Suella Braverman, a former Tory Home Secretary, wrote an inflammatory article asserting without evidence that “Islamists, extremists and anti-Semites are in charge now”.

In the US, Liz Truss, a former Prime Minister, was interviewed by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon and stayed scandalously silent when he hailed British far-right figure Tommy Robinson as a “hero”.

Lee Anderson MP, former Tory deputy chairman, gave vent to Islamophobia, claiming in a GB News interview that Islamists “controlled” the Muslim mayor of London Sadiq Khan and London itself.

Then Paul Scully, a Tory MP, claimed parts of Tower Hamlets in London and Sparkhill in Birmingham, had become “no-go areas”, which he retracted after a fierce rejection of his remarks from the communities in question.

What has Rishi Sunak done about all this? Much less than you’d expect. Downing Street said only that Sunak “did not agree” with Mr Scully. There was silence on Braverman’s comments. Ministers insisted Truss “did nothing wrong”.

The Herald: Steve BannonSteve Bannon (Image: free)

Lee Anderson had the whip removed, but ministers fell over themselves to avoid calling his remarks racist or Islamophobic – when asked why Anderson was “wrong”, immigration minister Michael Tomlinson failed to give an answer on LBC six times (Nick Ferrari ended the interview in disgust).

Sadiq Khan knew why. He said Anderson was “pouring fuel on the fire of anti-Muslim hatred”.

Anderson has refused to apologise.

There will be many people worrying that we are starting to see the creeping normalisation of racism in British politics.

Here in Scotland, in the devolution era, we have had more than our share of divisive politics, but racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric has not, mercifully, been the stubborn, perennial problem it seems to be at Westminster.

Prejudiced outbursts still land here, though. The amplification of language associated with the far-right can be seen all over Europe. Scotland has no protective shield against its pernicious influence.

So what can Scottish politicians do to stop the bile here? They can stand publicly together against it, pledging – in writing – never to tolerate it in their ranks. And they can make sure they follow through.

All the parties have to meet the challenge. In Labour the poison has principally been antisemitism. Keir Starmer showed woeful misjudgment over Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali, suggesting initially that an apology for amplifying hateful anti-Jewish conspiracy theories was sufficient to allow Labour to continue supporting him, before later dumping him as candidate. It dented Starmer’s moral credibility, even though he’s taken a robust approach against other party figures over antisemitism.

To keep the hatred out of politics, political leaders have to be decisive, firm and consistent, because out there, away from the broadcast studios, real people are paying the price.

Dr Muhammad Adrees is chair of the Muslim Council of Scotland. He says that when politicians make divisive remarks about Muslims or Muslim communities, “a wave of fear goes across the country”. They create stress among Muslims, particularly school children and university students who are most affected by social media.

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For elders in the Muslim community, he says, it sparks deep anxiety about whether certain politicians have an agenda to 'kick Muslims out'. “I expect politicians to lead their communities. With comments like this, they are instigating hatred,” he says.

Islamophobic incidents since October have reached three times the level they did in the same four months the year before.

That comes alongside a huge spike in antisemitic attacks, which hit a record high in the UK in 2023. Many Jews report feeling fearful. In Scotland, reported attacks doubled compared to 2022.

The Hamas atrocities of October 7 and subsequent war is Gaza may be principally responsible, but politicians’ words do their own damage.

Hard right politicians like Anderson like to claim they are speaking for “real people”, implying their views are the majority view. But that’s demonstrably untrue. Nasar Meer is professor of social & political sciences at Glasgow University. He points to the evidence: “They are speaking to a base, but it is smaller than they claim.

“For example, in UK-wide polling from in 2018 by Survation, the majority of the UK-wide samples asked, saw no issue (and were ‘comfortable’) with Muslims as their neighbours (79 per cent), colleagues (86 per cent) their children’s friends (82 per cent), as well as if Muslims were in senior positions of responsibility in society.

“While there is a generational feature to this, with older people being less comfortable and younger people being more so, it’s obviously not the case that Islamophobic politicians speak for the ‘majority’ in any sense of the word.”

Yet the politicians who would fan division are tireless.

This is alarming for black and minority ethnic communities in Scotland. Colin Clark, professor of sociology and social policy at the University of the West of Scotland, and board member of the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, says we are “quite complacent” about racism in Scotland. Ours is a nation often characterised as “welcoming” but surveys of racism tell a different story. On the ground that might mean graffiti on religious buildings, bricks through windows, or being subjected to hateful abuse on the bus.

We can at least be glad that Scottish politicians have generally avoided fanning the flames. There has, overall, been a positive consensus in Holyrood about diversity. And, of course, the country’s two most high-profile politicians currently being Muslims, Humza Yousaf and Anas Sarwar, is a positive distinction for Scotland.

The Herald: Rishi Sunak with Suella BravermanRishi Sunak with Suella Braverman (Image: free)

We can take nothing for granted though. Here is what Scottish politicians could do to help keep divisive racist bile out of Scottish politics: all five Holyrood party leaders could sign a pledge never to tolerate racist language in public discourse, against any group, on their own benches or any other. They might also sign up to reject prejudice against any minority community.

Prof Clark and Dr Adrees would both support such a move.

It would take political courage. But with harmful language starting to pose a threat to personal and community safety, and ultimately democratic politics itself, our leaders should find it.