MSPs warned progress to tackle gypsy traveller discrimination has stagnated

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Progress to tackle the discrimination experienced by the gypsy traveller community in Scotland has stagnated, MSPs have heard.

A young campaigner told Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee that the situation was at a “critical point” and urgent action was needed to help travellers access the same opportunities as the settled community.

Davie Donaldson, from the charity Article 12 in Scotland, also renewed criticism of Conservative Moray MP Douglas Ross, who earlier this year apologised for saying his priority as prime minister would be to bring in ”tougher enforcement against gypsy travellers”.

Mr Donaldson described examples of “political racism” he had encountered at local authority level, including being told “no-one here cares about the tinks” during a community planning meeting in Aberdeenshire after raising the issue of healthcare for the travelling community.

On another occasion, he said he was made aware of an internal email at another council relating to a potential development that a traveller man was planning, in which a senior male told colleagues “don’t help him, he’s a traveller. Give the help to a good, honest man”.

Mr Donaldson told the committee: “That’s the sort of internal stuff we’re getting at local authority level.

“I’m still naive enough to hope that it’s not existing at this sort of level but Douglas Ross really did dash those hopes and I know, on the ground, his comments really did impact on a lot of travellers living in Moray.”

The committee session was held to mark the run-up to World Human Rights Day on Sunday and examine what progress has been made on tackling entrenched discriminatory attitudes towards the community since past Holyrood inquiries into the issue.

The most recent Scottish Social Attitudes survey found 34% of people believed a gypsy traveller would be unsuitable to be a primary-school teacher while 31% would be unhappy if a close relative married into the community.

Mr Donaldson said: “Just now very little has changed, to be honest. From our perspective, speaking to my grandfather, nothing has changed. If anything, things have got worse in certain areas.

“People seem to be more inhospitable to folk camping, they seem to be more aggressive towards folk shifting and nomadic behaviour than what my grand-dad received when he was younger.

“But, certainly, in regards to schooling, education, local authority awareness of the culture as well as respect of the culture and society’s respect and awareness, nothing has changed.

“It has remained stagnant completely.”

He said young travellers were forced to hide their ethnicity to access schooling and struggled to gain employment.

“We’re at a point where the culture is being completely constricted to a degree where a lot of young travellers don’t see it existing in the next 50 years,” he said.

“We’re at a critical point, that’s basically what I’m saying.

“For the Scottish traveller community we’re at a completely critical point and we really, really need affirmative strong action from government, from the top down to actually impact on local authorities.”