THE concept of “Scottish exceptionalism” needs to be addressed and a new report into institutional racism commissioned, a leading figure in race relations has argued.

Zara Mohammed, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, has been speaking to the Sunday National following the release of the controversial Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report which claimed that there was no evidence of institutional racism in the UK.

And she has highlighted the need to revisit the issue and correct the ­conclusions of the report.

She said: “What we’ve expressed is our complete disappointment in the report.

“Ethnic minority communities in Scotland are some of the most socio-economically deprived. Young ­Scottish Muslims are some of the most unemployed, and even myself as a graduate, we all know how difficult it is to attain jobs.

“We know of evidence-based cases and anecdotally of people who didn’t get jobs because they were told they didn’t look the part. So what the ­report suggests is not accurate to the reality.

“But this issue we fundamentally need to address in Scotland is of ­Scottish exceptionalism, that things are different here, but things aren’t and institutional racism is at the heart of this.

“Because we’re not talking about the physical and abusive stuff ­because that’s still there, we’re talking about inability to attain opportunity and your best even if you go through the system.”

The Glaswegian highlighted, too, continuing faultlines in society ­regarding equality of justice.

She added: “I think we know there are inherent issues in the justice ­system through the process and the administration.

“I know of friends and colleagues, and I myself studied law, and there is a lot of racism in the career. That is in your ability to attain jobs and the discrimination you face because of your religion.

“That is whether wearing the headscarves or not going to the pub, there are a lot of points of exclusion.

“There are definitely inherent flaws in that you are not able to attain the same position as your white Scottish colleague, so you’re always on the back foot.

“And then there is the administration of justice. We saw that with the Sheku Bayoh case, we’ve seen that with refugees, deportation, ­immigration, the way the system treats ­ethnic minorities and their capacity to ­access justice.

“I think the issue with this report is that practitioners, institutions, ­different bodies have all accepted that ­institutional racism still exists, but this report says that it doesn’t, and that we’ve misapplied it, so we don’t understand. This is actually a ­regression rather than a progression.”

Mohammed points to the evidence of how ethnic minorities show up in unemployment, in the criminal ­system and targeting on racial terms.

She added: “We know that disproportionately that we are higher in prison, and also lower in the police force as well. I believe it is only 2% or 3% in Scotland.

“And how can we be reflected so highly in prisons yet so lowly in employment?

“We know, too, that Islamophobia is on the rise and that hate crime has increased. We’re still not being ­accepted as fully part of society.”

The Muslim Council of Britain has also seen first hand the greater ­burden their community has taken on over the year of Covid.

Mohammed added: “We saw ­Covid only highlight this with many in the Muslim and Asian community, low-income workers and taxi drivers, suffer. Across the UK, around 60% of the NHS doctors and nurses who passed away were from BAME communities.”

With the Scottish election ­campaign in full flow, Mohammed believes there is an opportunity for our political parties to make race a key issue.

She said: “They absolutely have to take the issue seriously and commission a real report that is actually going to look at institutional racism and inequality and give us some proper recommendations that are aligned to what communities are going through.

“And this report should be driven again by the communities that are most affected.

“The outcry and the shock at this report is very telling. It is across the board.

“Politicians need to make a proper commitment not just to doing the ­report but to implement change over the inequalities in society.”

One such report, by Scots legal giant Sir William Macpherson of Cluny in 1999 into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, is held up as an example to follow after he called the Met Police institutionally racist.

DR Halima Begum, CEO of race relations think tank Runnymede Trust, would like to see the UK powers-that-be build on his work.

She said: “This report and its racist tropes has taken race equality back to the 1970s. We wish now that the report hadn’t been set up, it’s been so damaging.

“We expected this report to have recommendations that would look to dismantle structural racism.

“The legacy which Macpherson left, and we acknowledge his passing away, is not something we want to unravel but build on, we want to honour his legacy and what he opened up for racial justice in this country.

“We want to make sure that the police and the immigration system reflects better outcomes for black and minority ethnic people.

“So we do have good allies on our side. We’ve always had good allies but our allies need their recommendations reflected in the systemic change that we want to see.

“We want more of that kind of thinking from leading thinkers and reformers who focus on the system and the bigger picture rather than thinking that you can resolve racism by fixing a few bad apples.

“Because the system is built on ­racial profiling you can end up carrying out indirect racial policies. That’s what’s wrong with the system.”