Has Scotland witnessed a spike in post-Brexit hate crime – or not?


John Robertson takes a look at hate crime reporting north and south of the Border

‘Police probe neo-Nazi hate crime in Edinburgh after European Referendum’ (Herald, 9th July 2016)

I could only find reports in the Scottish press on the above story. I did get a wee fright when I searched for ‘Scotland, hate crime, Brexit, EU, referendum’ and got a screen full of hits. It took me a second or two to realise that the term ‘Scotland’ had attracted items mentioning ‘Scotland Yard’ and that all but one of the reports were about hate crime in England.

John Robertson
John Robertson

One that was about Scotland was from 2015. I’ll return to it below. The article under the above headline refers to one case:

‘A swathe of posters and stickers were attached to lampposts and buildings in Edinburgh, which has one of the highest proportions of Poles in the UK, in the aftermath of the UK vote to leave the European Union. The content was described as “neo-Nazi, anti-Islamic and anti-Polish”.’

There is no further evidence offered of actual crime other than anecdotal reporting of ‘one Pole’ being told on a bus that he would be going home now. The article then goes on to offer evidence from England of actual incidents and a series of community representatives in Scotland advising immigrants on how to report any incidents. The latter reported no actual cases.

On the 1st of July 2016, BBC Reporting Scotland showed First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, being asked to condemn all hate crime in Scotland which might increase after the Brexit vote. She did so wholeheartedly, despite there being no evidence of any such spike in Scotland.

There has been an actual spike in hate crime in England evident from reading the detail under headlines such as these:

‘Brexit: Racist abuse in UK reported since vote to leave EU’ (CNN, June 28th 2016)

‘Hate crimes surge as racist abuse of foreigners in UK condemned’ (FT, 27th June 2016)


Most of the UK-based press (Guardian, Telegraph, Times, Independent) did not include any reference to the ‘UK’ or to ‘Britain’ in their headlines. However, all of the examples I checked, did so repeatedly in the body of the text. None used the more accurate term ‘England’ given the location of all of the offenses, nor did any suggest the possibility of any variability between the parts of the UK. None checked with the Scottish Chief of Police (see below).

‘Police Scotland: No rise in hate crime in Scotland since Brexit’ (commonspace.scot, 30th June 2016)

‘Police: No spike in hate crime in Scotland since Brexit vote’ (The National, 1st July 2016)

The above, accurate and thus informative, reporting comes from Independence-supporting media as does this report in Newsnet.scot. If there has been a spike since then, nobody is reporting it and the Chief of Police has been quiet about it. That the mainstream (Unionist) media only pick up on what they can find that might be bad news – posters, one anecdote and one case of political grandstanding by Labour – and ignore anything that might present Scotland in a positive light is, I’m told, just ‘news values’ and is my failure to understand and to accept what journalism is. I’ve had this recently from the editor of Reporting Scotland explaining why they constantly attack the Scottish NHS without noting the disaster that is NHS England. No junior doctor strikes or any spike in hate crime in Scotland; How can that be news? No one would be interested in that.

A different interpretation of this tendency is that it is ideological even if it is manifested daily in reporting which derives from a kind of sub-conscious, habitual, bias against anything that might build a stronger, more positive, sense of Scottish identity. I’m reminded of the BBC Scotland survey, in 2015, paid for by all licence fee subscribers, which seemed to undermine that notion that we might be kinder folk than the English and, crucially, that the SNP was wrong again.

‘It suggests that Scots are almost as negative about immigration as the population in the rest of Britain. The poll found that 49% wanted to see less immigration, exactly the same proportion as across Britain, and 15% said it should be stopped altogether. This is in contrast to politicians at Holyrood, who tend to agree that Scotland needs more skilled migrants.’


I’m not saying we are kinder folk just that I wonder why some at BBC Scotland feel so strongly the need to put us in our place? I complained to the BBC that BBC Scotland may have actually encouraged hate crime in Scotland by funding such a survey and reporting on it with evidence of immigrant behaviour that might offend some bitter self-perceived victim of it. One additional case of hate crime would to my mind have been enough to damn an initiative that was clearly an attempt to make news rather than to just report on it. My complaint was not upheld.

Before I seem complacent, I’m not saying Scotland is wonderful and that we don’t have hate crime or that we couldn’t have a ‘spike’. Indeed we had our own spike after the Paris attacks:

‘Police Scotland confirm spike in hate crime after Paris attacks’ (Guardian, 20th November 2015)

The support for EU membership across all of the regions of Scotland may have been a factor in our lack of a spike. The recent and quite horrific murder of Glasgow shopkeeper, Asad Shah, may also have generated a more empathetic climate with regard to migrants in Scotland at this time. The Paris attacks were a more visceral phenomenon and sufficient clearly to bring out our own monsters. That the Brexit vote did not bring them out at the same time as their English equivalents is surely something to be ever so slightly pleased about?


BBC Survey: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-31800374