When trying to tackle ‘Scotland’s shame’ of sectarianism and the violence it can lead to, we must examine the root causes and question whether religious segregation in schools is acceptable in the 21st century, writes Tom Wood.
It’s a disturbing sight, Scottish police officers drawn up in full public order kit, flame-proof overalls, long shields, helmets and visors – not to mention dogs, horses and a helicopter. It’s the last thing we want to see and the last place our police men and women want to be.
As we enter a new age of extremes, it’s a sight we have become used to on our television news but it’s usually happening in Hong Kong or Paris not the streets of Glasgow.
Temperatures are undoubtably rising and it’s nothing to do with melting ice caps and this was no Brexit protest or climate emergency/anarchist outing.
In a way, it wouldn’t have been as bad if it had been. Instead it was the latest tedious eruption of Scotland’s shame, our endemic, chronic problem of sectarian hatred so deeply ingrained in our country or at least the west of our Central Belt.
We all know the history, Irish immigrants – on both sides of the divide – came to Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries, many bringing muscle and cultural richness. Some found sectarian attitudes among the locals, while some arrived with them.
Ever since we have seen these religious divides and their attendant intolerance played out on our streets and in our football grounds. Whatever the flag of convenience, it’s the same old tribal hatred.
It comes and goes, of course, depending on the fortunes of football clubs or the politics of the day. So it should come as no surprise that once again the anniversaries of long dead heroes are rolled out as an excuse to confront and antagonise thin-skinned opponents.
The roots of this historical emnity are too long and weary to examine in this column but we must ask what perpetuates this tribal hatred over 200 years.
In the short term, much has been made of the need for new laws to deal with sectarian marches and we may well need to strengthen the regulation of these events.
But one thing is clear, while sectarian parades should be limited, it’s plain stupid to ban marches, it breeds grievance and encourages illegal assemblies that are more difficult to police. It’s always best to know who, where and when.
But we also need to look at the roots of the problem and question what divides us. And if we do that then we simply cannot escape questioning our system of religiously segregated education.
I have no doubt that the provision for separate Roman Catholic education as enshrined by The Education (Scotland) Act 1918, was a good idea 100 years ago, but is it acceptable that in the 21st century, we emphasise differences by separating five-year-old children based on their parents’ religion?
Most advanced Western societies have, as a matter of policy, adopted strictly secular education systems – are they all wrong?
As Scotland moves forward with equality as our watchword, our century-old practice of segregated education is contradictory to say the least.
Passing stronger laws to deal with disorderly marches is easy but if we really want to dig out the roots of sectarianism, we must do what’s difficult, and have the courage to tackle the historical anomaly of religious segregation in our schools.
Tom Wood is a writer and former Deputy Chief Constable