HERE’S what anti-Muslim racism feels like in lovely, tolerant Scotland:

“I feel scared for both me and my family. When my children were small we were so scared as we were constantly being abused due to being Muslim. I got depression, I even contemplated suicide due to a racist neighbour making our life hell.

“It still happens and I am still scared.”

Fear, sadness, worry. This is what racist abuse does: it feeds misery – and that misery is part of daily life for too many Scots.

Nearly 350 Muslims have contributed to the first ever public inquiry on Islamophobia in Scotland and they paint a damning picture of our supposedly welcoming nation.

They describe a life of constant vigilance. One woman says that her 13-year-old daughter would love to wear a head scarf to school, but can’t because of the abuse she would get. “She has seen me first hand being verbally abused, even seen men tower over me as they say insults,” writes the mother. “Can you imagine how a 13-year-old girl would deal with that?”

Others, especially women, describe their anxiety at the thought of using public transport or going out at night. They describe fearing attacks on their children, their partners or their place of worship. Many people comment on feeling excluded from Scottish public life and being unable to contribute fully to the country they call home because they feel stuck on the outside at school and discriminated against by employers. Some report changing the way they dress, speak and behave to appear less “Muslim” and so become less of a target.

It’s all so stressful and exhausting, that often it’s easier just to stay at home, which worsens the isolation – feeling, as one person puts it, “like an outsider, which I have all my life and have accepted it even though I was born here 44 years ago.”

Inclusive Scotland? Says who?

Since the Brexit brouhaha, Scottish Government ministers and others have gone into overdrive presenting Scotland as an outward-looking nation in contrast to supposedly closed-minded Britain. Scotland is endlessly described as tolerant and welcoming; “one of the most open countries in the world”. It plays into our myth-making about ourselves. We bestow Scotland with an inclusive image that’s as romantic and beguiling as Braveheart.

But like Braveheart, it’s not reality. It represents what we want to be, not what we are.

Unless we face the reality that we have an Islamophobia problem – a serious problem – then we can never be the tolerant nation we aspire to be.

No country is full of bigots and no country is without them. You will find plenty of folk in Scotland who open their hearts to people from other communities, like in Alloa where locals turned out in force a few years back to support Muslim refugees and see off a far-right group trying to foment trouble.

It is safe to say that Scotland is relatively tolerant. This is obvious when you compare it to the likes of India or Russia.

But the danger is in imagining that the racism and bigotry poisoning society in other western countries, has less potential traction here. That is nonsense. Alongside inclusive attitudes you will find xenophobia, racism and bigotry in Scotland, just like everywhere else, and those who are experiencing it say it’s getting worse.

In the Islamophobia inquiry, which drew on 435 submissions, the vast majority of respondents said they felt the problem was worsening. More than a third said attacks, abuse and discrimination against Muslims were an everyday issue; more than two-fifths described Islamophobia as “regular”.

More than four-fifths had experienced it directly, most commonly in the form of verbal abuse.

“Verbal abuse” is a euphemistic term that hides the ugly reality, so let’s just remind ourselves what it means. It’s when a stranger sneers at or berates you in front of a bus full of people, or shouts abuse across the street as your child clings to your leg for safety.

Brexit turbo-charged the latent notion of Scotland’s supposed inclusivity. Scots’ modern sense of nationhood, as the academic research has shown, rests on the notion that we are more progressive as a nation than the rest of the UK. Scotland and England voting different ways on Brexit is sometimes taken as proof of our cuddly inclusivity. But this view doesn’t survive close scrutiny. Scottish people’s attitude to immigration, for instance, is broadly similar to that in England and Wales and just as Brexit has emboldened racists there, so many would say it has here too.

Sociologists investigating racism in Scotland recently called the notion of Scotland’s more welcoming nature “a misleading fantasy”. Scotland has a history of hostility to migrants that started with Irish Catholics and persists today in attitudes towards Muslims, gypsy/travellers, eastern Europeans and others. The academics highlighted that black and minority ethnic candidates to public sector organisations in Scotland had a 1.1 per cent chance of getting the job, compared to an 8.1 per cent chance for white candidates.

Racist discrimination is less visible in Scotland because there was less post-war inward migration to Scotland than to England. But Scots are just as likely fear what we don’t know or understand.

As with sectarianism there’s no shortcut to beating racism. Having an education system that promotes tolerance must surely help. Prejudiced reporting about Muslims in the media and abuse on social media, have to be tackled proactively. More ways have to be found of bringing communities together. Scotland could learn from initiatives in English towns to foster cross-community friendships.

And the political leadership offered by all parties in the Scottish Parliament, where the consensus is firm in promoting the positives of diversity, is critical. We have a Prime Minister who has derided Muslim women with phrases like “letterbox” and “bank robber”. Holyrood’s rejection of Boris Johnson’s disgraceful politics is all to its credit.

But that positive consensus about what Scotland aspires to be must not be allowed to obscure the reality of what Scotland is. Above all, to tackle this blight, we have to force ourselves to look at it.

If we don’t face up to the nasty side of Scotland, then we are condemning future generations of our fellow Scots to suffer the consequences.

Read more: Holyrood to probe anti-Muslim hatred in Scotland