So when Calum Steele, the SPF’s general secretary, warns there is a risk of a “summer of difficulty and disorder”, we should pay attention.
While he was speaking after at least five officers were injured during violence as Rangers FC fans celebrated their Scottish Premiership title in central Glasgow, his concerns go deeper.
Saying there was “no lack of opportunity for conflict” – in Scotland as a whole and “certainly” not in the West – he cited the divides between Rangers and Celtic, and Catholic and Protestant, but also unionist and nationalist, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli, and even pro-Brexit and pro-European.
Such factors – all of which can have a tendency to overlap in ways that might seem bizarre to outsiders – could mix together in a malign melting pot with frustration over the long lockdown and better summer weather to create what Steele described as a “tinderbox moment”. Given this potential, politicians, he said, “need to dial the rhetoric down”.
The worst kind of thug is always on the lookout for a spurious excuse to use what they would maintain is ‘justified’ violence.
The worst kind of politician is one who views this tendency as an opportunity to be exploited, rather than a threat.
So Steele is right, our elected representatives do need to take care with their words to avoid inflaming the situation.
But as democrats, they have a duty to do more – much more. They must endeavour to challenge any suggestion that political divisions are unbridgeable or that we are defined by sectarian ideas or national identity.
Two of the most fundamental ideas behind liberal democracy are that we are all individuals and that any disputes should be settled peacefully.
Sectarianism – and its accompanying hatreds and violence – represents an insidious threat to those fine, humane ideals and yet somehow it has been allowed to fester for far too long in Scotland.
The only divide that truly matters is a simple one – hate and violence on one side, peace and, if perhaps not quite love, respect on the other.