Scotland's shame: Amnesty hits out at Roma racism
Sunday Herald by Billy Briggs | Sunday, 19 September 2010 | Click here for original article
Human rights organisation Amnesty International yesterday condemned the racism that the travelling community suffers on a daily basis throughout Scotland.
The condemnation comes as the "gypsy" community in mainland Europe battles increasing levels of discrimination and after EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding compared France's expulsion of the Roma people to the Nazis' deportation of the Jews.
In Pitlochry yesterday travellers staged a cultural summit celebrating their traditions and calling for action by the Scottish Government to curb the racism they suffer north of the Border.
Members of the travelling community told the Sunday Herald that Scottish society still refused to tolerate their lifestyle, amid continued attempts to force them into the mainstream. The community said there could be as many as 15,000 travellers in Scotland - including some Roma. The issue has been taken up by Amnesty International Scotland.
Amnesty researched each of Scotland's 32 local authorities' performance on delivering basic services and wrote to the councils challenging their record and highlighting areas where there could be improvement. John Watson, programme director for Amnesty International Scotland, said: "One of our focal points during next year's elections for the Scottish Parliament will be to ask the Scottish Government to publish an action plan to tackle discrimination."
Yesterday's event at Moulin Kirk in Pitlochry was organised by Jess Smith, a storyteller and author who has written five books about Scotland's travellers. Smith, who describes herself as a tinker, said the event was designed to raise the issue of prejudice and to celebrate the travelling community's heritage.
"We've never been accepted," she said. "As a kid I was battered senseless simply because I was different. Our people have always been viewed as a thorn in the side of authority, and society does not accept us because we're free spirits - like the white wolf.
"We're part of Scotland's heritage but that's under threat through attempts to filter us into mainstream society by making our lifestyle difficult to maintain."
Shamus McPhee, a 39-year-old linguist who grew up in Bobbin Mill, Pitlochry, would agree. Bobbin Mill is the site of a controversial social experiment to assimilate gypsies into society. McPhee regards himself as part of a distinct ethnic group who speak a language called Cant, containing Sanskrit and Hindu words.
His sister Roseanna, a Gaelic teacher, had recently visited Roma camps in Kosovo and said she found conditions there were similar to Bobbin Mill. Her brother recently began a petition urging the Scottish Government to apologise to his community for decades of discrimination.
He contacted many lawyers in Scotland to represent them in a human rights case based on their childhoods spent "as part of a racial experiment".
"But no-one would take us," he said. "We've now taken our complaint to Strasbourg and it has passed the first stage. Witnessing what is happening to the Roma in Europe is disturbing and I've noticed attitudes hardening recently here in the UK."
The Bobbin Mill experiment
The Bobbin Mill Tinker Housing Experiment was set up in 1947 by the Department of Health, giving land to gypsies for 99 years.
The site was to be maintained by Perth and Kinross Council, which was to charge rent. The Department of Health said huts should be built to the lowest possible tender (£825) and normal standards need not apply.
The idea was to house people temporarily, get the children into school and their parents into council houses. More than 60 years on, however, the McPhee family is still living there without modern amenities.