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Tackling Racism in Dundee (part two) – The Tayside Racial Equality Council

Updated: Jul 29, 2023


Newspaper headlines from the 1990s and 2000s

In 1990, the Tayside Community Relations Council (TCRC) adopted a new constitution in order to continue receiving funding from the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE). This limited its scope “to working for racial equality and against racism.”The TCRC’s Community Relations Officer, Tom Dailly, spent much of his time dealing with individual cases of racial harassment and developing closer relations with the police, who were now taking the problem of racism more seriously. That same year, the British National Party held its first rally in Dundee, though in response a much larger group gathered under the banner of Dundee Anti-Fascist Committee. Later in the year, Tayside Regional Council’s Equal Opportunities Unit in South Tay Street was covered with extreme right-wing posters.


With only one employee and a limited budget, the TCRC struggled to combat the problem, which continued to grow over the next few years. Attacks on shops and homes became increasingly common and in 1991 TCRC chair Albert Jacob was himself the victim of racial harassment. An Anti-Racist Forum was set up in 1990 and TCRC worked with the police and the Asian Action Group (which had been founded in 1989) to establish a Business Watch scheme in 1991. TCRC was also actively involved in a new government-funded Safer Cities Project, which aimed to reduce crime in Whitfield, Fintry, Mid Craigie and Linlathen. In the midst of all this, John White took over from Dailly as TCRC’s Chief Officer – he would become the organisation’s longest-serving worker.


In 1993 the police recorded a 50% rise in reports of racial harassment, particularly in the Hilltown area – this led to Dundee being given the unwelcome title of “Scottish capital for racial harassment”. Unfortunately, at the time when it was most needed, the TCRC found itself mired in its own internal problems. In 1994 the organisation was renamed the Tayside Racial Equality Council (TREC), but opinion was divided within ethnic minority communities as to how racial equality could be achieved. A member of the Asian Action Group told the Courier that there was “a fundamental disagreement between some of the older and younger members of the communities. While the younger members favour a more aggressive approach in their quest for equality, their elders prefer to promote harmony between the different communities”. These disagreements came to a head at TREC’s AGM in July 1994. Some members walked out of the meeting in protest, with the result that the elections to the TREC board were then called into question. Although an investigation by the CRE cleared TREC of any misconduct, two directors resigned from the board in protest (including local councillor Charles Farquhar, who had been a long-standing supporter of racial equality initiatives in the city). An Action Committee of Tayside Ethnic Minorities was set up by representatives of community groups who disagreed with TREC’s approach and threatened to set up their own alternative. The Dundee Chinese Association claimed that TREC was “out of touch with ethnic groups” and formally withdrew its support. Dr Karam Saggar (later to become Honorary President of TREC) wrote: “During this disturbing period, the community looked at the Asian Action Group for support.” Unfortunately, it too became split into different factions in 1995 but managed to resolve its differences the following year.


Thankfully the rift at TREC gradually healed, particularly following the election of Edward Tsang (secretary of the Chinese Association) as chair in 1996. The council’s office moved from Paterson Street to Arthurstone Library that year and other initiatives around this time were proving effective. The police reported a drop in racial harassment figures, the Tayside Region Community Education Service formally adopted a racial equality policy, and Dundee became only the second local authority in Scotland to evict tenants from council housing on grounds of racial harassment. A Community Response Service was set up for victims of racial harassment, which in term led to a Multi Agency Panel being developed to provide a more holistic approach to the problem. In 1997, Dundee’s local councillors became the first in Scotland to offer surgeries specifically for ethnic minority constituents, with three translators on hand. That same year, John White won TREC’s first employment tribunal case, successfully proving racial discrimination and leading to their client being awarded £2,490 as compensation. Sadly, 1997 also saw the death of Margaret Faulkner, one of the organisation’s original founders and a long-serving member.


Cover of TREC’s annual report for its 25th anniversary year (courtesy of Dundee City Archives)

In 1999, TREC received a grant to run a two-year project aimed at improving the employment opportunities of local ethnic minority residents, with Ajit Trivedi becoming Employment & Enterprise Officer. A careers awareness day for the uniformed services became a hugely popular annual event. Various other training opportunities were organised and 20 people from ethnic minorities were enrolled onto a New Deal employment scheme.


1999 also saw the publication of the report from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (about the murder of a Black British teenager in London), conducted by Sir William Macpherson of Blairgowrie. The report not only found institutional racism within the Metropolitan Police but also called for reform of the Civil Service, local government, the National Health Service and the judicial system. Two years later, John White stated that the report “had an unprecedented effect on racial equality work in Scotland”. The new Scottish Executive also placed a high priority on promoting equality and tackling social exclusion, and the passing of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act in 2000 placed a positive duty on local authorities to promote racial equality. All of this seemed to suggest TREC would have a strong future ahead of it.


Pages from TREC’s newsletter for winter 2000-01 (courtesy of Local History Centre, Dundee Central Library, Leisure and Culture Dundee)

In 2001, however, the CRE announced that (due to its own restructuring following the new Race Relations Act) it would cease to provide funding for all racial equality councils from 1 April 2002. TREC’s funding was already precarious - since the dissolution of Tayside Regional Council following local government reorganisation in 1996, TREC had had to negotiate annually with Dundee City Council, Angus Council and Perth & Kinross Council in order to gain funds to provide its various services. New chair Mohammed Asif stated: “I am greatly concerned about the constant battle to seek funding. The amount of funding provided by the local authorities has remained static for years and there is every indication that it is not going to improve in the future.” He was certain, however, “that we continue to offer a first-class value-for-money service and that our unique expertise in Tayside is greatly valued.”


Transitional funding was provided by CRE but for TREC to have survived it would have needed significant increases in local authority funding. These were not forthcoming and on 4 July 2002 the organisation was wound up. It was the only racial equality council in Scotland not to survive – the other four (Edinburgh & Lothian and Glasgow were later joined by Central Scotland and Grampian) continue today as Regional Equality Councils. This loss can certainly be felt – while racial hate crime seems to be declining in other parts of Scotland, in Dundee it has been increasing alarmingly in recent years, nearly doubling between 2016-17 and 2020-21. In the absence of TREC, the city clearly needs to find new ways of tackling this serious problem.


Written by Matthew Jarron, University of Dundee Museums


Sources


Margaret Faulkner, A Short History of the Tayside Community Relations Council (TCRC, 1990)

Tayside Community Relations Council, Racial Tension in Tayside: A Regional Report (TCRC, 1987)

Tayside Community Relations Council – various annual reports and newsletters held in Dundee Central Library Local History Centre

Tayside Racial Equality Council – various annual reports and newsletters held in Dundee City Archives

Dundee Courier & Advertiser – various issues

Press & Journal – various issues

Racial hate crime statistics at www.copfs.gov.uk



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