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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

XVI. Religion and Sectarianism

114. Asians in Scotland, 1992

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1Bashir Maan (born 1926) is an Asian-Scottish politician, businessman and writer. He arrived in Glasgow from his native Pakistan in March 1953. He was the Founder Chairman of the Scottish Pakistani Association and Founder President of the Standing Conference of Pakistani Organisations in the United Kingdom and Eire. The other posts he has held include Chairman of the Glasgow Central Mosque Committee, Chairman of the Strathclyde Joint Police Board and Deputy Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.

2Text: Bashir Maan, The New Scots: The Story of Asians in Scotland, Edinburgh: Donald, 1992, p. 202-205.

Scotland like the rest of the United Kingdom has had its share of racial tensions and racial trouble, but serious trouble here has been sporadic and isolated. There was resentment against and opposition to the employment of colonial labour just before the First World War. After the war, in 1919, there was a riot one afternoon in the docklands of Glasgow caused by mounting tension between white and non-white workers competing for jobs. Then there was the murder of an Indian pedlar in 1925 in Port Dundas, Glasgow. There have been a number of serious physical attacks on Asian and Afro-Caribbean people, their business premises and their houses in Scotland over the years, culminating in the murder in Edinburgh of Ahmed Sheikh, a Somalian student, in January 1989. There have also been substantial racial discrimination and racial prejudice in Scotland. After 1950, when the numbers of the Indo-Pakistani community started to increase rapidly and those immigrants began to buy houses outwith their ‘colonies’, they encountered considerable antagonism from the sellers, neighbours and estate agents. In the 1960s, when the Asians began to take over corner shops and stores, they met with indifference and lack of patronage from the Scottish public. People of Asian and Afro-Caribbean origin have mainly been able to find jobs rejected by the Scots, and promotions so far, even in those sectors, have been rare. Isolated ethnic families in some housing schemes are being subjected to racial harassment. In many a school and street all over Scotland, racial taunts and torture are making miserable the lives of many youngsters. Lack of equal opportunities in employment and services is quite common even in the 1990s. Institutional racism and individual prejudice are still barring the way of many capable and brilliant black and brown young people.

In spite of all that, there is no denying that the Asian community and other black people have fared comparatively better in Scotland than their kind in England. Scotland has a good reputation, among members of the ethnic minorities, for tolerance and friendliness towards strangers. A great majority of the members of the ethnic minorities believe that race relations and relevant conditions are better in Scotland than in England. This belief is obviously confirmed by the flow of Asian and Afro-Caribbean people from England to Scotland. It is a fact that, in the last 30 years, Scotland has received a considerable number, perhaps between 30 to 40% of the population of its ethnic minorities, through internal migration from England. What makes Scotland so attractive to Asians and others, and why is the race relations situation considered to be comparatively better here? This is a difficult question but perhaps the following facts may help to provide an answer.

1. In Scotland the population of ethnic minorities has been so small that the racists or mischief-makers have never been able to use the numbers argument to cause alarm or apprehension amongst the Scottish public. The biggest concentration of Asians, Afro-Caribbeans and other non-European people in Scotland is in Glasgow, and even there they are about 3% of the total population of that city.

2. There has been seldom any large-scale or serious competition for jobs between the Scots and the ethnic minority workers since the mid 1920s. Until the mid 1950s, the Asians in Scotland were almost all pedlars and self-employed. In the late 1950s and 1960s most of them worked in the transport services of various Scottish cities. The transport service was shunned by the Scots as it involved shiftwork and unsocial hours. There was, therefore, no concern or resentment against the recruitment of large numbers of Asian bus conductors and drivers. On the contrary, the staff-hungry authorities appreciated their services and the public admired them for their courtesy and assistance. It was, indeed, the commendable conduct of these Indian and Pakistani drivers and conductors which initially helped to allay the fears and phobias of the Scottish people and promote an atmosphere of goodwill and friendliness towards them.

All candidates for work in the transport services had to pass a written test, over and above the other standard requirements for driving and bus conducting. The written test was to establish their ability to read, write and enumerate. This educational requirement discouraged uneducated immigrants from coming to Scotland as there were no other suitable jobs available for them. This barrier raised considerably the proportion of educated Asians in Scotland. Being educated, more and more Asians have been going into businesses and self-employment, since 1960, creating jobs for the Scots instead of competing for jobs with them.

3. In the public services, competition has also been unnoticeable and negligible, particularly in the 1950s and 60s. The early pedlars mostly lived in their privately rented or bought houses. When the community started to grow in the 1950s, they rarely sought council housing and the emphasis ever since has been on home ownership. Even now less than 5% of the ethnic minority in Scotland, compared to well over 50% of the indigenous population, is housed in the public sector. Similarly, there were very few demands on social security, education and even health services up until at least the late 1960s.

4. The Asian businesses, after overcoming initial resistance, have contributed considerably over the years towards bringing about mutual understanding and creating better communications between the immigrants and the host community. Every day dealings between the ubiquitous Asian shopkeeper on the one hand, and his numerous local customers, suppliers and distributors and their indigenous employees on the other, have helped to widen the contacts and promote better relations and racial harmony. Since the mid 1960s, the Asian entrepreneurs have been dealing with and employing a steadily growing number of local people. Consequently, social, professional and economic contacts between the immigrants and the Scottish people have been increasing at a very fast rate.

5. Resignation and complacency about racial prejudice and discrimination by the first generation Asians have also contributed towards the ‘no problem here’ concept. Their intentions were good and their attitudes, although presenting for a time a false picture of the scene in Scotland, nevertheless prevented the situation from being sensationalised and aggravated.

6. The ethnic minorities in Scotland have a good record of staying out of trouble. Incidences of drunkenness, immorality or serious crime are rare in the Scottish Asian and Afro-Caribbean communities. They cherish their spiritual beliefs as well as their material values. They believe in family life and family unity, and are dedicated to giving their children a good education. By their attitudes and their contributions to Scottish society, they are building up the reputation of being responsible citizens. 7. Lastly, there is a lot of truth in the belief that Scottish people in general are more tolerant and accommodating than their English cousins. Even in India during 200 years of the Raj, the Scots were usually far more forbearing and far more considerate towards their Indian subjects. This characteristic of the Scots could be due to the mixed make-up of Scottish society or to their sympathies being with the other underdogs, considering that they themselves have been underdogs to the English for a long time. Whatever the reason, the Scots in general are tolerant and more friendly towards strangers.

Having said all that, it does not mean that all is well in Scotland. Yes, race relations are comparatively better in this part of the United Kingdom than in many other parts.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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