By Bill Heaney
Dumbarton man Patrick Harvie, leader of the Green Party in the Scottish Parliament, made an impassioned plea to MSPs and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to support the Black Lives Matter campaign which has sprung up from US President Donald Trump’s reaction to the murder of a black man by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
Mr Harvie told the Holyrood parliament: “As if the pandemic itself was not enough to deal with, the world is watching with horror events in the United States, where systematic police brutality is being endorsed and encouraged by racism at the highest political level.
“We stand in solidarity with those who are taking to the streets in the US and around the world to express their anger and to make it clear that black lives matter.
“Expressing that solidarity does not mean just looking at other countries; it means challenging ourselves, as well.
“The First Minister recently received a letter from the Scottish Trades Union Congress black workers’ committee regarding Covid-19, which highlighted that black and minority ethnic groups “remain over-represented in the ‘at-risk’ communities identified by the Government”.
Public Health England’s report on the issue has been criticised for simply telling us what we already know instead of offering any explanation or solution.
When will the Scottish Government publish its own up-to-date analysis of the impact of Covid-19 on black and minority ethnic people? Will the First Minister commit to acting on all the issues that are raised in the black workers’ committee’s letter?”
Nicola Sturgeon, Donald Trump and Patrick Harvie.
The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she too felt total solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement – “We are all looking on with concern and horror at the scenes that are unfolding in the United States. I believe that the President of the United States has a duty to address the underlying causes of the legitimate protests that we are seeing instead of continuously attacking those who are protesting.
“I could not agree more about taking responsibility ourselves. I made that point yesterday. No country or society is immune from racism. We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and consider what we are going to do to combat racism. As First Minister, I certainly rededicate myself to that.
“I have received the letter from the STUC black workers’ committee, and this morning I signed a response to it that will go to it this afternoon, which I hope the committee will see as a comprehensive response to the very reasonable and legitimate points that it raised.
“As Patrick Harvie is possibly aware, Public Health Scotland released some initial analysis of the impact of Covid—two weeks ago today, on 20 May, if I am getting my dates correct—in which it said that it had undertaken an initial analysis ‘to investigate whether COVID-19 outcomes vary by ethnic group’.
“It said in that report that ‘further work is required’ and that, based on the available data to date, ‘the proportion of ethnic minority patients among those seriously ill with COVID-19 appears no higher than the proportion in the Scottish population generally’, but it caveated that by saying that ‘further work is required’. Further work will be done, and, ‘in parallel, work will be undertaken to explore and understand emerging patterns’ from other parts of the UK.
“That is work that we take very seriously, and I know that Public Health Scotland will be keen to understand it and report its understanding as quickly as possible.”
Patrick Harvie replied: “We should all agree that that further work needs to happen, and I hope that the Scottish Government will give us a time-frame for when we can expect to see progress on the issue.
“Even as we seek to address racism and inequality at home, many of our fellow citizens are looking at coverage of the events in the United States and asking what we can do. I hope that everybody considering joining a protest this weekend will act responsibly and observe social distancing.
“Perhaps it would be better to do something from home, such as donating to the community bail funds to support those who have experienced the authoritarian response that we witness on our screens. I have made a donation, I urge others to do the same, and I hope that the First Minister will join me in that call.
“Does the First Minister agree that the UK must stop all export licences for security and policing equipment to the US to ensure that this country is not providing the tear gas, rubber bullets and riot gear that is currently being used against protesters and journalists?
“Given that the First Minister has previously told us that devolved business funding for the arms industry is for the so-called blue-light sector, can she also confirm whether the Scottish Government has given any public money to any company supplying the police or the National Guard in the US?”
The First Minister said: “I am not able to give an answer on the last point right now because I do not have that information, but I will undertake to look into it and come back to Patrick Harvie as quickly as possible.
“On the point about further analysis, Public Health Scotland made the point that there is still limited data in Scotland, but that as the data increases it will want to do further analysis. I hope that that will be done as quickly as possible, but I will ask Public Health Scotland to write to Patrick Harvie directly to set out the timeline and the process that it is going through.
“I echo the comments that Patrick Harvie made about events in the United States and protests that people may want to take part in here. We all want to make our voices heard on those issues, and everyone has the right to protest—many of us will have taken part on many occasions in peaceful protests—but, right now, mass gatherings of people could be a risk to health and indeed to life, so I appeal to people to make their voices heard safely and not to put themselves and others at risk.
“Patrick Harvie has helpfully listed some ways in which people can do something, including making donations to community bail funds, and make a difference without putting themselves at risk. I certainly echo that.
“I agree with the sentiment of the point on export licences and we will make appropriate representations to the UK Government on that point.”