Nicola Sturgeon yesterday spoke of her fears that the Brexit vote has taken the UK back to “a bygone age” of racism when she appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
The First Minister voiced her concerns during a discussion with the Scots Makar Jackie Kay which also saw the First Minister describe herself as an “odd” child who always had her nose in a book.
Ms Sturgeon talked of her enthusiasm for Ms Kay’s work and recounted an episode in the Makar’s memoirs when the poet was the victim of a racist attack in the early 1980s.
The First Minister said the incident “felt a bit too current” when she re-read it after the vote to leave the European Union.
During their conversation, Kay recalled how she was attacked in the London Underground by “fascists”, and how her pleas for help were snubbed by professional-looking onlookers who said they supported the racists.
Ms Sturgeon said. “Race is very much a theme of your work. I read Red Dust Road when it first came out (in 2010) and there is a scene from around 1980 when you were the victim of a racial attack in London and your friend stepped in and got a bloody nose.
“I read that book again this weekend and that scene really powerfully impacted on me in a way that I don’t remember it doing when I read the book the first time. Perhaps it was because I felt that was something from a bygone age, whereas this time it reminded me of some of the stories I had heard about the racial attacks in the aftermath of the EU referendum. It felt a bit too current.Do you think we are at a moment where we just have to remind ourselves collectively that there is no room for complacency on racism and intolerance?”
Kay said: “Absolutely. I think we really can’t be bystanders. We have to find a way to be active witnesses. It’s really very important because we are living in such frightening times. When I was 19, I was on the platform at the Angel and these BNP-type people broke bottles and started to attack me and my friends, and my friend’s nose was covered in blood. There was three businessmen on the platform and I said: ‘Aren’t you going to do anything to help us?’ They said: ‘No, we support them’.”
In a less serious moment the First Minister spoke of her own love of reading. She had spent her fifth birthday party reading a book under the table while other children played party games. Ms Sturgeon revealed her bookish nature ahead of today’s launch of her ‘First Minister’s Reading Challenge’ - an initiative to get kids into books.