RIGHT-WING extremism has become the biggest cause of referrals in Scotland to the UK Government's anti-radicalisation programme.

The Home Office said that far right radicalisation had become the number one reason for referrals, overtaking Islamic extremism to the Prevent programme in England and Wales for the first time.

It was feared in about a quarter (1,229) of those put forward to the anti-terror programme for the year from April 2020 to March 2021, said the Home Office.

That figure was higher than the number of Islamist radicalisation referrals, which was 22% (1,064) during the same period.

Of the 55 referrals in Scotland to Prevent - which aims to safeguard people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism - 25 individuals (45%) were referred for concerns related to right-wing extremism - a sharp rise from 22% in 2017/18.

Just seven (13%) were referred for concerns related to Islamist extremism a drop from 37% in 2017/18.

Eighteen (33%) were referred with a mixed, unstable or unclear ideology.

Four years ago,  international extremism was stated as the number one cause of Prevent referrals in Scotland - making up 36% of cases, while right wing bigotry accounted for 22% of cases.

Last month Scotland's Muslim communities expressed concern over a case of a white supremacist who idolised right-wing mass killers.

Zara Mohammed, secretary general of The Muslim Council of Britain, said the case of 24-year-old Sam Imrie in Fife was "shocking and worrying".

HeraldScotland:

Source: Police Scotland

Imrie (above), from Glenrothes, was convicted of terrorism charges after being arrested in 2019 for posting messages online saying he was planning to set fire to the Fife Islamic Centre.

During the trial, the High Court in Edinburgh was told that Imrie became "steeped" in right-wing ideology and started to "hate" Muslims after looking at extremist content on websites such as 8Chan and messaging app Telegram.

Referrals to Prevent can be put forward to a panel that decides if individuals would benefit from more support.

The Prevent programme has been dogged by allegations of being a cover to spy on Muslim communities, but police concerns about far-right activity have been rising in recent years, leading to them making up a higher proportion of referrals.

The number of referrals to Prevent in Scotland in 2020/21 was half that of the previous year which is believed to be due to the Covid-19 lockdown. The vast majority, 95%, were made in relation to men and the most common age was between 15 and 20.

Some 17 of the 55 (31%) were in the 21-30 age range, 12 of the referrals in Scotland (22%) were aged 15-20, 10 (18%) were under 15 and 15% were aged 31 to 40.

Of the total, 24 (44%) of referrals to the Prevent programme in Scotland were made by police and 10 (18%) by people in education.

According to Police Scotland, it was possible that there were a number of people at risk of radicalisation who were not referred to Prevent during the 2020/21 period.

While the Prevent presence within Police Scotland has continued throughout the pandemic, the Covid restrictions and changes in work practices associated with the pandemic led to a drop in face-to-face interaction, making it more difficult for support services and the force's statutory partners to identify, and therefore refer, those with vulnerabilities.

It is understood that as the restrictions have eased, referrals for the first half of 2020/21 have begun to rise.

Concerns over extreme right-wing radicalisation among teenagers have mounted in recent years.

In September, MI5 director-general Ken McCallum said the presence of teenagers is a "rising trend in MI5's counter-terrorist casework" and is becoming more so in extreme right-wing investigations.

Last year, the Home Office banned the neo-Nazi group Sonnenkrieg Division (SKD), members of which have been jailed for serious offences, making membership of the group illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison. It also recognised the extreme rightwing group System Resistance Network as an alias of the already-proscribed organisation National Action.

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A study published this year also suggested extremist views are widespread in classrooms across the country.

The report from the University College London Institute of Education found that a majority of teachers spoken to by the researchers said they have heard pupils express far-right extremist views in their classroom, as well as "extremist views about women" or Islamophobia. Almost all the teachers surveyed had encountered "hateful extremism" in the form of racist views in the classroom, according to the report.

Counter-terrorism officials have expressed fears that a crucial defence to propaganda was weakened during lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, with young people spending more time online alone and unsupervised as schools and colleges closed.

On Monday, the home secretary, Priti Patel, announced the UK’s terror threat level would be raised from substantial to severe, meaning an attack was “highly likely”. It came after a suspected suicide bomber blew himself up with a homemade device outside a maternity hospital in Liverpool, weeks after the Conservative MP David Amess, 69, was killed during a surgery for his constituents.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Prevent remains a vital tool for early intervention and safeguarding. We will not allow extremists or terrorists to spread hate or sow diversion, and Prevent remains an important tool to help divert people away from harm.

"It is vitally important that if anyone has a concern about someone they think may be being radicalised, that they act early and seek help. Information and support can be found online through the Police's ACT Early website, or from Educate Against Hate."