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Le crime, le châtiment et les écossais

Jean Berton
Bill Findlay

VII – The Law and Tartanisation / Le droit et la tartanisation

Perception of Criminality among Migrants and the Myth of Equality in Scotland

Wafa El Fekih Said

Texte intégral

1The number of migrants living in Scotland has reached around 4 % of the population according to the latest census for the Scottish government (2011). Since the devolution settlement, successive Scottish governments have been attempting to attract more immigrants stressing on the fact that Scotland is and has always been different from England. Media, also, generally broadcast a positive image of a Scotland that is more open to immigration than the rest of the UK (Gardham). This affirmation, shared by different writers and politicians, rests upon the longstanding idea that Scotland has always been seen as more egalitarian than its southern neighbour (Bryce, 238), and, thus, as a result, the Scottish society would be more welcoming to immigrants. At the same time, recent research shed light on the fact that Scotland is not very different from England in their perception of immigrants as potential criminals (McLaren).

2The main objective of this chapter is to question the validity of the myth of equality in Scotland as related to immigrants who face both crime and punishment for being different. The questioning of the myth of egalitarianism is performed through an assessment of Scots’ perception of immigrants and through the analysis of race incidents that would reflect the exclusionary aspect of Scottish relations with the immigrant population. The second part of this chapter explores the post-devolution Scottish governments’ attempts to face problems of racism and integrate new comers with particular emphasis on the notion of civic nationalism.

The myth of equality

3Egalitarianism is defined by Allen MacLaren (2) as “Equality of opportunity which is exemplified. All men are not equal. What is implied is that all men are given an opportunity to be equal”. MacLaren acknowledges the existence of class divisions in society that could be levelled through egalitarianism or “equality of opportunity”. The myth of egalitarianism can be compared to a more modern version in the United States: the American dream, which, despite no real evidence of its existence, provides the impetus for people from poor backgrounds, to achieve their dreams.

4In Scotland, the myth of egalitarianism is present in the Scottish literary tradition in the works of famous Scottish writers like Walter Scott and Robert Burns. It shows the distinctiveness of the Scottish society from the “Other”, which in this case happens to be England. The myth manifests itself as a set of social values embedded in such ideals as the Kailyard, the Gaeltachd, and the Lad O’ Pairts.

5If we take the example of The Lad O’ Pairts, it is an idea that goes back to the 18th century. It symbolizes the accessibility of education for all, through the image of a youth, usually from a poor family, who manages to be educated despite unfavourable circumstances. In the 18th century, Scotland’s education was said to be widely available and open to all social groups (Houston, 183). This was inherited from the 1496 Education Act calling for a school in every parish of Scotland.

6According to David McCrone, in Understanding Scotland: The Sociology of a Stateless Nation, (McCrone, 101) “The social strata of skilled artisans and lower middle class were probably those to whom the Scottish egalitarian myth appealed most, as such they appear to be the main sustainers of the myth”. McCrone also points out to the fact that the myth persists because such ideals as the Lad O’ Pairts are embedded in Scottish national identity. The myth of egalitarianism is flexible and can lead to different interpretations. One of these is that the myth would be inclusive of ethnic minorities and that Scottish society would be more open and welcoming towards immigrants. Yet, recently, an academic born in Jamaica, Sir Godfrey Henry Oliver Palmer, claimed that, from his own experience, the fact that Scots are more tolerant towards immigration is only a myth. Having experienced discrimination, Palmer maintains that the Scottish government’s openness to the option of immigration has been mainly for “political reasons” to cope with the ageing population in Scotland (Cramb).

7These assumptions may well go hand in hand with research that reveals a widespread perception of immigrants as potential criminals (McLaren). This negative perception exists mainly because of the fear of the “Other”, a fear fuelled by the negative image that media broadcast about immigrants that create what Scot Wortley calls the “myth” of immigrant criminality (Wortley, 1). Much scholarly work has been dedicated to the study of the perceptions of immigrants as threats and the results sustain the existence of what is called “immigrant - crime” connection or the “criminal immigrant stereotype” (Wortley, 349-58; Wang, 743–76). Theories on “immigrant - crime” connection have not been sufficiently evaluated or confirmed but such sentiments are generally formed by stereotypes (Lee & Martinez, 487).

Scottish Perceptions of immigrants as criminals

8Statistics confirm the theory of the “immigrant-crime” connection, showing a hostile attitude towards immigrants and immigration. In a research by Prof. Lauren McLaren in 2014, based on the 2010 British pre and post election surveys, the results indicate that 41 % of the interviewed population would agree or strongly agree that immigrants increase crime (Table1). As Table 1 shows, the figures are lower for the Scots than the English, revealing less apprehension towards immigrants, but they sustain the “immigrant-crime” connection.

9To the assumption that immigrants increase terrorism threat (Table1), 47 % of the respondents agree. This may be revealing of the power of media in influencing public opinion, especially with the post 09/11 global war against terror. In fact, the post-09/11 attacks brought more hostility towards the Muslim communities around the world. Arun Kundnani notes that “Following Sept 11th, British Muslims have been criminalized further, with racial profiling in policing becoming acceptable” (Kundani, 72). In addition, the rapid increase in Muslim asylum seekers tended to affect Islamophobia towards the Muslim community in the UK (Hussain, 53).

Table 1: Attitudes to immigration in Scotland and England.

Table 1: Attitudes to immigration in Scotland and England.

** British Election Study 2010 mail-back questionnaire

• Source: Immigration and trust in UK politics, Policy Scotland (McLaren)

10Hostility towards immigrants is generally reflected in increased concern and even opposition to open immigration policy. A questionnaire from the British Social Attitudes Survey in a 2011 poll reveals that the majority of the respondents in Scotland (55.9 %) think that the number of immigrants in Britain should be “reduced a lot”, confirming the apprehension towards immigrants (Table 2). In addition, a report by the Migration Observatory on Public opinion on immigration in 2014 found that a majority in Scotland (58 %) support reduced immigration to Scotland, but more people think immigration is good for Scotland. Still, compared to the rest of the UK there is less apprehension towards immigration. It becomes clear when analysing the opinion polls that the situation in Scotland and England are different in particular in relation to the attitudes towards migrants.

11The negative attitude towards immigration is generally fuelled by nationalist anti-immigrant parties. The rise of UKIP in England in recent years can be seen as a clear illustration of the voicing of public hostility towards new comers. The non-existence of anti-immigration parties in Scotland is an indication that the public opinion is different from that in England. In addition, the voting preferences in Scottish elections in favour of pro-immigration parties reveal a more positive attitude towards immigration. This reveals mixed sentiments towards immigration. Professor McLaren points out that Scottish leaders presenting Scotland as a far more tolerant country doesn’t necessarily reflect public opinion, and she concludes that the people in Scotland are divided on the issue of immigration (McLaren, 2).

Table 2: “Should the number of immigrants be reduced?”

Table 2: “Should the number of immigrants be reduced?”

• Source: Immigration and trust in UK politics, Policy Scotland (McLaren)

  • 1 Report of Committee to Consider Overtures from the Presbytery of Glasgow and from the Synod of Glas (...)

12The perception of migrants as criminals goes back to the mass Irish immigration to Scotland. Suspicion and mistrust towards the Irish community escalated to the submission of a report in 1923, to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, entitled The menace of the Irish race to our Scottish nationality. It expressed fears about the development of Irish ghettoes in Glasgow and Edinburgh and noted “Wheresoever knives and razors are used, wheresoever sneak thefts and mean pilfering are easy and safe, wheresoever dirty acts of sexual baseness are committed, there you will find the Irishman in Scotland with all but a monopoly of business.”1 (Moody, 75). Another instance of the “immigrant – crime” connection is the Italian ice cream parlours that were in the early 20th century identified as one of Glasgow’s evils. At the time, Italian immigrants faced discrimination and bigotry for opening late on Sundays. Ice cream parlours were likened to vice and evil, and many shops had to close or change their premises to survive (Edward, 84).

Consequences of the immigrant-crime connection: Racist incidents and over-policing

13The direct consequence of the “immigrant-crime” connection is increased hostility towards new comers that may result into violent racist reactions. Racist incidents have occurred in Scotland, like the murder of Ahmad Aboukar Sheekh and his cousin in 1989, who were stabbed to death in Edinburgh. The murder was not recorded as racially-motivated. Racism was also dismissed in the murder case of Imran Khan and in the case of the murder of Surjit Chhokan in 1998. These murder cases weren’t recorded as racially motivated. For the Surjit Chokan case, the assaulters were found not guilty despite the evidence against them. As this case coincided with the murder of Stephen Laurence in England, it received much media attention for being “Scotland’s Stephen Laurence”. Media and public attention to these murder cases showed the “institutionalized racism in the Scottish criminal justice system” (Croall, 126).

14More recently, fewer race related incidents have occurred with 4805 racist incidents registered by the police in 2013-2014 compared to 5322 in the 2006-2007 (The Scottish Government: 2014). Still, the number increased by 3.9 % compared to the 2012-2013 statistics. The low levels of racist incidents might also be a result of reluctance to report incidents of harassment. Ethnic minority groups fall in a ‘spiral of silence’ and prefer to keep a low profile (See Neolle-Neuman), thus, the fall in numbers may be not reflective of the reality. According to Asifa Hussain, in Multicultural nationalism: Islamophobia, Anglophobia, and Devolution, targeted ethnic minority groups formulate their own ‘coping’ strategies to racism. One of the ‘coping’ strategies would be showing unwillingness to articulate their views as they “have to be careful what they say”. Another approach to “cope with” racism would be “comparative consolation”, where minorities do feel that the situation is less bad than in other parts of the UK. (Hussain, 112).

15Hazel Croall and Liz Frondigoun, in Race, ethnicity, crime, and justice in Scotland give accounts of testimonies of harassment and over-policing on ethnic minority groups. The study shows instances of racism especially in cities with a high number of immigrants like Glasgow. According to interviews and testimonies on racism and harassment, Asian young men feel that they are stopped more often than white youth. One respondent reported having been stopped twice in a day. Another respondent reported that he heard a police officer saying “Oh Chinese drive a Mercedes! He must be dodgy. Pull him over and see what that’s about” (Croall, 122).

16At the global level, fear of terrorism has also had a profound effect on policing and the criminalization of minorities. At the level of the UK, strict security has been implemented following the 09/11 attacks and the 07/07 London bombings. The public opinion has also been affected. An example from Asifa Hussain’s Multicultural nationalism: Islamophobia Anglophobia, and devolution is the testimony of one Pakistani respondent about the 09/11 attacks, where the immediate reaction he experienced was “look at what those Pakis have done now” (Hussain, 117). This comment exemplifies the repercussions that situations happening at the international level international could have on Scotland. In 2001, the murder of a Kurdish asylum seeker in Glasgow confirms this. Another instance is the burning of a mosque in Glasgow following the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015.

Changing perceptions? The Scottish governments’ responses to racism and discrimination

17In Scotland, the political discourse over immigration has been different whether under a Labour–Liberal Democrats leadership or SNP (Howard, 101). The post-devolution governments have been attempting to encourage immigration and improve the image of Scotland as a welcoming and tolerant society to attract new arrivals. One of the major steps envisaged to attract more immigrants and cope with population decline in Scotland was “The Fresh Talent” initiative, launched in 2004 by the Scottish Executive of Labour–Liberal Democrats coalition. It encouraged inward migration and extended work permits of graduates from universities in Scotland. Jack McConnell, the then First Minister, stressed on the welcoming nature of the Scots: “Across the world, Scots enjoy a reputation of being warm, welcoming, friendly people.” (Scottish Executive: 2004), inferring that new comers will find no difficulties integrating in society. Also, under the first post-devolution government, an Equality Unit was created within the Executive in order to facilitate the integration of equality into policy development.

18The Labour – Liberal Democrats coalition has also sought to fight racism and discrimination through the “One Scotland, Many Cultures” campaign which has been continued by the ruling SNP administration from 2007 onwards. “One Scotland, Many Cultures” aims at tackling issues of racism along with recognizing the valuable contributions of other cultures. The campaign has also encouraged ethnic minorities to report race related incidents, as many prefer to keep low profile and refrain from reporting incidents of harassment.

19At the local level, the associative work has had an important impact on community cohesion as it aims at encouraging people from different ethnicities to participate in social life and facilitate the process of integration. A larger number of community and voluntary organizations are very active at the local as well as national level: The Council of Ethnic minority Voluntary Sector CEMVO, the Black and Ethnic Minorities Infrastructure in Scotland BEMIS, Edinburgh and Lothian’s Racial Equality Council ELREC and the Scottish Ethnic Minority Sports Association SEMSA.

20More recently, a “Race equality framework for Scotland” was launched on the 21st of March 2016. The scheme, planned for 2016-2030, has been developed to tackle racism and promote equality in partnership with organisations. In the introduction Is there a ‘new dawn’ for race-equality policy in Scotland?, Nasar Meer considers the initiative as “a distinctively Scottish approach to race equality policy and practice” (Meer, 3).

21In the more specific context of policing, issues of racism and over-policing have been tackled through joint work between local authorities and voluntary agencies. The Association of chief Police officers, for example, has a diversity strategy that encourages police officials to engage with their communities through intervening in radios and meeting with ethnic minority groups to encourage ethnic minorities to report incidents of racism and to engage in the community. Reporting incidents of racism is also being encouraged through providing the possibility for online reporting, third party reporting and even the possibility for anonymous complaints to encourage people to come forward and denounce racism. Another step to encourage communities to engage in the process of fighting racism has been to include the hijab as an official uniform in Police Scotland in order to attract more recruits from different backgrounds and to boost confidence in the police (Police Scotland: 2016).

22Most importantly, the main objective behind such policies is the advocacy to a non-ethnic, civic concept of nationalism. Civic nationalism, which is based on territorial rather than blood markers (Leith, 144), can be seen as inclusive of all ethnic minorities who identify themselves as Scottish. In order to push forward this civic form of nationalism, the term “New Scots” was introduced to increase in emphasis on Scottishness as an inclusive identity. This increase in emphasis on Scottishness was meant to encourage more pride and less xenophobia (Hussain, 184). This image of an inclusive Scotland, broadcast by politicians and media, can be seen as an attempt to resurrect the myth of egalitarianism that is continuously challenged by a divided nation.

23Opinion polls show that Scots are as divided as the English on the question of immigration. The impact of the perception of immigrants as criminals can be seen in racist incidents and exclusionary behaviour. Being different becomes both the crime and punishment of immigrants. On the other hand, Scottish governments’ efforts to tackle issues of racism and discrimination can have impact on public opinion. The result of such efforts has been a gradual drop in the number of racist incidents (Scottish Government: 2014). In addition, the Scots have always attempted to distinguish themselves from the English and define themselves in contradiction to that (Howard, 95) which is clearly exemplified in the myth of egalitarianism as embodying more tolerance and acceptance towards new comers. Thus, racism would be considered as a purely English problem (Howard, 95). Opinion polls confirm a more positive view of immigrant and immigration in Scotland, but also reflect a divided society. This raises questions about the viability of the myth of equality and the positive image that the Scottish government is presenting.



Printed books:

BRYCE, T.G.K., HUMES, W.M. (ed.), Scottish Education: Post-devolution, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2003.

CROALL, H, L. FRONDIGOUN, “Race, Ethnicity, Crime, and Justice in Scotland”, in Croall, H., Mooney, J. & Minro, M. (eds), The Criminal Justice in Scotland, London, Routledge, 2012.

EDWARD, M., Who Belongs to Glasgow?, Edinburgh, Luath, 2008.

HOUSTON, R., “The Literacy Myth? Literacy in Scotland, 1630-1760”, in Graff, Harvey J. (ed), Literary and Historical Development, Carbondale (Illinois), SIU Press, 2007.

HOWARD, D. & PENROSE, J., “One Scotland, Many cultures: the Mutual constitution of Anti-Racism and Place”, in Bressey, C. (ed.) New Geographies of Race and Racism, Farnham, Ashgate Publishing, 2008.

HUSSAIN, A., MILLER, W., Multicultural Nationalism: Islamophobia, Anglophobia, and Devolution, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006.

KUNDANI, A., “The death of Multiculturalism”, in Bourne, J. & Waters, H. (eds.) Race and Class, 44 (4), London, Institute of Race Relations, 2002.

LEE, T.M., MARTINEZ, R., The Nature of Crime: Continuity and Change, (Criminal Justice, Vol. 1), Washington, US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 2000.

LEITH, M.S., Political Discourse and National Identity in Scotland, Edinburgh University Press, 2001.

MacLAREN, A.A., Social Class in Scotland: Present and Past, Edinburgh, John Donald, 1976.

McCRONE, D., Understanding Scotland: the Sociology of a Stateless Nation, London, Routledge, 2001.

McLAREN, L.M., “Immigration and Trust in UK Politics”, Policy Scotland, The University of Glasgow, 2011.

Available at:

MEER, Nasar, Scotland and Race Equality Directions in Policy and Identity. 4 Runnymede Perspectives Series. London: Runnymede, 2016.

MOODY, D., Scottish Family History, Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Com., 1994.

NEOLLE-NEUMAN, E., Schweigespirale: The Spiral of Silence, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1984.

WANG, X., “Undocumented Immigrants as Perceived Criminal Threat: A Test of the Minority Threat Perspective”, in Criminology, 50, Oxford, Journal of Criminology 2012, 743-76.

WORTLEY, S., “Introduction to the Immigration-Crime: Connection: Competing Theoretical Perspectives”, Migration & Integration, 01, Journal of International Migration & Integration, University of Saskatchewan, 2009, 349-58.

Press articles:

CRAMB, A., “Claim that Scots are more Tolerant of Immigration is a ‘Myth’, says Country’s First Black Professor”, The Telegraph Newspaper, 10 March 2015.

Available at:

GARDHAM, M., “Scots more Liberal about Immigration Impact than Rest of the UK”, The Herald Scotland, 14 February 2014.

Available at:


Police Scotland, Hijab now an optional part of Police Scotland uniform”, 2016

Migration Observatory, Immigration and Independence: Public Opinion on Immigration in Scotland in the Context of the Referendum Debate, 2004, Report- Immigration_Independence.pdf

Scottish Executive, New Scots: Attracting Fresh Talent to Meet the Challenge of Growth, Edinburgh: Scottish Executive, 2004,

Scottish Government, Summary: Demographics, 2011,

Scottish Government, Racist Incidents Recorded by the Police in Scotland 2012- 2013, 2014


1 Report of Committee to Consider Overtures from the Presbytery of Glasgow and from the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr on “Irish Immigrants” and the “Education (Scotland) Act 1918”, in Reports on the Schemes of the Church of Scotland with the Legislative Acts Passed by the General Assembly, 29 May, 1923, 750.

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1: Attitudes to immigration in Scotland and England.
Légende ** British Election Study 2010 mail-back questionnaire
Crédits • Source: Immigration and trust in UK politics, Policy Scotland (McLaren)
Fichier image/jpeg, 19k
Titre Table 2: “Should the number of immigrants be reduced?”
Crédits • Source: Immigration and trust in UK politics, Policy Scotland (McLaren)
Fichier image/jpeg, 14k


Toulouse Jean Jaurès, CAS, Toulouse.
Université Jean-Jaurès, CAS, Toulouse, France.
Wafa El Fekih Said est doctorante à l’Université Toulouse Jean-Jaurès. Sa thèse porte sur l’immigration, l’intégration et le multiculturalisme dans l’Écosse post-dévolutionnaire. Elle a communiqué sur Delimiting the concept of multiculturalism within the context of Scotland, à Toulouse Jean-Jaurès (2015) ; Paradoxes of devolution : the cases of immigration and integration in Scotland à Toulouse Jean-Jaurès (2016) ; Confluence and integration in Scotland ?, au Congrès SAES (2016). Son article Reconstruction and multiculturalism in the Scottish nation-building project (SAES, 2017) est à paraître dans la Revue Études Écossaises (2018).

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