Douglas Ross MP and Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson MSP. Image, Moray Conservatives, fair use.

If not here, then where? On Douglas Ross’ war against the Gypsy/Traveller community in Moray.

If you were prime minister for the day, without any repercussions, what would you do?”  “I would like to see tougher enforcement against gypsy travellers [sic].” ~ Meet the MPs, Core Politics – Douglas Ross    

The lexicon of ‘solution groups’ is not new. As history demonstrates, ‘solutionists’ have always been amongst us, always in search of problem groups to scapegoat or further a ‘party’ agenda – as Hitler did.

Europe’s Roma and Sinti people (Gypsies) were targeted by the Nazis for total destruction. […] Upward of 200,000 Roma and Sinti were murdered or died as a result of starvation or disease. Many more were imprisoned, used as forced labour or subject to forced sterilisation and medical experimentation. […] In June 1936, a Central Office to ‘Combat the Gypsy Nuisance’ opened in Munich and later that year, Berlin police were given the authority to conduct raids against Gypsies so that they would not mar the image of the city as the host of the summer Olympic Games.

Douglas Ross’ interview with Good Morning Scotland (25th August) did little to redeem his statement. Whilst apologising “for saying that would be a number one priority as prime minister” he went on to state that [roadside encampments] are a “blight on our community” and current laws and protections make it difficult to get “get rid of them”. We must assume then that calling for tougher enforcement against Gypsy/Travellers was not a ‘slip of the tongue’ response during a quick fire question and answer session but rather was a topic at the forefront of his mind.

If further evidence is required, a quick internet search reveals that Gypsy/Travellers have long been in Douglas Ross’ sightline. During his time as an elected representative of Moray Council, he consistently argued against planning applications for public and private sites.

In response to Council proposals for a public site, he stated “The local communities have rallied against the councils proposals and this is an excellent result for them, but I believe the money spent on the consultation could have been saved as neither site was ever suitable as a travellers halting site”[1] and a year later, in responding to the outcomes of a planning application for a private site by a local Gypsy/Traveller family, Ross again points to the unsuitability of a chosen location. “This has been a long battle but I’m glad at the end of the day the Scottish Government Reporter has confirmed this is an inappropriate location for a travellers’ site”.[2] Six years down the line, and now an MSP for Highlands and Islands, Douglas Ross would appear to call for the cleansing of Gypsy/Travellers from the region he represents: “My biggest concern is that, if we keep providing more and more facilities at unauthorised sites, it’s just going to encourage more to set up when we should be doing what we can to discourage them because they are a blight on communities.”[3]

Of course, I may be doing Douglas Ross a great disservice here.

It may well be that he is fully cognisant with the depressing Scottish Government and Census statistics which demonstrate that Gypsy/Travellers experience much poorer health outcomes than other communities; are more likely than the general population to have a limiting long-term health problem or disability and that young Gypsy/Travellers have amongst the lowest attainment rates in Scottish education – 28.1% of White-Gypsy Travellers left school with no qualifications at SCQF level 3 or higher, compared to 1.9% for all leavers;  and 42.2% of White-Gypsy/Traveller leavers left school with 1 or more qualifications at SCQF level 5, compared to 84.7% for all leavers.

Indeed, it may well be that rather than reinforcing dangerous myths and stereotypes he is in fact attempting to create a platform whereby a strategy can be developed to ensure that Scotland’s oldest ethnic minority community can access core services such as health and education with greater ease than a life of constant ‘shifting’ provides for and have a place to ‘call home’ reflective of their culture and traditions.  What I am certain of though is that Douglas Ross is wrong to state “No-one is willing to discuss this important issue”.  Like those, such as 13 year old Ben Bennett an English Romany Gypsy,[4] who felt compelled to respond in writing[5] to the ‘tougher enforcement against Gypsy/Travellers’ comment, I too am happy to oblige.  In terms of Gypsy/Travellers in Moray: if not here, then where?

 

This article was first published at Open Democracy. Republished with thanks.


[1] Anon, The Northern Scot (10 December 2010)
[2] Millican, J, The Northern Scot (30 July 2011)
[3] Hebditch, J, Mackay, D and King, J, The Press and Journal ,Moray (6 Apr 2017)
[4]  Communicating with Ben Bennett and his mother, Nathalie, on 25th August, I asked him what he would do if he were prime minister for the day, without any repercussions.  His admirable response  should give us all pause for thought:

1.  Provide enough accommodation so nobody would be homeless;

2.  Make a law so that people could feed their families and they didn’t have to visit food banks;

3.  Protect the environment and help people to have free green energy;

4.  Ensure that all types of education from birth is free;

5.  Expand our NHS and keep it free forever;

6.  Make sure that big business pay proper tax so that the working people don’t have to pay the majority of tax;

7.  Fund all public sectors correctly and all third sector organisations so that people can have the help they need to live a happy life;

8.  Make it illegal for politicians or people in public office, to tell lies and make them answer questions that are put to them truthfully;

9.  Make the House of Lords were you have to vote people in;

10.  Votes for 16 year olds and proportional representation.

[5] In his letter to Douglas Ross Ben Bennett asked why he would choose to single out Gypsy/Travellers in this manner and did he understand how such comments impact on young Gypsy/Travellers? In response, Douglas Ross apologised for any distress caused [to Ben] highlighting that his concerns were based on concerns raised by significant numbers of people [in his constituency] regarding the lack of enforcement.

 

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