Tuesday, 20 April 2010

View from Pitlochry.

Shamus and Roseanna McPhee

Tribunal setback for Gypsy Travellers
By Colin Turbett.

Scotland’s forgotten oppressed minority – the Gypsy Traveller community, have been dealt a blow with the finding of a recent Employment tribunal in Aberdeen.

Ken McLennan, a non Traveller, who worked for the Gypsy Traveller Education and Information Project (GTEIP), was sacked last year. Ken took the GTEIP to a tribunal on the basis that he had been dismissed for activities that had upset some of the funders of the project, but which was in the interests of this ethnic minority.

The nub of his argument was that Gypsy Travellers were a recognised ethnic minority. The GTEIP, who claim to campaign for Gypsy Travellers, took the extraordinary step of arguing that as this had never been tested in a Scottish Court they had no case to answer. In other words their dismissal of Ken was legitimate because Scottish Travellers are not an ethnic minority and should enjoy no special protection, unlike their fellows in England , Wales and Ireland.

The Employment Judge, Nicol Hosie, then considered old dictionary definitions of Travellers and Gypsies and concluded that Scottish Travellers were not of Romany origin and agreed that they were not therefore an ethnic minority who should enjoy protection under anti discriminatory race relations law.

Until now everyone concerned with Scottish Gypsy Travellers, whether in the Scottish Parliament, or the Commission for Racial Equality, have argued publicly that Scottish Gypsy Travellers were of the same ethnic origin as other Travellers in the UK. All that was necessary was a test case to put this through the Scottish Legal System, and establish it once and for all. Whilst this would in itself not end centuries of prejudice it would at least make it easier to challenge modern day discrimination.

Said Gypsy Traveller activist Roseanna McPhee from Bobbin Mill site in Pitlochry:
“This has got to be challenged, and as quickly as possible. There are reasons why after 13 years on the supply list, I cannot get a job as a Gaelic teacher. I know what they are and they are based in discrimination pure and simple. I am not popular because I have spoken out, and I have suffered for it.”

Her brother Shamus, who is faced with Sheriff Officer action over an unpaid Council Tax bill is also in no doubt about the realities of the racial prejudice he faces daily: “They want thousands from me for Council Tax. This is meant to be payment for services but until now we have had none on this site – not even the basics of water and electricity.”

My personal view:

Scottish Travellers are indigenous to Scotland and are not of natural Romany origin.
But as Scottish Travellers have a shared history of nomadic culture, lifestyle and also have for centuries shared the discrimination of all Romany and nomadic people it is long past the time that they also had a share in anti-discrimination law.

'Scottish Travelling People' endure the most discrimination
and have the least recourse to law than any other ethnic group in Scotland.

This has raised some questions for me:...What is Roma?...Who are Roma?

In almost every country in the world there are people who live Romany lives.
Some of them are indigenous to their countries and some of them come from other countries. And all of them no matter what origin or nationality have a global spiritual connection. Any Traveller reading this will know what I'm talking about.
It's a feeling in the air, you know that you are connected to all people everywhere who are strangers and pilgrims in the world.
And because of this I can also say "I am Roma I am Romany"

An update to this story:

Scottish Gypsy Travellers are celebrating the recent judgement by Nicol Hosie at an Aberdeen Employment Tribunal in the case of Ken MacLennan, a non Gypsy Traveller who was dismissed last year by the Aberdeen based Gypsy Traveller Education and Information Project GTEIP).

A preliminary hearing early in 2008 ruled that Ken's submission that his activities in defending the interests of Gypsy Travellers, were protected under race relations legislation, which his employer had objected to, were not protected as Scottish Gypsy Travellers were not an ethnic minority.

The GTEIP had produced evidence to this effect at the earlier hearing, but, under pressure from the Government's Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), did not defend this position when Ken successfully won the right to the review which was held in September.

At the Employment Tribunal Review, the results of which were published to little fanfare in late October, Nicol Hosie about turned on his earlier decision thanks to a massive amount of evidence produced on Mr MacLennan's behalf, by Shamus and Roseanna McPhee, members of the Scottish Gypsy Traveller Law Reform Coalition (SGTLRC), backed up by Dr Colin Clark from Strathclyde University.

This involved historical research put together by the McPhees, brother and sister from Bobbin Mill site in Pitlochry.

Hosie commended the quality of their evidence which covered matters of shared common history, language and culture which met the criteria for separate ethnic identity established by other landmark rulings in UK Courts, but as yet unproven in the Scottish court system.

Ken MacLennan's case against dismissal will now proceed to a full hearing in the New Year.

Said Roseanna McPhee:
"This ruling marks a significant step in the right direction in our struggle to achieve full recognition and legal protection in Scotland. The earlier hearing decision was followed by an increase in harrassment of members of our community, and this judgment takes us back to where we were but with some added strength to our case. Meanwhile discrimination continues as does our fight for law reform. In Italy the persecution of the Roma people is open and enjoys legal backing under Berlusconi, but in Scotland it is hidden from view but often just as hurtful."

Members of the SGTLRC will be travelling down to Manchester later this month where a film about the plight of Scotland's Gypsy Travellers, which focuses on the McPhees, has been shortlisted for a prize at the Exposures student film festival. The film, entitled "The Forgotten Experiment", made by final year film and media students from Stirling University.

The film will be shown all week at the festival alongside other short films in a series entitled "Distant Voices, Still Lives" which looks at the plight of minorities from various parts of the world.


  1. Romany is an ethnic grouping with a common ancestry and language that can be traced back to India.
    Irish and Scottish Travellers are not ethnically Romany and do not have the Romany language although there are some Romanies in Scotland. They have their own roots and language which they should and are proud of.
    They should not be confused but that does not mean they should not have the same rights as Romany and all other ethnic groups.
    There is no such thing as a Romany life that I can follow, only Romanies can do that. I and many others can follow a travelling lifestyle and have 'a feeling in the air' but that does not allow us to say 'I am Roma' any more than me a Londoner can say I am Turkish because I like the language and lifestyle of some Turkish people.
    Equal and human rights for all is what we want and that includes the right to lead different lifestyles.

  2. Thank you for your comment,may I refer you to my latest post.
    I personally feel that - What is Roma?..Who are Roma? cannot be claimed solely by one ethnic clan.

  3. But Roma are an ethnic group through genetic make up and language etc. 'A feeling in the air' does not define you as a member of an ethnic group just that you have a similar outlook or lifestyle.
    I too support and feel a connection with other people. That is because I am a socialist.

  4. You do have a valid point.
    But my point is that 'What is Roma' is more diverse and more global than one ethnic group.
    In my post 'Spiritual Connections' neither group is ethnic Roma.
    But there is a sufficient closeness of life and feeling to bring them under the umbrella of the generic name 'Roma.'

  5. Maybe I am being pedantic but do not think you should appropriate the name of an ethnic group to use as a generic term for people not from that ethnic group. It is confusing. If you are not Roma you are not Roma.
    A cultural or spiritual affinity with Roma needs a different generic term. Some use the term 'gypsy'to describe a superficial romantic view of Roma life. I agree you have a more serious approach. I just do not know the word to describe it...yet.

    I will probably end here.


  6. Thank you, for your comments.