Davie Donaldson, a Scottish Traveler and campaigner, told MSPs on Tuesday the Scottish Government should apologize to the community for the “forced separation and forced sedentarisation” of Gypsy Traveler people.
Between 1940 and 1980, the so-called “tinker experiment” – supported by councils and the UK Government – attempted to strip away the nomadic lifestyle of the community, providing rudimentary and often cramped huts for people to live in.
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When families became too big to be housed in the huts, children would sometimes be taken away.
The practice has been likened to “cultural genocide” by campaigner Shamus McPhee, who was born into one such site in Perth and Kinross.
Repeated calls have been made in recent years for an apology, but one has not been forthcoming from the Scottish Government.
Addressing the equalities, human rights and civil justice committee on Tuesday, Mr Donaldson said: “A point that I want to raise, and a point that’s been raised by many activists for decades now, is the fact that we still have no government apology for the cultural trauma and what has been termed as ‘cultural genocide’ of Gypsy Travelers throughout the 20th century.
“I just hope that in 2022, in this year of Scotland’s stories, that this will be the year that Government will strongly consider making an apology, strongly consider recognizing the impact of cultural trauma on today’s inequalities and tell Scotland’s Gypsy Traveler story in full. ”
Mr Donaldson hopes recent apologies from the Scottish Government for pre-devolution actions, including the execution of women branded witches by the Witchcraft Act of 1563, may open the door for such a gesture.
“I think the apology is something that will be very welcomed, we have been pushed back with the apology in recent years,” he said.
“I think with the apology given to the LGBT community and others, of course for actions prior to this administration, as well as the First Minister’s apology for the burning of witches – something that happened a good long time before devolution – I think the argument is there that even though this happened prior to return an apology should still be made and would be very welcomed.”
The activist cautioned, however, that an apology would not fix all of the issues facing the Gypsy Traveler community in Scotland.
“However, I would urge that if an apology is to be made, it’s made with an understanding that an apology in and of itself will not fix things and that this cultural trauma really does intersect with all of the inequalities that Gypsy Travelers are continuing to face in our country,” he said.
“I would certainly urge for a conversation to begin around what can we do to resolve that cultural trauma?”
Dr Lynne Tammi, of human rights organization AyeRight, said an apology would be good for those for whom it would provide “peace”, but said a better approach may be through a post-Apartheid South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission.
“There needs to be opportunities to speak and for those who want to speak to the ongoing trauma and what is still in your DNA,” she said.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.