Gypsy travellers have criticised the Scottish government for its refusal to apologise for a so-called ‘tinker experiment’ that blighted thousands of lives.
They have described it as a programme of “cultural genocide” that “ripped families apart”.
The ‘experiment’ lasted from 1940 to 1980, supported by the UK government and local authorities, and was designed to integrate gypsy travellers into mainstream society.
They were provided with primitive and cramped housing in prefabricated huts at a number of sites around Scotland.
Shamus McPhee was born in one such hut 50 years ago on the gypsy traveller site at Bobbin Mill in Pitlochry, Perthshire.
He explained: “The tinker experiment was the convergence of the key stakeholders in society who wanted to demolish and eradicate gypsy culture and to effect a form of cultural genocide.
“Due to the deliberately sub-standard nature of the accommodation, it meant there was a lack of facilities and they were wholly inadequate for large families. Families were ripped apart.”
Sky News spoke to Theresa – not her real name – who wished to remain anonymous.
She and her twin brother were born into the gypsy traveller community in the 1950s but were taken into care when they were born, as the accommodation wasn’t big enough.
They were returned to the family home as older children but the separation had lasting implications.
She said: “It had a lot of emotional upset. We were put back to the family and we didn’t fit in. What the welfare service did in those days was cruel and it’s left a lot of damaged people.”
Theresa’s twin brother died an alcoholic, aged 40.
She says his childhood experience contributed to lifelong trauma: “They have ruined both our lives. I’ve picked myself up, I’ve got on, worked all my life, raised a family.
“But the tragic thing is I should be celebrating my birthday with my twin, and he won’t be there.”
The gypsy traveller community has called for the Scottish government to formally apologise for its treatment.
Kevin McKay, a campaigner for Scottish gypsy travellers’ rights, says they have been victims of racist attitudes.
“I think it’s racism, personally,” he said.
“I think if other people in society have had apologies, quite correctly, for events that perhaps with the benefit of hindsight we now realise are not acceptable, there’s something far wrong when somebody who has been subject to a programme of eugenics cannot get a formal apology.”
In a statement to Sky News, the Scottish government said: “As the Equalities Minister has previously said, the Scottish Government accepts that the lives of many gypsy travellers have been blighted by historical policies and practices of councils and charities, and we absolutely recognise the devastating and lasting impact this had on families.
“We must now focus on working together across political, organisational and geographical boundaries to deliver the actions that are so desperately needed to address the inequality and injustice that this community continues to face.”
People who have been affected by the issues in this story can email [email protected]
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