Nicola Sturgeon: Brexit has brought racism back

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.

Friday, 19th August 2016, 9:03 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 7:29 pm
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Scotland's Makar, Jackie Kay. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

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.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

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.