One of Scotland’s most senior Muslim politicians has lodged a complaint against a nursery over suspicions it discriminated against his two-year-old daughter.
Humza Yousaf, the Scottish health secretary, alleges a preschool nursery in Broughty Ferry near Dundee refused to offer places to three children with Muslim names, including his daughter Amal, yet found space for children with western-sounding names.
Yousaf and his wife, Nadia El-Nakla, have complained to the Care Inspectorate, the sector’s regulator in Scotland, asking it to investigate whether the nursery, Little Scholars, had discriminated on the basis of either ethnicity or religion.
In a thread on Twitter, Yousaf said it was “not a step my wife and I have taken lightly”.
He added: “I cannot tell you how angry I am. As a father all I want to do is protect my girls, yet aged 2 I believe my daughter has faced discrimination. If this had not happened to me I’m not sure I would have believed it could happen in 2021. How many other families has this happened to?”
Little Scholars has been approached for a comment. A spokesperson for the nursery’s owner, Usha Fowdar, told the Record newspaper it vehemently denied racial or religious discrimination.
“Our nursery is extremely proud of being open and inclusive to all and any claim to the contrary is demonstrably false and an accusation that we would refute in the strongest possible terms,” he said.
“In addition to our owners being of Asian heritage, across more than a decade we have regularly welcomed both children and staff from a range of different religious, cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds including two Muslim families currently.
“We have also regularly made arrangements to accommodate different lifestyles by, for example, providing a halal menu for those children who come from Muslim families.”
El-Nakla, who works for the Scottish National party MSP Shona Robison in Dundee, said she became suspicious after receiving an abrupt response to an inquiry about a place for Amal last year. She made a second application this year, and after being refused, asked a white friend to apply. That friend was offered a place for her daughter within 24 hours.
“I just felt in my gut that there was something not right about it,” she told the Record.
She then applied using a fictitious white Scottish-sounding name, and a second from a relative called Sara Ahmed. The white-sounding applicant was offered several days a week for their child, a registration form and a tour of the nursery; the application from the Muslim-sounding relative was rejected.
A Record reporter repeated the exercise, Yousaf said. “She created two profiles with kids same age, their requirements the same. ‘Aqsa Akhtar’ application was rejected while ‘Susan Blake’ was offered a choice of 4 afternoons,” he said on Twitter.
The Record reported the nursery had offered the fictitious white family an application form, availability for their child on numerous days and a tour of the nursery. It turned down a request for places from the fictitious Muslim-sounding family.
The couple said they had asked Little Scholars for an explanation for the contrasting treatment of different applicants, but had not been given one.
“We are fooling ourselves if we believe discrimination doesn’t exist in Scotland,” Yousaf said.