Billy Connolly is right about Scottish sectarianism – leader comment

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After Sir Billy Connolly warns religious bigotry is holding Scotland back, what this country needs is a renewed campaign to drive sectarianism from our society.

“We need to put sectarianism in the dustbin of history. Scotland must play a full part in Europe and the global economy, so we cannot allow ourselves to be dragged down by the dead-weight of religious hatred and sectarian bigotry.”

Billy Connolly  (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

Billy Connolly (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

READ MORE: Billy Connolly backs Hibs boss Neil Lennon for standing up to bigotry

In 2002, the then First Minister Jack McConnell gave a landmark speech that was credited with putting “Scotland’s shame” in the spotlight and, by that simple act, helping to drive it out of Scottish society. One sceptic later claimed that sectarianism had been “dying anyway” and there was “nothing like creating an issue to get rid of it”.

Sixteen years later, both the optimism and scepticism about McConnell’s contribution to the debate seem decidedly misplaced. Sectarianism is still very much with us; it was neither driven out by the shining light of his rhetoric, nor anything like close to death.

Sir Billy Connolly is perhaps uniquely placed to understand just how much is lost by religious bigotry, given he is loved by people on both sides of the divide.

READ MORE: The Old Firm story: How sectarianism came to define a derby

In his new book, Made in Scotland, the 75-year-old Glaswegian comedy legend says it would be “lovely to think, in 2018, that the hatred between Rangers and Celtic, between Protestant and Catholic, had all evaporated into the ether”. “There was a movement against it a few years ago, a kind of anti-bigotry movement, but it seems to have fizzled out and it didn’t really come to anything ... I don’t understand how we’re ever going to get rid of the bigotry – it seems bottomless. I am just grateful that I have always got along well with Glaswegians as a whole, all of them,” he adds.

Such sentiments, he warns, are holding Scotland back. The Scotsman wholeheartedly agrees.

The SNP Government sought to tackle sectarianism with the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which was overturned by MSPs who felt the law was flawed. It may well have been poor legislation but in failing to come up with any kind of replacement our elected representatives have sent the wrong message to the terraces – that vile sectarian songs are fine.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday condemned the abuse and attacks upon Hibs manager Neil Lennon, praised the “great dignity” he had shown and pledged to take action to ensure “zero tolerance” of bigotry of any kind. She should now take steps to build the kind of campaign that flickered brightly under McConnell but faded over the years.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon condemns attack on Hibs manager Neil Lennon