New campaign launched to fill ‘evidence gaps’ on scale of extremism in Scotland

The Scottish government found gaps related to the “nature, scope and scale of extremism” north of the border, as well as a lack of hard data.

A £50,000 research contract has now been published as part of the first phase of efforts to tackle the problem.

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According to the tender documents, government analysts previously reached the “tentative conclusion” that “the threat landscape in Scotland may differ from the UK in general in some respects”.

Counter-terrorism officers called to the scene of the 2017 London Bridge terror attack. Image: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

In particular, the evidence suggests that overall levels of extremism may be lower in Scotland than in other parts of the UK, and that there may also be differences in the types of extremism that are more and less prevalent.

However, the review also highlighted “a lack of hard data and evidence”, with the papers adding: “Since the review was carried out, more questions have been raised about the ways in which Prevent referrals are classified in Scotland , how adherence to or interest in different extremist ideologies may be changing, and what impact Covid-19 may have had on engagement with extremism.”

Prevent is a part of the UK government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

The Scottish Government has now launched a research program to “address the evidence gaps that have been identified and provide a greater understanding of how existing and new ideologies may be changing and developing in Scotland”.

“The findings will provide important insights into how extremism is developing in Scotland, how effective our current approach is to countering it, and support us in our work to identify and address emerging trends and risks,” the documents say.

They add: “The first phase of this research program will seek to explore understandings, perceptions and experiences of extremism from the perspective of the public, stakeholders and practitioners, in three separate but related research projects.”

This will include conducting a representative survey of 2,000 people, as well as focus groups and interviews between now and August.

Government analysts will also conduct in-depth interviews with “key individuals, groups and organizations who have a direct interest in Prevent or extremism in Scotland more generally”.

Meanwhile, a £50,000 contract published on the Public Contracts Scotland website covers an investigation that focuses on professionals who “work to deliver Prevent in Scotland in different settings and communities”.

Among other things, they will be asked to what extent they have witnessed or experienced extremism in Scotland, whether they perceive it as a threat and which ideologies concern them most, as well as the impact of the lockdown.

“Interviews are expected to take place with an appropriate number of professionals working in each of the sectors involved in Prevent delivery in Scotland (local authorities, health and social care, education, prisons and police),” the documents say.

A final report on this section of the work is expected in November.

Scottish Conservative community security spokesman Russell Findlay welcomed the move.

He said: “Anything that helps to better understand the threats posed by extremists is welcome, especially in areas where there are knowledge gaps, but the purpose and value of such research must be clear and of sound financial value to taxpayers.” .

In the year ending 31 March 2020, a total of 100 people were referred to Prevent in Scotland.

The most common type of concern was related to right-wing extremism, which accounted for 35 percent of referrals.

Most of the referrals were male (94 percent), with those between the ages of 15 and 20 making up the largest proportion (44 percent).

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While counter-terrorism is a reserved matter, Prevent Delivery in Scotland is devolved and the Scottish Government works closely with partners across the UK to prevent and address the threat posed by all forms of extremism.

“The research project was initiated so that our understanding of extremism in Scotland is clear, up-to-date and helps inform our ongoing policy response.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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