The Scottish Ethnic Minorities Research Unit (SEMRU) was launched in March 1985 as a collaborative venture between Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, Scotland; Edinburgh College of Art and Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland. The main function of the Unit was to promote and carry out applied and policy orientated research on the position of ethnic minority groups and the incidence of racism and radical discrimination in Scotland.
The aims of SEMRU were: to identify areas in which research could counter racial discrimination and contribute to equality and the development of minority ethnic communities; to conduct research in a manner which is culturally sensitive and responsive to the specific requirements of Scotland’s diverse minority ethnic communities; draw implications for policy development and disseminate the results in such a way as to raise awareness and influence the planning process of public sector agencies; to promote relevant conferences, seminars and teaching programmes; to liase with ethnic minority organisations, local authorities, the Racial Equality Council, and other interested groups in identifying research needs.
The Unit was established due to the lack of local and national data on many areas affecting ethnic minorities which was a cause for concern to institutions and individuals who were involved in promoting better race relations, especially in the areas of housing, employment and social welfare. Other areas of interest were racial harassment, anti-discriminatory law, refugees and asylum seekers, poverty and education. Most British researched lacked a specific Scottish focus and while much of the research is relevant in Scotland, it seldom accommodated the different legal and administrative structures and the composition of its ethnic minorities. The Commission for Racial Equality, established in 1976, has 6 Racial Equality Councils in Scotland. It had been estimated by the 1991 census that there were 64,000 people of ethnic minority in Scotland. This meant there was a sizeable community in Scotland whose interests and characteristics had only marginally been addressed by existing research. To this end, SEMRU worked closely with statutory and non statutory agencies in Scotland to advise and inform the development of race equality and anti-discriminatory work. Its major aim was to ensure that policies designed to improve race relations and anti-discrimination were well informed in terms of their reliance to the needs and interests of ethnic minorities and to their experience of discrimination. Findings were published in academic journals and books, through national and international conferences and seminars, and the Unit’s own series of occasional papers.
The Unit was based in both Glasgow and Edinburgh in order to provide easier contact with interested individuals and groups in the two major urban centres of Scotland. The management of the Units activities was the responsibility of its directors, with a single director and location assuming over-arching responsibility for each research project. The Glasgow directors were Professor David Walsh and Kay Hampton; in Edinburgh the directors were Dr Martin MacEwen and Dr Gina Netto. The Unit’s also contributed to teaching in racism, ethnicity and discrimination at both Glasgow Caledonian University’s School of Social Sciences and the School of Planning & Housing at Edinburgh College of Art.
The Unit was funded through research project grants from a range of statutory and non-statutory organisations including, the Commission for Racial Equality, local authorities and voluntary organisations. International and national funding for projects was received from the European Commission, Council for Europe, the Home Office, Scottish Office, Health Education Board of Scotland and the Scottish Refugee Council, as well as from local authorities and associations.
By 2000 , the political and social situation had changed in Scotland with regard to minority ethnic issues and equalities. The British Government’s modernising agenda, a greater awareness of racism and racial discrimination, a shift towards social justice and inclusion and the amendments of the Race Relations Act 2000 resulted in the issues relating to racial discrimination being mainstreamed and more widely addressed by a larger number of agencies. There was therefore a lesser need for specialist units such as SEMRU and as it was felt that it had served its original purpose, having collected benchmark statistical evidence and research data in this area. As mentioned this was information that was previously lacking in the Scottish context. Further, in line with the shift towards mainstreaming equalities work in Europe and the UK, Glasgow Caledonian University determined it appropriate to mainstream this area of research more broadly within the School of Law and Social Sciences. As a result, the SEMRU Glasgow Unit closed in 2000.