Friday, 8 July 2011

Scotland's Secret Shame: Sectarianism.

This is a bit of a serious post but something that has been on my mind recently. Something that I have always struggled to understand and something that makes me so mad!

Here in Scotland, sectarianism is rife. I saw it as a child attending a school that was a shared campus between a Catholic school and a non-denominational school. Kids would shout mindless taunts, aspiring to create some sort of Sharks Vs Jets style of playground warfare (we shared a playground). As I grew up I saw it at high school. The Catholic school was placed at the other end of the non-denominational school and at lunch times this playground warfare would spill on to the street of the nearest town. Now I blogged many a time about where I come from and how it is not exactly the most progressive of places. All of my uncles are Masons and football is THE sport.

Out there this sort of religious hatred, this stirring up a fantasy rivalries is just sort of accepted. Just like tracksuits and white trainers and baseball caps form some sort of uniform, people seek self definitions through football and religion. I remember some silly little boy at school shouting abuse over the playground wall shouting "Fuck the Pope!" and "Proddy's Rule!" When I asked if if he was Church of Scotland, he had no idea what I was talking about. His family weren't Protestant nor had set foot inside of a church (except to nick the lead off of the roof). This kind of ignorance has always amazed me. You would be lazing about on the weekend when a familiar melody would rumble through the street. Wondering what it was you would flock to the windows to see what was happening, as a child your nose would be pressed against the glass in a rush to see what the fuss was about. It wasn't (and still isn't as my memory is terrible  until you heard the drums that you realised that it was an Orange walk parading through the street. The sight of the puffed up old men and NEDS with their flags was enough to turn your stomach. Whether it was through fear, or simply because this display stored up anger, frustration and hatred has nothing to do with religion at all. It is just an excuse, an outlet for ignorant idiots to let off some steam.

It is unforgivable in this day and age but when you live in an insular town/village/council estate a certain amount and a special brand of ignorance is always cultivated. Imagine my surprise when last Saturday, on the day where a selection of Scots armed forces were parading from Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood Palace to celebrate National Armed Forces Day, I hear the familiar flute and drums belting out down that same processional walkway. Thousands of tourists from around the world, as well as children and residents had gathered in preparation for the Armed Forces event. I was livid! Welcome to Scotland everyone.

Sectarianism in connection to football, since the New Year has been escalating. Not enough is being done on both sides to quell the fire and the football season is about to kick off (pardon the pun!)

*January 2011: Bullets sent to Northern Ireland-born Celtic manager Neil Lennon in the post are intercepted at Co Antrim sorting office.

*March: First Minister Alex Salmond calls in football chiefs and police after violence mars Old Firm game in which three players are sent off, 13 booked and 34 fans arrested. Lennon and Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist are engaged in a bitter touchline confrontation. The clubs meet seven times during the season.

*April: Royal Mail intercepts two "viable" parcel bombs addressed to Lennon. Other leading Catholics targeted are lawyer Paul McBride QC and former MSP Trish Godman. Two people charged in connection with the alleged devices.

*May: Lennon attacked by fan during Hearts match in Edinburgh. Scottish football chiefs promise to crack down on violence.

*June: Scottish Government delay plans to introduce legislation outlawing-sectarianism at football matches. Five years in prison and unlimited fines could be deployed against those that engage in threatening behaviour.

*July: Football season due to resume three weeks early despite condemnation from clubs.

In the run up to the 12th of July, there is even a Facebook campaign to turn Facebook orange for the day!

There was a very interesting debate held at the University of Edinburgh chaired by Professor Tom Devine in May. The debate asked a few pertinent questions regarding why Scotland still is a sectarian society. I was surprised to find that  Scotland is now the only jurisdiction across the globe where Irish Catholics and Protestants settled in past generations which has an anti-sectarian strategy in place. Professor Devine posits that it would be wonderful to believe that we might reach a time, sooner rather than later, when the need for such policies became redundant.Professor Devine has written an excellent article for the paper, Scotland on Sunday exposing Scotland's shame. I would like to share it here

World now knows our sinister little secret
Tom Devine - Scotland on Sunday - 24th April 2011

The disgraceful episode of "bombs in the post" has produced unprecedented soul-searching about this country's age-old problem of sectarianism. It has led to claim and counter-claim, assertion and counter-assertion and much hand-wringing in public and private.

The sheer criminality and wickedness of the acts involved demand no less a response to these seismic events and also to the related broader context of brazen sectarian chants at football matches and the vile content of various internet sites.

How the nation now deals with this problem will be crucial, not only to the social harmony and civilised life of the country in the future but to the reputation of Scotland abroad. We should all be clear that the world is now fully aware about our sinister little secret.

When the extraordinary story of devices with potentially lethal potential being sent to the manager of a football club and a few of its high-profile supporters broke last week, the news rapidly spread across the globe. Soccer is a worldwide craze and it was inevitable that these horrific incidents associated with the game would excite enormous interest. The Associated Press agency, an organisation with a possible readership of billions, was among the first to report the sorry saga. Its story was then reprinted in several hundred daily newspapers across four continents.

Now is the time to seek a way forward which will be intellectually rigorous, honest and thoroughly based on representative evidence. There is no doubt that the forces of law and order, which have attracted substantial criticism in the last few days, have now learned their lesson and have publicly announced that they intend to move towards enforcement with much more vigour.

The First Minister himself has also solemnly promised that in future there will be "zero tolerance" of sectarian behaviour. All of this is to the good and represents a significant step forward. But, it might also be asked, is it good enough? There are several problems associated with the development of a robust, sustainable and realistic policy on this complex subject. No consensus exists, for instance, on the definition of the term "sectarianism", a word which platitudinously slips off the tongue of politicians and commentators with little clear understanding.

Again, though academic research can provide a guide to the patterns of the last century, precious little has been published so far on the key period after 1990. We can only really move beyond assertion to careful argument and then policy-framing on the basis of hard evidence.

The current debate has been lively but virtually bereft of impartially verifiable fact.

Ironically, some much-needed evidence does exist, but for reasons which are difficult to understand, given the pressing nature of this serious social issue, it has not yet been released into the public domain where it can be analysed and interpreted. Since the passing of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, Section 74, an additional penalty can be imposed if offences are "aggravated by religious prejudice", that is "if an offender evinces towards the victim of the offence malice and ill-will based on the victim's membership of a religious group".

Apart from anything else, that is an excellent definition of sectarian intent which commentators could do well to adopt in future discussion.

Even more crucially, the implementation of the act has resulted in a huge archive of data on annual numbers of offences and the religious affiliation of both offenders and victims, together with information on where and when indictable offences were committed.

It is most unfortunate that almost all of this invaluable evidence, gathered for over a decade and more, has not been yet presented in public. It has been left untouched without being either analysed or published.

Why this should be so is a mystery, especially since absolute transparency ought to be the watchword if the Augean stable is to be thoroughly cleansed once and for all.

It is now to the great credit of the current Solicitor General that in early March this year he convinced the Scottish Cabinet, among a number of initiatives, that this data should be released after analysis by civil servants, though no timeframe has yet been set for publication.

The information lying in these files could, of course, be potentially explosive. The Cardinal Archbishop of Edinburgh and other senior Roman Catholics have claimed that the Scottish problem is not "sectarianism" at all but, in the words of Keith O'Brien, "blatant anti-Catholicism".

This accusation was partly based on an earlier and limited review of the files covering an 18-month period in 2004-5. On the basis of this snapshot, the Catholic Church's survey of the data concluded that Catholics were five to six times more likely to be victims of such offences than those of other religions. What will the longer-run series reveal? If the results are similar, the Scottish Government may have to consider a root and branch review of its "anti-sectarian" strategies.

But at the same time it is important to remember historical context and perspective in the current febrile atmosphere. Scotland has come a very long way in recent years in eliminating structural and institutional sectarianism. Labour market discrimination, which does affect all life chances from employment to health, has been consigned to the past since the 1970s.

In 2004, for instance, only four cases in Scotland brought under the UK Employment (Religion or Belief) regulations, among the many administered by employment tribunals, had even the slightest sectarian connotation.

Scots of Irish Roman Catholic descent finally achieved occupational parity with their fellow Scots in the 1990s, though this was nearly a full century after their Irish American cousins did so in the US. A large Catholic professional class, fully integrated into the life of the nation, has emerged over the past three decades. Indeed, the two current senior law officers in Scotland, charged with the implementation of anti-sectarian legislation, the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General, are both Roman Catholics. And there can be little doubt that Pope Benedict, on his visit to Scotland last year, was warmly welcomed by Scots of all denominations and none.

The need now is to maintain that progress in order to combat remaining prejudice and bigotry, which is much more difficult to achieve than legislating for non-discriminatory employment practices.


  1. Very interesting read and I agree that it does seem to be accepted, but not just in Scotland, but in Britain as well. I have noticed things being shrugged off because "that's just Scotland."
    In general I do believe that each culture should be accepted as it is, variety being the spice of life and all that, but when that culture allows this kind of behaviour surely something needs to change.

  2. My Mum was from Edinburgh and I grew up being very proud of my roots but I think she would be disgraced at how it is now - not just in Scotland but in Britain and further. Your post makes thought provoking reading..

  3. Hear Hear Livi but given the recent NotW scandal. I'm still so shocked by the dearth of ignorance, bigotry and racism that this country and its countrymen exude...

    Thanks for commenting. xx

  4. Well said Bloggomy. Despite this ugly side, it is a beautiful place. xx

  5. Really timely post Mammy. I live on the Irish border and grew up against the constant backdrop of intimidation, sectarianism and murder.
    My teenage son was aghast at the comments being made by kids his age about the recent visit by the Queen to Ireland. When he questioned them more fully, they really hadn't a clue what they were talking about. They were just full of hateful hot air, which unfortunately is what feeds into ignorant violence.
    Top marks for raising this issue. XXX

  6. Thanks Jean! I was speaking to a friend about that visit only this morning. They're from Limerick and have been living here for years but are now moving to Derry. We were discussing how religion really isn't talked about here but that sectarian views run just as deep. She is trying to prepare her three boys for being bombarded with this bombastic nonsense when they move.

    Thanks for commenting. xx


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