, can teach the Westminster Conservatives something about how to challenge bigotry then certainly it allows me to think that there is hope in individuals involved in my party who are genuinely committed to rooting out racism.”

Mr Streeting said it was important politicians help to set an example in public discourse.

“Our words and actions as politicians really matter and the leadership that we show really matters,” he said.

“Those of us who hold public office, particularly those who aspire to the highest office, have a responsibility to think about the kind of culture we’re creating as political leaders.”

Responding to Mr Sarwar, who raised the issued during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon commended the work of the all-party group and indicated the Scottish Government would adopt the definition.

She said: “I think all organisations should sign up to the accepted definition on Islamophobia, as I believe also on the accepted definition of anti-Semitism.

“It should not be down to the Muslim members of this Parliament to lead that fight on their own.

“Every single one of us should be shoulder-to-shoulder with every Muslim across our country in tackling Islamophobia and, as First Minister, I am more than prepared to lead from the front in that battle.”

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