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Race Equality Submission to the Smith Commission

CEMVO Scotland is a national intermediary organisation and strategic partner of the Scottish Government with a network of over 600 ethnic minority voluntary sector organisations and community groups throughout the country. CEMVO Scotland was set up in April 2003, with the aim of building the capacity and sustainability of Scotland's ethnic minority voluntary and community sector.

Although the timescale for submission has been extremely tight, a number of organisations that are part of CEMVO Scotland’s network have also signed up to this letter to show their support.


  1. Equality and Scottish Devolution

CEMVO Scotland welcomes this opportunity to influence and shape the new agenda for Scotland and is writing to call for greater equality powers to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Over the last decade, we have seen a strong commitment to putting equality at the heart of policy, practices and procedures demonstrated throughout the preparations for setting up the Scottish Parliament. The new Parliament was given powers to encourage equal opportunities and to encourage compliance with equality law (by imposing duties on public bodies), although the power to legislate (and thus to make new law, amend existing law or regulate discriminatory behaviour) is reserved to the UK Parliament. 


Disappointingly, community experiences, as well as subsequent research completed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)[i] suggest that the Scottish Parliament’s impact on tackling inequality, while positive, has been limited.  Further, it has been suggested that the current mixture of reserved and devolved responsibilities leaves equality in an uncertain grey area and may itself be hampering progress.  One example of this is a reluctance to introduce equality requirements into standard setting frameworks (e.g. National Care Standards) for fear this breaches the Scotland Act.  It therefore remains unclear who is scrutinising  the extent to which the public sector equality duties are being met.


It is our view that the Scottish Parliament should be given greater powers in the area of equality and that – for our sector - this could be beneficial in tackling the entrenched racist ideologies which continue to persist in Scotland – evidenced by sustained levels of racial disadvantage. 

This evidence speaks for itself.

·         Ethnic minority people, poverty and the labour market

Joseph Rowntree Foundation research published in 2013 found that a number of ethnic minority groups in Scotland currently live in greater poverty than in England.  Findings revealed that:

o   Unemployment rates were higher for all visible minority ethnic groups in comparison to White Scottish (7%)

o   For some groups this was twice as high (15% for people of African and Black Scottish origin, 14% for Other South Asian, and 12% for Pakistanis)

o   Homelessness was also significantly higher than the population as a whole

o   A disproportionate number from ethnic minority communities were represented in low pay positions - highly relevant to Scotland’s anti-poverty strategy of targeting support to those on the lowest income deciles


Other research  tells us that  white UK candidates in Scottish local authorities are three times more likely to be appointed than their equally qualified and experienced black counterparts[ii], and that if this situation is allowed to continue then the ethnic penalty faced by ethnic minority people living here will continue to grow.

·         Ethnic minority people and public appointments


o   Figures for public appointments last year indicated that only 3.3% of applicants came from an ethnic minority background, with 2.5% being appointed.  The target set in Diversity Delivers was to reach 8% overall

o   Currently only 7 out of 32 local authority areas have ethnic minority representation.  The capital Edinburgh has no representation

o   Gender quotas on public bodies are currently being debated but CEMVO believes that quotas should also be considered across other protected characteristics e.g. ethnic minorities.


·         Ethnic minority people and hate crime


o   68.4% of hate crime charges in 2012-13 were on grounds of ethnicity

o   10-12 racist incidents are reported every day in Scotland

We recognise that simply devolving greater powers on equality will not on its own tackle the high levels of racism, disadvantage and injustice evidenced above.  But we also recognise the potential benefits of devolving those powers before any threat of further dilution or even repeal of them by the UK government.

2. The role of the Smith Commission

The baseline for the devolution of more power to Scotland’s parliament has been agreed as a minimum of powers to set, collect and retain taxation and to set a new welfare framework.  CEMVO would argue that since much of the rationale for these powers being devolved is based on an acceptance that there is Scotland-wide support for using increased devolution of power to create a more egalitarian society, the ability to set legislation on equality is as necessary as the power to create a new tax and welfare regime. 

For many of us in the ethnic minority sector, wider third sector and across the public sector - it is currently unclear in Scotland what the equality law permits, what is required and who is accountable for delivering change. We believe that greater devolution of equality matters could provide the clarity needed.  

From CEMVO Scotland’s perspective the two key areas we wish to emphasise for the purposes of this submission (acknowledging that it is debatable whether some of this could and should be done now if the will was there) are:

·         Stronger and more autonomous enforcement powers

CEMVO takes the view, and would be content to set out the rationale in more detail if it is required by the Commission, that the current model of enforcement of equality legislation in the form of an EHRC is no longer fit for purpose.

If equality laws were devolved, it would be for the Scottish Parliament to decide how to enforce those laws, for example establishing a new, radically different body.  Consideration could be given to additional, more innovative models such as endorsing third sector equality organisations to provide community assessments of progress (based on the understanding that those who use the services are best placed to say when or if those services have improved/made a difference); and Scottish Parliamentary Committees could also play a greater role in scrutinising progress in these areas.

Based on the evidence already presented above, underrepresentation of ethnic minority people in the workforce remains a priority for our organisation; however we recognise that whilst matters such as employment remain reserved this may pose questions for a separate Equality Commission.  The EHRC research helpfully points to a number of options in this regard.

·         Greater support for individuals facing discrimination

In this context, CEMVO would also call for the new enforcement structure on devolved equality legislation to include enhanced power and resources for both enforcement and other agencies to provide support, advocacy and advice direct to individuals experiencing race discrimination. Practical examples of this would be to remove Employment Tribunal fees which are currently prohibitive for many people and establish locally based helplines.  We would also encourage amendments such as reinstating the provision to allow claims for dual discrimination (for example, on grounds of race and religion together), which was removed from the Equality Act 2010 by the current UK Government.


Like many others, CEMVO Scotland believes that if we are to strengthen and accelerate progress towards equality, clarifying its place in the current devolution debate, at a minimum, is vital. 

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss all the options outlined above in greater detail and at the same time will encourage a wide cross section of the ethnic minority sector in Scotland to take part in those dialogues and debates. 

[i] EHRC Scotland (2009):  An uncertain mix:  Equality and Scottish devolution. 

[ii] Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (2nd edition 2014):  State of the Nation: ethnicity and employment in Scotland’s public sector. 





Co signatories:


Smina Akhtar, Director, Amina Women’s Muslim Women’s Centre

Derek Allison, Manager, Central Regional Equality Council

Nabirye Balyejusa, Manager, SCORE Scotland

Colin Lee, Chief Executive, CEMVO Scotland

Robina Qureshi, Director, Positive Action in Housing

Mohammed Razaq, Executive Director, West of Scotland Regional Equality Council

Trishna Singh, Director Sikh Sanjog

Rohini Sharma




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