IT’S Black History Month, the UK Government has launched what Spectator columnist Fraser Nelson describes fondly as a “war on critical race theory and BLM”, and data released by the Home Office last week revealed that racist hate crime in England and Wales is rising exponentially.

What better time, then, for the Scottish Tories to emerge from their bunkers to lament the increase in racially aggravated hate crime in Scotland – published four months ago – and blame it on the Scottish Government’s “soft-touch justice system”?

These were the remarks of the party’s justice spokesperson, Liam Kerr MSP, reported in The Scotsman on Thursday as part of a bizarrely contradictory statement which simultaneously criticised the Government’s proposed Hate Crime Bill for taking things too far. It seems the Scottish Tories can’t tell which way is up, or exactly what point they should be trying to make, but if one thing’s for sure, it’s that it has little to do with eliminating racism.

It is true that the number of racially aggravated hate crimes recorded by the police in 2019-20 in Scotland was up by 4% on the previous year. With 3038 crimes recorded, this represents a drop of around 25% over the past 10 years. This compares to a 6% increase this year in England and Wales, and a 112% rise over the 10-year period.

READ MORE: Hate Crime Bill: Leaked emails reveal Tory division over legislation

Taken together with the knowledge that hate crime is notoriously underreported, none of these figures should inspire anything but serious reflection on what can be done to create a society where nobody is victimised on the basis of race. Black History Month is indeed a good time to embark on these conversations and, more importantly, push for real action to back it up. Forgive me, though, if I find myself reeling at the hypocrisy of the Tories implying they’d be better suited to the task.

As with most deep-seated social and structural problems, the Tories imagine – or, at least, pretend to imagine – that simply by being that bit tougher and shaking their fists at the sky a tad more aggressively, they can get everyone to behave exactly as they’d like. But, ask them to put their money where their mouth is or accept that the political and economic system has a role to play in virtually any issue, and you’re out of luck.

It shouldn’t come as a shock, then, that the UK Government’s equalities minister Kemi Badenoch rounded off the Black History Month debate in the House of Commons this week by denouncing a “dangerous trend” which regards her “blackness as victimhood”. Nor is it anything but a perfectly crystallised reflection of conservative ideology that Badenoch set her sights on schools which “openly support the anti-capitalist Black Lives Matter group”, declaring that teaching white pupils about “white privilege” without balancing this with opposing views amounts to “breaking the law”. The name of this frightening spectre, she explained, is “critical race theory” – put very simply, an analysis which sees racism as embedded in the structures of society, from the legal system to employment; from housing to education; and from the media to politics.

Badenoch’s pronouncements follow an update in the Department of Education’s Personal, Social, Health and Economic education guidance earlier this month which said schools in England shouldn’t use resources from organisations that promote “extreme positions”, such as a “desire to abolish or overthrow ... capitalism”, or “victim narratives that are harmful to British society”. Granted, all of this sounds alarmingly authoritarian. It echoes almost to the letter the recent attacks on critical race theory by US President Donald Trump, who banned it from being used in training for government employees, described its teaching in schools as “a form of child abuse”, and claimed that it “teaches people to be ashamed of themselves and be ashamed of their country”.

That the UK Government is so blatantly taking pointers from a President who courts the support of white supremacists should have us all worried. But the fact that the Tories want to silence the views of Black Lives Matter and critical race theorists is entirely in keeping with a characteristic refusal to engage with any ideas outside of the “personal responsibility” narrative. It’s not that they contest the belief that white people should be nice to be black people – that kind of surface-level “not-racism” probably falls well within the bounds of what the Ministry of Truth considers to be non-political and therefore “wholesome”. No, the problem is that these anti-racist activists and thinkers want people to understand that the institutions of power are working against them and that those institutions need to change.

The Conservatives are using some rather devious sleight of hand to make this sound like an extremist viewpoint, but if you take a step back, replace “race” with “gender”, and remember that most people understand that inequality is about a bit more than one person not liking another, there’s really nothing outrageous about these ideas. Of course, turning ideas into reality will take more radicalism than has so far been offered by any government. But with the spotlight on these issues like never before, more and more people are catching on to the urgency of achieving just that.

TO the Tories, talking about the fact that bad people shouldn’t do bad things – and if they do they’re going to be in very big trouble – is comfortable ground. It keeps the focus squarely on individual incidents and away from the bigger picture, the roots from which hateful attitudes and behaviours grow. Preventing hate crime – the most extreme expression of prejudice at an individual level – is impossible without public education. This includes encouraging children and young people to unpack the history of racism and to understand how race is used as a means of disadvantaging people. It’s also impossible without challenging the inequalities which are interwoven through every aspect of our lives. It is under those materially and politically unequal conditions that racist beliefs are able to thrive.

READ MORE: Jim Sillars on why the SNP must back further changes to the Hate Crime Bill

For months, Home Secretary Priti Patel has been waxing lyrical about all the wonderful ideas her government has up its sleeve to make it harder for asylum seekers to come to (and remain in) the UK. All of this, because apparently Theresa May’s “hostile environment” isn’t quite hostile enough; a set of policies intended to clamp down on illegal immigration and which have been found to result in poorer treatment not only of migrants of all statuses but of people of colour born in the UK who are presumed to be “not from here”.

And just this week, the Tories voted down an amendment to the Immigration Bill (proposed by a Lord who fled the Nazis as a child) which would have ensured that unaccompanied child refugees in the EU could continue to be reunited with close family members in the UK. These are not exactly among the more subtle examples of systemic racism, but they are ones which the Scottish Tories are happy to stand behind.

Faced with the words and actions of this government over the past decade, of the implicit and often overt xenophobia of the Leave campaign, of the pandering to Ukippers and worse which began even before the Conservatives came to power – is anyone really going to act surprised that there are people who think it’s okay to target minorities with abusive language or violence? The stage has been set, the script written and permission granted to perform in the most hateful manner possible by an ideology and political regime which dehumanises and scapegoats as a matter of course.

While the Tories in government are, once again, pointing to anti-racists as the source of the problems of the white working class, and the Tories in opposition are pointing to Scotland’s “soft” justice system, what they’re really saying is: look anywhere but up.