Sectarianism ‘not just confined to working class’

Sectarianism goes far beyond football matches and social class in Scotland and should be tackled with the same conviction as racism and homophobia, experts have told MSPs.

The group said a cultural shift was needed in Scotland. Picture: PA
The group said a cultural shift was needed in Scotland. Picture: PA
The group said a cultural shift was needed in Scotland. Picture: PA

Tackling prejudices through education at an early age was among the key measures to prevent religious bigotry, according to the group set up to investigate the problem.

The Independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism also welcomed a tough approach by police to crack down on offensive messages and language posted on social media.

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Group chair Dr Duncan Morrow gave evidence on their report, published at the end of last year, to Holyrood’s equal opportunities committee.

He told MSPs that while sectarianism had religious origins from which it cannot be separated, this is not “the whole story”.

“With some people, there is a tendency to think this is limited to the 90-minutes bigotry idea and working-class people in the west of Scotland,” he said.

“It certainly is true that, at football matches in the west of Scotland, it takes on a very aggressive face; nobody is doubting that. On the other side, to limit it to that and to simply say that’s all that it is and it comes from nowhere else, and it stops at that point, is for us not real and does not reflect reality.”

The group said a cultural shift was needed in Scotland, involving a multi-pronged approach at political, organisational and community levels. But they said new legislation was not needed.

“We believe that action to tackle sectarianism should be widespread and vigorous, and we do not believe that this is best approached through a single action or by a focus on new legislation,” the report stated.

“Sectarianism will wither because of persistent action to tackle it where it exists in relationships and not because of a single quick-fix.”

Dr Michael Rosie, an Edinburgh University sociologist, another adviser, said Scottish society could be divided into many camps, not just by religion. But he said bringing communities together for shared experiences and to celebrate their differences would encourage good relations. “I would just want to see lots more mixing,” he said.

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The researchers also said abolishing faith schools was not a simple answer to stamping out sectarianism but highlighted the important role schooling can play in tackling the issue.

Dr Morrow, a lecturer at the University of Ulster with a decade of experience working on sectarianism in Northern Ireland, added: “We think there’s lots schools can do. It’s a very fruitful area where we could really start to change things.”

Dave Scott, campaign director of anti-sectarian group Nil by Mouth, welcomed the group’s recommendations.

“Sectarianism didn’t arrive in Scotland overnight and it would be foolish to think it will disappear overnight, either,” he said.

“Football has its problems but the problem runs much deeper than the touchlines and terraces. Of the 7,000 arrests made for sectarian behaviour since 2003, only a third are related to football. You can no more be a 90-minute bigot than you can be a 90-minute racist or homophobe.”