Scottish debate on sectarianism cloaks attacks on Republicans

In recent months a debate has began in Scotland surrounding religious discrimination and sectarianism. Scottish politics reflect that of the north of Ireland, with a working class divided along the same lines: a fascist Orange section on the one hand and a strongly pro-Republican section on the other.

These differences are reflected in support for the two major Glasgow football clubs. Rangers draws its support from the loyalists and Celtic from Republicans. It is not only Ireland that divides the working class: Rangers supporters often wave the Israeli flag at football matches whilst Celtic supporters are strongly pro-Palestinian. However, this new debate over sectarianism is a coded attack on Republicanism.

In the Scottish Parliament, Liberal Democrat MSP Donald Gorrie has put forward an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, the aim of which is to make ‘sectarian and religious hatred an aggravation of existing criminal offences’. However the emphasis is quite clear: any expression of Irishness is being labelled ‘sectarian’. Flying the Irish flag is now being banned in football grounds, while Irish pubs are being threatened with closure for depicting images of the Irish uprising in 1916.

An anti-sectarianism industry has emerged. One group, Sense Over Sectarianism, a coalition of forces including churches, football clubs and Glasgow City Council, was awarded £420,000 by the Millennium Commission. Another such group, Nil By Mouth, has been given £25,000 per year for the next three years by the Scottish Executive. These groups have maintained in common a deafening silence on the sectarianism of the British state. There is no mention in their literature and much-hyped press releases of the role of the British state or the Labour party in fostering religious tension. Yet there is damning evidence of widespread institutionalised sectarianism in Scotland, of the sort which the ‘anti sectarianism’ lobby refuses to acknowledge. In 1999 a doctoral student at Edinburgh University, Michael Rosie, showed that almost one in three of prisoners within the Scottish prison system (30%) is Roman Catholic while only 15% of the Scottish population are Roman Catholic. Such figures reveal the reality of the Scottish judicial system.

At the same time, the state maintains complete silence on sectarian Orange marches which regularly take place across Scotland. Contrast this with the recent police ban on a march in commemoration of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre. Scheduled to take place on 25 January in Wishaw near Glasgow, police stopped it just hours before it was due to go ahead, following pressure from the local MSP and First Minister Jack McConnell.

In December 2002, McConnell had declared that ‘some of the problems are caused by the symbols that are sold outside the grounds by street traders’. The Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council has responded by tightening local by-laws prohibiting the sale of political and ‘provocative’ literature outside football grounds. This could be deemed to include Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, given our opposition to the Good Friday Agreement, our opposition to war on Iraq and our support for Palestine. In a calculated attack on our democratic rights, Labour is attempting to stamp out any expression of political consciousness and organisation. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! will resist this censorship.
Paul Mallon

FRFI 171 February / March 2003


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