Footballers are doing it. Crowds of white protesters are doing it at Black Lives Matters events in America. Even some policemen in London have been seen bending the knee in atonement for racial guilt.  

This practice began two years ago when the black American NFL football star Colin Kaepernick, dropped on one knee during the US national anthem to protest police brutality.

It has now become a thing – a kind of penance. Leslie Evans, the head of the Scottish civil service tweeted herself bending the knee. It’s a public demonstration that you recognise that we live in a racist society. 

So, do we? Is Scotland a racist country? Should we collectively bend the knee? It’s not an easy question to answer. 

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Historically, Scotland always regarded itself as a more egalitarian society: Jock Tamson’s Bairns, Lad ‘o’ Pairts, A Man’s a Man. The assumption has been that because we are not so class conscious, at least by comparison with our larger neighbour, then we must be more tolerant of racial minorities. Moreover, wasn’t the British Empire essentially English?

Not really. Scots were partners in the British Empire, albeit junior ones. Wealthy Scots were also implicated in the slave trade.

The “tobacco barons” – immortalised in Glasgow street names like Ingram, Glassford, Buchanan – traded in leaf plucked by slaves on the plantations of Virginia. 

Recently, something of an academic industry has grown up remembering Scotland’s racial past. Books like Neil Davidson’s “No Problem Here – Racism in Scotland” argue that there very much is a problem here. Glasgow University has promised to devote £20 million in reparations for its historic links with slavery.  

It’s not all one way though. As the historian, Iain Whyte, documented in “Scotland and the Abolition of Black Slavery” opposition to slavery was the dominant moral issue in Scotland in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth century. Scottish opinion was in advance of England. 

Moreover, it’s not clear how many ordinary Scots benefitted from colonial wealth in an era before income taxes existed. Most working class Scots, toiling 14 hour days in mills from the age of ten, were being ruthlessly exploited themselves. 

Anyway, facing up to the past isn’t necessarily to concede that racism is rampant today.  Scotland has a good record when it comes to civic opposition to racism. Glasgow made history in 1981 by awarding Nelson Mandela freedom of the city, when he was still regarded as a terrorist by the UK government. It later renamed St James Place “Nelson Mandela Place”.

The Scottish SNP minister, Ivan McKee, has suggested renaming a Glasgow street after George Floyd, which might be a fitting tribute. 

Nicola Sturgeon, has made diversity and anti-racism one of the cornerstones of her administration. The Scottish government has a conspicuously welcoming attitude towards immigrants, insisting that we want more of them.  We took proportionately more Syrian asylum seekers in 2015, and they have integrated very well.

There is no overtly anti-immigrant party in Scotland, unlike countries like Norway and Denmark.  The most obvious indicator of racism is racial crime, and here at least the news is pretty good.

Scottish racial crime has fallen nearly 40% in the past seven years alone and is now lower than at any time since records began.

That is an impressive record, not least because in the past decade, in the wake of the Macpherson Report and the 2-10 Equality Act, there has been much greater awareness of racial crime, and a willingness by people to report it. 

The death of Sheku Bayoh after being restrained by officers in Kirkcaldy in 2015 is often cited as evidence of police brutality and racism. But it’s not clear that this was the case. A public inquiry is underway to determine whether there was any racial dimension to the episode. 

Police Scotland have taken diversity so much to heart that it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between law enforcement and campaign organisations.

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The Scottish parliament is pushing the boundaries of hate crime and even considering criminalising “stirring up” hatred, whatever that means.  The Scottish Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, who’s leading this attempt to tighten up the law, is himself a victim of racial harassment online.

Social media has become a new frontier for racial intolerance and is an intractable problem since so much of it is anonymous. However, we can’t judge a nation by Twitter. 

There is one area wherewhich intolerance is still very  obvious and that is religious sectarianism. This is not quite the same as hating black people but it is a racial issue, and it still exists not least at Auld Firm games.

Similarly, some anti-English sentiment has always lurked beneath the surface of civic Scotland. On some measures, racism against white immigrants, mainly Central Europeans, has recently been on the rise from a low base. 

One important reason why black racism has not been a prominent issue here is the shortage of black people. Scotland is 95% white and there are fewer than 40,000 people of Afro-Caribbean descent in Scotland. 

It has never been entirely clear why successive waves of immigration from the West Indies, Bangladesh and other developing countries stopped at the border. England is much more ethnically diverse, as is evident the moment you step off the train or bus to London.  The weather played a part obviously.

But it seems mainly to do with the low growth rate of the Scottish economy over the last century. We just didn’t generate enough jobs to attract mass migration here.  There is, of course, a sizeable Asian population based mainly in Glasgow and the West of Scotland.

The late Bashir Ahmad, Scotland’s first Muslim MSP, was a pillar of the local community and always said that he had been welcomed by Scots.  This doesn’t tally with anecdotal evidence from figures such as the poet Jackie Kay, who say that they experienced covert racism at school and have always felt “different”.

There’s evidence that Scots who have had little exposure to non-white people, especially in the Highlands, tend to regard black people as “other”.

Then there is what is called “structural racism”. This is the kind of racism that you can’t see but arises because people of non-white origin do worse economically.

And as a general rule they do, in the UK as a whole.  Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants came to Britain in the 60s to do some of the lowest paid jobs and they are still amongst the lowest paid.

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However, the highest income earners in the UK, according to the Office of National Statistics, are not the White British but Indians and Chinese. 

It’s quite difficult to do this kind of analysis in Scotland because of the low numbers involved. There are over one million white Scots living in relative poverty, according to the latest government figures, against around 100,000 non whites. 

The rate of poverty rate, however, is much higher amongst Scotland’s small non-white population. Black people generally have poorer health than whites – though working class Scots also suffer from this structural inequality.  Scotland is definitely not free from racism – no society is.

We can bend the knee if we want out of respect for the victims of police brutality, but we can also hold our heads up. Glasgow is not Minneapolis.