This article is originally from Asian Image, a sister title of the Telegraph & Argus

From being called a terrorist to being told to speak English, in this special report writer Imran Azam speaks to taxi-drivers who tell of the abuse they suffer at the hands of customers.

According to a recent Scottish Government report two-thirds of hate crime in Scotland is related to race.

Justice Minister Humza Yousaf has vowed to avoid a “culture of acceptance” on the subject. Almost half of all hate crime was recorded in Glasgow and Edinburgh – Scotland’s two largest and most diverse cities.

Asian Image spoke to a group of private hire drivers in Glasgow to hear of their experiences on encountering racism and prejudice.

It was the last fare on what was typically a long shift for Saleem. The job involved taking a customer to their home from a supermarket in Glasgow’s East End. There was little conversation between the driver and the middle-aged male passenger, in what was a ten- minute journey. Saleem attempted to strike up a conversation but his questions were largely met with one-word responses.


Unable to get a meaningful dialogue, Saleem switched on the radio, to a local Asian station. It was at this point that “all hell broke loose”.

“He went crazy,” Saleem recalled. 'What are you listening to?' 'What language are they speaking? ‘Are they talking about me?’ I tried explaining that the presenter was speaking in Urdu discussing fashion but he wasn’t calming down. He was effing and blinding. Telling me people in Scotland should be speaking ‘f****** English'.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn't scared. There was no barrier between myself and him. He could have had a knife or a screwdriver on him. Luckily his mobile phone rang and he got out. He did actually pay me, even if it was a couple of pounds short but it wasn't worth the headache asking for it.

“There was no point calling the police. They have bigger issues to deal with. This is an extreme example but I’m regularly having to deal with people high on drink and drugs or those who may have mental health issues. Emotionally this job takes its toll. People speak to you in a way they wouldn't speak to anyone else in any other line of work".

Another incident a few months later led to Saleem installing a CCTV camera in his car to protect him from physical attack as well as false and malicious accusations.

“It was at the time of the Manchester [Arena] attack,” he explains. “I had a group of lads in the car. We were having a laugh and a joke. The news was playing in the background.

“There was a gap in conversation and the presenter was interviewing one of the survivors. The atmosphere in the car changed completely. One of them started to get abusive. ‘You lot are all the f****** same…...killing young girls hope you’re happy’. His friends told him to ‘shut up’ and stop being a ‘d***’.

“Over the years I have been accused of being a member of Al Qaida, the Taliban and ISIS. I’m just a taxi driver!

"I have very little interest in politics or general world affairs, but I have had to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have had to educate myself on my own religion [Islam].

"There have been times I have heard a customer make a comment and I have wanted to say something, but I stayed quiet. You have to assess each situation separately".

In order to learn more about the experiences of Asian private hire drivers, Saleem invites me to meet up with other drivers at a no-frills desi restaurant in the Southside of Glasgow.

The group is exclusively male and of Pakistani, Muslim background within an age range of mid-twenties to mid-forties. Some are related others “good friends”. The majority were born in Scotland, others came to the UK as young children.

A Saturday night going into Sunday morning is the busiest shift of the week, which often features “the good, the bad and the ugly”. Meeting up to eat before going "into the trenches" has become a weekly tradition.

It gives them the opportunity to share stories from the "front line" as well as general day-to-day concerns. Once they have completed their meal around 7pm they will not return to their homes until 3 or 4 am.

“Language is crucial”, says Majid, who has been in the “game” for close to five years. “If you speak broken English or with an accent then you will be in trouble.

“The older generation [of drivers] put up with a lot of hassle. Girls on a night out, if they see that the driver is Asian and has a beard, they will deliberately make sexual comments, knowing he will get angry and embarrassed. Drunk girls are the worst. They are more aggressive than men.”

Majid adds that many of his peers have left the established private hire companies and moved to Uber, which is less “headache” as drivers are not dealing directly with cash.

Jawad, the baby of the group, contrasts his conduct compared to that of his father.

“I was born in Scotland so there are no issues when it comes to speaking English,” he states. “My job is simple. Get the punter from A to B without anything kicking off. You have to be an actor in this job.

“You adapt and change depending on the customer you have. If I’m carrying a businessperson then I’ll talk about Brexit. If I have a ned [Scottish equivalent of a chav] then I’ll start talking about the dancing. Tell them what they want to hear. My father has been living in Glasgow since the seventies. He does speak English but to this day he doesn’t understand neds. His attitude is ‘customer is king’ but I don’t believe in that.

“Not so long ago I got a job to take a couple to a fancy Italian restaurant in town. The guy was acting like a ticket, in front of his girlfriend. I was wearing a kurta [upper garment originating from South Asia] over my jeans. He started giving it the whole 'bud bud ding ding'.

He must have thought I was a 'freshie' [a newly arrived South Asian migrant to the UK, who speaks limited English with an accent].

"I stopped the car and told him ‘listen you wee p**ck, any more of your sh**e, and you’ll be walking it’. He was shocked, it was as if he saw a ghost. My Glaswegian was stronger than his. For the rest of the journey he was kissing my a**e saying ‘oh sorry big man I was just messing about, just having a laugh’”.

Can you talk to someone like that?

“It’s my car. There is only so much you can ignore”, Jawad adds. “You have to assert yourself. But you know appearances can be deceptive. Picking up a skin head covered in tattoos turns out to be your best customer. Pick up some posh t**t and they will be a nightmare.

"Generally speaking I will make an effort to engage with the punters. I’ll ask them about their work or talk about the weather. You will find out very quickly if they want to talk or not".

As the mango lassi flowed I raised the issue of pirating – illegal picks up from the street without a prior booking.

Is the issue of pirating in particular causing racial tension between the ethnic heavy private hire and predominately Scottish white hackney drivers?

Saleem, the elder statesman, asserted his own authority by motioning to the rest of the group that this question is for him. “Our own apnay [Asian] drivers have a bad reputation for this,” he says.

“Some of the reputation is justified and some of it’s not. You have to put this into context. Back in the day many of the private hire companies wouldn’t take Asian drivers. It was a very hostile environment. When they did get a badge and radio, they would get all the crap, low paid fares. “Who then is going to turn down £40 for a job that’s only worth £10. I have done it myself in the past but I always tell the young ones not to do it. I have learnt the hard way.

If you pirate and an argument breaks out then you don’t have a leg to stand on. How can you go to the police and say someone has attacked or damaged your car when you are pirating? It's not worth losing your license over. You're putting your livelihood at risk.

“From my experience they [hackney drivers] hate us with a passion. They don’t need to say anything, you can tell from the looks they give you. As far as they are concerned, we are taking their jobs. But pirating also impacts legitimate private hire drivers too".

The demise of the traditional corner shop unable to compete with supermarkets chains to having the ability to control your working hours, allowing for a better work life balance, as opposed to anti-social hours in a takeaway or restaurant, are just some of the reasons the number of Asians have turned to driving private hires in such high numbers. In recent years new arrivals from Africa and the Middle East have also increased their presence in such a sector.

In September 2018 Glasgow City Council announced that both taxi and private hire drivers may be required to undertake a new professional qualification as the current customer care course had “passed its sell-by-date” and failed to “reflect the realities” of being a licensed driver.

Councillor Alex Wilson, Chair of the Licensing and Regulatory Committee, said at the time: “An improved training programme may also act as a barrier to those who think that picking up a driver's licence is an easy option. Ensuring public safety is always of paramount importance and comprehensive training will help to drive up standards".

“Driving a taxi in Baghdad or Somalia is not the same as in Scotland,” Saleem added. “It’s not just Asians who pirate. I have seen Scottish drivers [out of town] sitting in Glasgow city centre. Any training that improves standards and the safety of the drivers and passengers can only be a good thing.”