Moderator says anti-English bigotry is 'like sectarianism'

ANTI-ENGLISH bigotry in Scotland is on a par with sectarianism and should not be tolerated as part of a "healthy society," according to the leader of the Kirk.

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland also claims in an Address for Lent on race relations in the UK that anti-English "banter" during sporting occasions could be harmful as it might lead to more sinister behaviour.

The Rt Rev Sheilagh Kesting warns that anti-English attitudes are stoking growing anti-Scottish resentment south of the Border. In perhaps the most controversial passage of her address, the Moderator urged people to think twice before making racially tinged remarks during sporting events.

"There is a thin line between banter and something which is more sinister," she said.

"In Scotland, we have got used to football as a context for perpetrating sectarianism so I don't think we can pass off lightly anti-English remarks which are made during matches. It is too easy to dismiss this as healthy rivalry. It is not.

"Caricatures that seek to diminish others that are barbed with prejudice and misinformation are not part of a healthy society. It is nobody's business to be disrespecting one another simply because they are English or Catholic, or whatever."

The Kirk leader made her comments after taking part in the Moderator's annual visit to London. She said: "The conversations I had with many of the people I met prompted reflection of whether the changed political situation will affect relations between our countries.

"It is time to reflect on attitudes: the things we accept, perhaps unthinkingly, that we use to strengthen our sense of identity; the caricatures that are underpinned by humour in thinly disguised prejudice. There is certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence that there is anti-Englishness abroad in Scotland today.

"The principle behind sectarianism is the same one that feeds anti-English feeling. It is the principle which seeks to narrow our identity to only one feature, like religion, race or nationality, and which makes that one feature the totality of how we see one another."

The Moderator was surprised by the attitudes of some people she encountered during her visit to London.

She said: "There are anti-Scottish sentiments being expressed in England. I think the political climate is making it more likely. What compounded the thing for me was in London people were asking me, 'What is Scotland up to?' There was a sense of bewilderment about what was happening in Scotland."

Kesting revealed she experienced anti-English sentiment during her childhood in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. She said: "I grew up in the north-west, in a part of Scotland where English people tended to settle and there was an antipathy towards them. They weren't altogether welcomed."

The Moderator's views were backed by anti-sectarianism campaigner and Glasgow minister, Reverend Elisabeth Spence.

The Sense Over Sectarianism project member said: "If you say something which is sectarian, people will spot it and challenge it because of the high-profile campaigns which have raised awareness that it will no longer be tolerated.

"People still laugh off anti-English remarks as just a bit of fun, but they are nothing of the sort. They are racist and offensive."

But David Ward, the English-born convener of the Glasgow branch of the Saltire Society, which aims to protect and promote Scottish culture, believed that anti-Englishness was actually in decline.

Speaking personally, he said: "I think that since devolution there has been a change whereby, if people have grievances, they tend to blame the Government and Parliament in Scotland.

"Before devolution, problems were usually blamed on London. Resentment against the Westminster Government was often mistakenly expressed as anti-Englishness, but that is not the case now."

Tam Ferry, a spokesman for the Association of Tartan Army Clubs, felt it would be a sad day if banter between Scots and their southern neighbours was lost.

He said: "In football, you have got to be able to laugh at yourself and others.

"There are some aspects of anti-Englishness which go too far and we would never condone that. But good-natured banter and mickey-taking are part and parcel of the atmosphere at games."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "There is no place for discrimination or extremism of any kind in 21st-century Scotland and the Scottish Government is determined to do everything it can to stamp it out. A modern Scotland should be all about acceptance and celebrating diversity."

COMMENT: The union jocks