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Scottish Government and New Legislation Recognises “Sikhs” as an Ethnic Group for the Census 2021; Legal Action to Continue: Sikh Federation UK

May 12, 2020 | By

by: Harnek Singh*

The Census (Scotland) Regulations 2020 were laid in the Scottish Parliament on 7 May 2020 and will come into force on 16 June.

The Regulations as promised by Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary include a specific prompt under the ethnicity question for Sikhs under “Other ethnic group”. Sikhs are specifically mentioned in both the high-level question and in the detailed question.

Last week the Scottish Government Legal Directorate representing Scottish Ministers responded to the pre action letter sent by Balfour and Manson on behalf of the Sikh Federation (UK) on 17 April 2020.

The response from the Scottish Government stated: “Lest there be any doubt, Scottish Ministers do of course recognise that Sikhs are a distinct ethnic group in terms of Mandla v Dowell Lee [1983] 2 AC 548.”

Image used for representational purpose only

The admission in the letter and the Census (Scotland) Regulation 2020 laid in the Scottish Parliament is the precise reason why the Sikh Federation (UK) will be seeking clarification from the Court of Session on the Scottish Government’s legal duties towards the Sikh ethnic community in Scotland.

Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said: “We appreciate the formal recognition of Sikhs as an ethnic group by the Scottish Government and in legislation, but this takes us only half-way to what is necessary to ensure Sikhs are treated fairly in accordance with equalities legislation.”

“It will be difficult for Scottish Ministers to justify in court why Sikhs as a legally recognised ethnic group should not have their own ethnic tick box response option while others that are not legally recognised ethnic groups have been granted ethnic tick boxes.”

“The Scottish Government knows to give full and proper effect to the prohibition against discrimination on ethnic grounds it is necessary for Ministers to ensure public bodies in Scotland collect, collate and record data for specific identifiable ethnic groups.”

“We told MSPs and Scottish Ministers before the draft Census (Scotland) Order 2020 was approved by the Scottish Parliament it is only specific ethnic group categories defined in the census that are used by public bodies in different sectors in Scotland to meet their legal duties under equalities legislation.”

The Race Equality Framework for Scotland 2016-2030 expressly states public authorities in Scotland monitor and use “ethnic” data in formulating policies and developing practices.

Guidance from NHS Scotland also follows the census categories for ethnicity in addressing inequalities. On 2 April 2020 we formally asked how many Sikhs in Scotland have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or died because of the disease.

Nearly 30 working days later and when there are huge concerns about the disproportionate number of BAME deaths from Covid-19 we have had no response. The Scottish Government normally aims to respond within 20 working days and where this is not possible endeavours to keep you updated on the progress of your response.

The Sikh Federation (UK) also told MSPs several months ago it had looked at data collected and used by individual NHS bodies in Scotland. Data on religion is consistently incomplete and of poor quality compared to ethnicity data. Therefore, ethnicity data as opposed to religious data is more commonly used in decision making by NHS bodies in Scotland.

On Education, the Education Scotland Equality Strategy 2017-2019 shows monitoring of the workforce is only by gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexuality and salary. The ethnicity categories used are those from the census and there is no mention of monitoring by religion.

These examples demonstrate public bodies in Scotland prioritise ethnicity categories as defined by the census and limited, or no use is made of religious data and this is repeated in different areas of the public sector. This also highlights Sikhs are consistently being overlooked and discriminated against by public bodies in Scotland in deciding policies that impact on them.

In another twist it has emerged that Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister met the leadership of the Sikh Federation (UK) in April 2015 and gave categoric support for a Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census 2021. The SNP formally issued a press release after the meeting with the Sikh Federation (UK) that urged Sikhs in Scotland to back the SNP in the May 2015 General Election for Nicola Sturgeon’s support for the 10-point Sikh Manifesto.

  • Harnek Singh is National Press Secretary of Sikh Federation UK.

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