It is emerging that local authorities are circumventing their legal responsibility under government regulations to assess and plan for Gypsy Travellers by simply stating that there is no such community in their area and that provision is therefore unnecessary.
Local plans, which have to be endorsed by the Scottish Government, are the means for this process, but Renfrewshire Council’s latest plan ignores the presence of a number of families who have been trying to get planning permission for settlement in the Linwood area.
Traditional stopping places in Johnstone, Linwood and Langbank in neighbouring Inverclyde, have been closed off or subject to forced dispersal, so that there is nowhere now for Travellers to stop in a large area of the West of Scotland.
Neither Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, nor East Renfrewshire have site provision for Gypsy Travellers: the site in Linwood was closed a number of years ago – Gypsy Travellers being blamed for vandalism when the reality was a site that was neither welcoming nor maintained properly.
Forcing the SGT community into stopping places where they are neither welcomed nor provided for, only increases tensions with other local residents, often in an atmosphere stoked up by racist elements. Similar processes are happening in other areas such as North Ayrshire, and Dumfries & Galloway. The excuse, which often goes unchallenged, is that of criminal activity and anti-social behaviour – as if these things were absent in mainstream communities!
However, contrary to expectations that this community are unable to articulate and effectively advocate their views, members of the SGT community are fighting back. In a letter to Renfrewshire Council highlighting their breaches of Scottish Government law and European protocols regarding planning and provision, activist Roseanna McPhee argues a case that officials and elected members will not be able to ignore.
Citing UN, European and Scottish Government policy she goes on to quote a 2013 Scottish Parliamentary Equal Opportunities Committee Inquiry which heard that “labelling as illegal a community’s action in seeking accommodation options where no others are available, invokes a criminal justice response that really ought to be the last resort.”
Sadly public views are prejudiced by the TV images of the Big Fat Gypsy Wedding variety rather than the reality and poverty of life for Scotland’s Gypsy Traveller community. Their rich culture and way of life is being eradicated through the actions of a society unable to tolerate difference. Socialists support their right to their culture and condemn racism and prejudice in all its forms – whether institutional or individual, as they feed off each other.