GYPSY travellers could be given greater rights under new SNP plans, it has been revealed.
The government has already said it believes they are “particularly discriminated against” and hopes to recognise them as a distinct ethnic group.
Nationalist MSP Rob Gibson, SNP convener of the parliament’s rural affairs committee, has demanded that Scotland be given the power to make its own race laws.
But critics said that while the plans would protect the small number of genuine gypsies in Scotland, the plans could give greater rights to travellers who are not racially gipsies and have no legitimate clam to racial protection.
They also warned it could make it harder to disperse illegal sites.
Last night Mr Gibson, the MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, said: “The gypsy traveller community is a rich part of Scottish history.
“They have contributed enormously to the culture with story telling and music, in particular. It is about time they were given full recognition as an ethnic group.”
Mr Gibson said a detailed assessment would need to be undertaken to establish how beneficial the devolved powers would be but said he had submitted a formal written request to the Government on the issue.
Despite what he described as “horrific scenes” at Dale Farm in Essex, where hundreds of travellers are fighting against their eviction form illegal plots, he claimed a situation of the same scale had not arisen in Scotland.
“There are tensions in some places between local people and the travelling community. The more sites there are the better it would be.
“The more that are structured and laid down in law, the more statutes there are, the better.”
The Scottish Government said it was in favour of recognising gipsies and travellers as a distinct ethnic group but were unable to change their legal status as race legislation is a matter reserved by Westminster.
However critics say changing the law would make it harder to evict travellers from illegal sites.
Tory MSP for North East Scotland, Alex Johnstone said: “Travellers, whether they are an ethnic minority or not, are apparently already a privileged minority to whom, in many cases, the law doesn’t apply.
“One of the greatest things about our democracy and legal system is that the law applies equally to everyone and it should continue to do so, whether you are a gipsy traveller or a member of the settled community.”
Last week it was revealed that rather than evict gypsies camping on an illegal site in one of Scotland’s most picturesque villages, the local council had voted to make the site permanent – overruling the concerns of locals.
Fife council is to spend £5000 on the site at Crail, despite villagers claiming those using the area were already causing problems.
Locals claim they have been menaced by the travellers, have had their property stolen and that the beauty spot has become a squalid mess, filled with rubbish and human waste.
But gypsy representatives have hit out at those objecting to authorised encampments being set up.
Joseph Jones from the Gypsy Council said: “What people need to remember is that gypsies and travellers need somewhere to live.
“If people don’t want to see people living by the side of the road, or elsewhere, then they don’t have any moral objection to a proper site. They can’t have it both ways.”