We only want to be equal – Scottish Gypsy Travellers speak

Guest post by Amnesty Scotland campaigns volunteer Catriona Clunas, who has been heading up our Scottish Gypsy Traveller campaign this year. 

On the 26 March 2013, the Equal Opportunities Committee (EOC) of the Scottish Parliament released a report on the state of conditions related to “Where Gypsy/Travellers Live”. This is the fourth report the committee has published in 12 years. And this one is depressingly similar to its predecessors, with the same evidence being presented and the same calls for change being made.

Local authorities need to be held to account; housing associations need to provide adequate services; discrimination by the media, by employers, by the general public needs to end; barriers to education and health care need to be addressed; and travelling as a way of life needs to be respected and facilitated by the Scottish Government are among the common themes.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the work of the Committee is excellent. Over the last year, they have gathered evidence, visited sites and interviewed Scottish Gypsy Travellers to discuss and understand the problems faced by the travelling community in Scotland. They have engaged with key stakeholders and made recommendations, expressing their “frustration”, “disappointment”, “dismay” and “disgust” at the current state of things and the lack of progress that has been made.

But so what? The Committee said similar things in 2001 and in 2004, albeit apparently without such frustration. Why has nothing changed more than a decade on from the original report, how will the latest publication make its suggested changes a reality?

The report has rightly recommended that a specific minister needs to take responsibility for supporting Travellers, and for holding local authorities to account – two issues Amnesty Scotland has strongly recommended over the last few years.

These are key to making a difference, as politicians and councillors at local authority level often feel the pressure of discussing transit sites and accepting planning permissions too challenging. The report gallingly finds that engaging in such activities is perceived as “political suicide” and certainly “not a vote winner."

On the flipside to this is targeting the source of that pressure, the voters. The report calls for a national public awareness campaign to tackle discrimination and racism toward this community. Something that we strongly support. We see the media as a key target in ending this negative cycle of discrimination toward Scottish Gypsy Travellers and it is an area we continue to put pressure on through “myth busting” exercises, holding media to account, and liaising with the National Union of Journalists on codes of conduct to deliver balanced reporting.

So, what’s next? The new report highlights many of the recommendations we have previously made and we will continue to emphasise these: our work on tenancy agreements, on holding local authorities to account and on ending discrimination.

We support the work of the EOC and call for national action across Government departments and for synergy between the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) to ensure a national strategy is planned and delivered. We also plan to build on our “in the headlines” research to drive forward a national Zero Tolerance campaign on discrimination. Hopefully, we are not facing another 12 years of inaction!

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