#SGPconf: motion opposes discrimination of Gypsies and Travellers
At their next conference, members of the Scottish Green Party will be called upon to vote on a motion denouncing the discrimination of Gypsies and Travellers. The motion, proposed by Peter McColl, is commendable. It ‘seeks to ensure that public services, including health and education, are provided in a way that avoids all discrimination against Gypsy/Travellers.’ To do this, it calls for a statutory duty to be placed on local authorities and Registered Social Landlords, providing a range of suitable sites for Gypsy/Travellers, ‘following effective consultation with community members.’ The motion specifies that ‘these sites must be above Tolerable Standards, have fair rents and provide good barrier free facilities. A caravan or mobile home must be classed in the same category as a house for the purposes of grants to provide disabled facilities and energy efficiency improvements.’
A monitoring report on UK progress within the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies which I co-authored found that a shortage of sites and lack of an obligation on local authorities was a major obstacle to Gypsy and Traveller inclusion in Scotland. It should be noted that the Welsh devolved administration has established an obligation to provide sites. Scotland, England and Northern Ireland should follow this example.
The Scottish Government should be congratulated on developing an overarching strategic framework and action plan for Gypsy/Travellers, in response to a recommendation made by the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee. As a consequence officials have been holding meetings with key stakeholders representing the interests of the Gypsy/Traveller communities and the Scottish Government has stated “Participation by the Gypsy/Traveller community will feature strongly in our work to develop an overarching strategy”. In March 2014 it was announced by the Scottish Government that it would set up a Gypsy/Traveller National Strategy Stakeholder Group. A long standing advocate for Gypsy and Traveller communities in Scotland has stressed that the strategy needs to have robust timescales and penalties if actions are not fulfilled.
In this sense, the Scottish Green Party motion is unequivocal, stipulating that ‘if Local Authorities continue to fail in their obligations to plan, deliver and implement appropriate accommodation for Gypsy/Traveller families in their area, the Scottish Government should take action against those local authorities that fail to meet requirements. The failure to plan and to provide adequate accommodation, including transit sites, with appropriate infrastructure for the Gypsy/Traveller community is unacceptable.’
Hopes have been raised before by promises and pledges by Scottish Governments in the past with reference to Gypsies and Travellers, but too often community members were left disappointed. This must not happen again.
However, it should also be noted that Scotland has a growing migrant Romani community which is facing acute exclusion and must not be neglected. The needs of Roma are often different from those of Gypsy/Travellers, most notably because Roma by and large are sedentary. It would be salutary if the Scottish Green Party would engage with and develop policies that also addressed the specific discrimination faced by Romani people.
Andrew Ryder is a Labour activist and researcher focusing on Roma, Gypsies and Travellers.