Colin Lee, chief executive of the Council for Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations (CEMVO) in Scotland, explains why some ethnic minority people in Scotland will fail to vote in the independence referendum
Does colour matter in democratic and political engagement?
A Pakistani friend of mine once campaigned as a Labour candidate and went canvassing in her neighbourhood. On knocking on one door, she was confronted with a person who told her frankly she was the “wrong colour”. My friend of course responded angrily and gave the person a stern talking to about being a racist, to which they looked shocked, sheepishly replying: “I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean you are the wrong colour of skin, I just meant you are wearing Labour colours and I happen to be a Conservative blue!”
So, to clarify, does the colour of your skin matter in democratic and political engagement?
My professional opinion is that yes, it does indeed matter as there are many issues around ethnicity and voter engagement, particularly for ethnic minority (EM) people where English is not their first language.
This is particularly obvious in political language, which is often professional, technical and jargonistic and difficult enough to understand for a person whose first language is English.
There are many issues around ethnicity and voter engagement, particularly for ethnic minority people where English is not their first language
There are also issues around the lack of understanding in voter registration processes, and in the voting system itself. Many ethnic minority people whose first language is not English say they feel lost or unsure of what to do when going along to a polling station to vote.
Second, third and fourth EM generations, where English has become their first language, do not significantly differ in their views on the democratic process to the indigenous population. They feel politics does not relate to their everyday lives, that it is boring, and that many politicians are corrupt. This is particularly the case for EM young people, with many citing the lack of EM role models in politics as a reason for feeling disengaged - they do not see politics as being relevant to them.
Even the two current Asian MSPs are both Pakistani and therefore not representative of visible EM communities across Scotland.
This leads to the point that political parties need to do a lot more to both support EM party members internally and to target diverse communities externally to enthuse and encourage them to participate fully in democratic processes.
EM people can be better supported to become election candidates, and more importantly, to be put into winnable seats. There could also be more regular events targeting EM communities and not merely through campaigning activities during times of election. There needs to be efforts to target all EM communities as opposed to singular communities.
Finally, there could be polling stations set up in areas of high EM concentration, such as places of worship.
If some of these issues are addressed, then we can perhaps see some progress in removing colour from democracy!
Colin Lee is chief executive of the Council for Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations (CEMVO) in Scotland.
This is part of a series of TFN articles that focus on the #Missingmillion people who are not intending to vote in the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September.