We held our Big Idea event – Scottish Labour for the African and Caribbean community at the weekend. The plan was to open out the discussions we have had about tackling racism and inequality within the Labour and Trade Union movement and to identify the areas where people wanted to work with us to deliver change.
Our common bond was the fight for equality. Those attending were interested in our plans to tackle austerity and invest more in education and training. Everyone felt that was the right priority and wanted to see more investment in health services as well.
We will write up our report from the event but the main issues were: the lack of equality in employment opportunities, both to get into work in the first place and then the complete lack of promotion. A common theme was lack of opportunity and many examples of well qualified Africans unable to get employment in their area of expertise. People with PhDs doing security work, trained nurses not being able to get nursing posts working as carers were examples given.
Many people are working in Scotland and sending money back to families as well so the cost of housing and low wages were seen as big problems.
This was an issue raised the night before at the Next Steps celebrations in Glasgow which I attended. The common theme was that well qualified Africans who have made Scotland their home face real difficulties in getting access to business opportunities or work where their qualifications are recognised and rewarded. My view is that we urgently need to address this issue not just in terms of equality and social justice but to grow our economy and create new opportunities.
The lack of support for African based projects in Scotland was raised several times with the example of the Africa Centre in Edinburgh having to be closed through lack of financial support being cited.
Education and opportunities for young people was also a strong concern. A particular concern was that children of African parents are more likely to be accused of anti-social behaviour making their parents more protective and not letting them play outside.
We had a good mix of people attending particularly from the African diaspora. There was an impressive range of knowledge and experience gathered together from Edinburgh, Midlothian, the Borders and Stirling. We’ll submit a report to Scottish Labour to highlight the campaigns we want the party to run and the changes we want to see in government. Our event was supported by Unite, CWU and the Scottish Trade Unions for Labour because they are also keen to see the day-to-day experiences of our African and Caribbean communities fed in to the political process to deliver better jobs and opportunities.
Everyone agreed we’ll meet up after the election. We plan to do more work to encourage people not just to support us but to get involved as well. We plan to draw on the experience of Agnes Holmes, who’s been selected for the list of potential candidates for our council elections next year and Otis Orteseh who is on Scottish Labour’s list for the Lothians in the Scottish elections next week.
Otis summed up what he saw as the opportunities of our communities working together. “Scottish Labour is changing to meet the challenges of these difficult times. I have supported the Labour Party for over 40 years because I believe in what the Party stands for; inclusive society for all, workers, communities and families. Our African and Caribbean communities need the Scottish Labour Party’s core values of equality, fairness, justice and solidarity now more than ever in these times of austerity. Every Labour MSP elected on Thursday 5th May will give voice to that ambition. That’s why people need to support their local constituency candidate and to vote Labour on the List ballot as well”.