THE annual St Andrew’s Day anti-racism rally in Glasgow on Saturday couldn’t be more timely. The ugly rhetoric of othering which Brexit has accelerated is peaking in this General Election campaign.

This week has seen the UK newspapers dominated by accusations that the Labour party is antisemitic and racist. Labour has made this rod for its own back of course, by backing away from discussion about the benefits of immigration when it was needed.

From Ed Miliband’s immigration mugs to Jeremy Corbyn abandoning freedom of movement, Labour have not provided an effective counter to the rise of racism in the UK.

But while the media focus on Labour, the Conservatives are led by a man who has been overtly racist on many occasions.

Boris Johnson has described black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and argued Islam has caused the Muslim world to be “literally centuries behind” the west. He compared Muslim women who wear the burka to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers” only last year.

His bigotry is not restricted to race. He referred to gay men as “tank-topped bumboys”. He blamed single mothers for “producing a generation of ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate children”.

This language isn’t just hateful discrimination. From someone in such a position of privilege, it sets a tone which others copy.

In this election Johnson’s party has already suspended candidates in Aberdeen North and Glasgow Central because they have used inflammatory language. Shouldn’t Boris Johnson suspend himself? Where do the standards begin and end?

Astonishingly, Sajid Javid, the first minority ethnic home secretary, refused to condemn Johnson’s language this week.

The Tories are still campaigning on an anti-immigrant platform. They are still linking immigration and the benefits bill, for example. This counts the cost of human beings, rather than recognising their contribution to our society.

In government they have overseen a deliberately hostile environment which has deported British citizens because of their heritage. The Home Office imprisons families at detention centres throughout the UK, including Dungavel in South Lanarkshire.

Now the settled status scheme threatens to sacrifice the rights of EU citizens on the altar of Brexit.

But even more urgent is the fact that in Glasgow, 150 asylum seekers face being thrown out onto the street in the middle of winter due to the Home Office’s relationship with the discredited private outsourcing giant Serco.

There is a nasty, bitter irony that Serco claims it has been “demonised” about this after the courts ruled the practice of forcing refugees from their homes by changing the locks was legal.

This should be appealed, but whether deliberately making these vulnerable people destitute is eventually found to be technically legal, it remains morally reprehensible. Glasgow now faces a homelessness crisis, just as temperatures are plummeting.

The Home Office’s treatment of asylum seekers isn’t just a matter of bureaucracy; it is because the Home Office is institutionally racist.

I attended a protest with Scottish Green colleagues recently outside the Home Office’s Glasgow HQ, calling for it to be abolished. This isn’t just a slogan, it’s a serious proposal to redraw the institutions of the state so that they don’t turn the racist rhetoric of a prime minister into punitive action against the vulnerable.

Dignity, compassion and respect must be at the heart of the immigration and asylum systems. They must uphold human rights, not take them away. The Home Office’s mission for far too long has been toxic, its culture intrinsically racist.

It should be replaced with institutions that respect dignity and human rights. Institutions that work for citizens and those fleeing war, persecution and torture, not against them.

Step one to achieving this would of course be to remove Boris Johnson. When challenged on his racist language in the Question Time special, he pleaded: “I defend my right to speak out.”

Freedom of speech is not a defence for bigotry. Hate crimes are rising across the UK, enabled and encouraged by hate speech. What began as a Home Office policy on immigration, the hostile environment is becoming a cultural phenomenon.

Westminster is failing to deal with this. The Scottish Parliament taking control of immigration and asylum powers (whether by devolving them or preferably with full independence) would at last give Scotland the chance to make a fresh start in those policy areas. But to get a fresh start on the cultural impact of this toxic legacy would take political leadership too, not just the legal powers. I would never pretend that Scotland is free from bigotry. Far from it. But in the fight to tackle this head on, we could benefit from being able to build a new, fairer Scotland rather than rowing against the tide of the bigoted belief system that drove Britain towards Brexit and is embedded in its institutions.