openDemocracyUK: News

Douglas Ross tried to have Traveller family evicted for being ‘very visible’

Exclusive: Human rights campaigners say emails unearthed by openDemocracy show the Scottish Tory leader has a ‘vendetta’ against Travellers

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
17 April 2021, 12.01am
Douglas Ross has been accused of 'continuing to wage war on any and all Gypsies and Travellers'
Reuters/Russell Cheyne

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has been slammed by international human rights groups and Scottish Gypsy/Traveller elders after emails uncovered by openDemocracy show he tried to have a family of Travellers evicted by the local council because their camp was “very visible”.

In the email, released to openDemocracy under the Freedom of Information Act, Ross says “the site has now been occupied for some time and is in a very visible location as you enter Moray from the west.”

He also complains that “it seems to be getting bigger” and asks the council chief executive “what plans you have to take action to remove the Travellers from the site”.

Moray Council’s head of development services replied to Ross’s email, pointing out that the camp was on private land, was “clean and tidy”, and that there had been “no complaints alleging any type of anti-social behaviour”.

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The European Roma Rights group said the emails make clear that Ross has a “vendetta” against the community and “this wouldn’t be tolerated with any other ethnic minority”.

Scottish Traveller elder Lynne Tammi said the emails show Ross, “continues to wage war on any and all Gypsies and Travellers – settled or passing through his constituency. Actions and attitudes which demonstrate a complete disregard for the community’s human rights and protected characteristics.

“Indeed, from these communications at least, it would seem that his aim is to make life in Moray so difficult for Gypsies and Travellers that they will leave and not return.”

This wouldn’t be tolerated with any other ethnic minority

In 2017, openDemocracy revealed that Ross had said during an interview with Double Down News that his number one priority were he prime minister for the day would be “tougher enforcement against Gypsy/Travellers”. He later apologised for saying it would be his top priority.

Earlier this week, openDemocracy also revealed that, while Ross was a local councillor and chair of Moray’s planning committee in 2013, he ran a campaign against a Traveller site on private land in Moray. When the Scottish government approved the site, he said: “I am disappointed and frustrated that we seem to have to bend over backwards for this ethnic minority.”

In 2010, Ross voiced opposition to a different Traveller site on the grounds that it was too far from urban centres, saying “I have concerns about the ability to manage and control the site if it is in a more remote and rural area.” But in 2013, his committee ruled that Traveller sites would not be allowed within a kilometre of existing settlements, a policy described to openDemocracy by Tammi as “apartheid”.

However, the newly released emails show that Ross continued to use his power to target Travellers after he was elected an MP.

“To see this correspondence in black and white is truly shocking,” said Davie Donaldson, a Traveller from Angus, in east Scotland, responding to openDemocracy’s latest revelation.

“To request the physical eviction of families solely based on their ethnicity and the fact that they are ‘visible’ is heart-wrenching beyond measure.

“Gypsy/Travellers have lived, worked and contributed to Moray for centuries – they have as much right as anyone to be ‘visible’.”

He added: “It is an MP’s role to represent all of their constituents, especially those already marginalised – not to further exclude and stoke the fires of prejudice.

“Sadly this correspondence is telling of the often institutionalised prejudice held toward Gypsy/Travellers”.

Donaldson also praised a Moray Council staff member who replied to Ross’s email, saying that the email exchange “also shows a local authority standing up to bigotry”.

Douglas Ross's disdain for Scotland's Gypsy/Travellers is shocking, if not unexpected.

Maggie Chapman, Scottish Green Party lead candidate in North East Scotland said the exchange shows Ross is “totally unfit to be a parliamentarian, much less the leader of a party.”

She added: “Ross claims to want to move on from the arguments of the past, yet one of his passions appears to be a very old prejudice: hatred of minorities. That has no place in our future and it's time for him to apologise or resign."

Sheila Ritchie, convener of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the party’s candidate in Moray said: “Douglas Ross's disdain for Scotland's Gypsy/Travellers is shocking, if not unexpected.

“This community is one of the most marginalised in the country; its people suffer from poor health, including mental health, they have limited education and poor housing, the number of proper pitches for them reduces decade on decade; and what seems to most offend Mr Ross is not their suffering, but the fact he can see it. Sadly, it would appear, that has not stopped him ignoring it.”

Martin Docherty-Hughes, SNP MP for West Dunbartonshire and co-chair of the UK's All-Party Group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, said: “The Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities across these islands have been marginalised and discriminated against for far too long.

“We all have a duty to stand up to racial hatred and intolerance, so it’s disappointing that the use of prejudicial language towards Gypsy, Traveller and Roma by certain parliamentarians continues to feed into ignorant and outdated stereotypes.

“For the leader of the Scottish Conservatives to single out minority ethnic groups is appalling, and as more comes to light about anti-Traveller attitudes these must be called out.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Tories said: “These emails show Douglas Ross asking on his constituent’s behalf about the occupation of illegal sites.”

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