There is room for everyone in Scotland
Throughout last year, I had the pleasure of meeting many of Scotland’s faith communities and have enjoyed learning more about their traditions and hearing about their experiences.
There exists a remarkably strong working relationship between the faith communities in Scotland and this is invaluable.
As I look back on last year, there have been so many highlights including attending the 5th Annual Interfaith Summit. The Summit focussed on a central theme of “Food: Justice and Community Cohesion.” For the first time, we held an interfaith workshop, to help identify collective actions including how we can improve community resilience and cohesion.
I marked our commitment to strengthening links with Europe by speaking at Eurodiaconia, the European Network of Christian originations committed to social justice. They bring together close to 40,000 providers of services or community-based organisations in several European countries such as Sweden, Norway and Austria among others.
Last year I was delighted to speak at the first Sikh Vaisakhi reception in Parliament which celebrated Sikh heritage and culture in Scotland as well as the very first Diwali celebration. I very much look forward to these becoming a more regular feature in our parliamentary calendars.
I ended 2019 by attending a National Chanukah service in Edinburgh. This is an event of both celebration and remembrance of more difficult times. It is all the more poignant as we start 2020 with Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January which marks 75 years since the Liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp.
Towards the end of 2019, I was honoured to make a visit to Auschwitz as part of the Holocaust Education Trust’s ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ programme, which takes school children and teachers to Auschwitz to learn about the Holocaust.
This programme supports pupils to become ambassadors, sharing their experience with their peers, passing on the message of the consequences of unchecked prejudice. This was a deeply moving experience and something that will stay with me.
Despite this unity and continued education about our faith communities, there remains more to do to tackle hatred and prejudice within our society.
Quite simply, there is no place for hate crime in a modern Scotland.
The impact of it has hugely damaging effects on victims, families and communities, whether it’s rooted in racism, islamophobia, sexual orientation, or any other form, it is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.
We are committed to working with key stakeholders as we continue to tackle the under reporting of hate crime, which includes improving the third party reporting process and raising awareness.
We would encourage anyone experiencing or witnessing hate crime, to report the incident to Police Scotland or via third party reporting centres, details of which are on Police Scotland’s website.
I want to see a Scotland where everyone, regardless of their background, is able to live and raise their family in peace, fulfil their potential, and contribute to and benefit from being part of a society that’s built on mutual respect, trust and understanding.
I look forward to continuing to work with organisations and communities across Scotland as we work together to build stronger, more inclusive communities where hate crime and prejudice are a thing of the past.