Sectarianism a Scotland-wide issue, report warns

SCOTLAND should stop denying the existence of sectarianism and start a national push to eradicate it, the leader of a Scottish Government taskforce set up to rid the country of religious hatred says today.
A police officer keeps an eye on the crowd during an Old Firm match at Hampden. Picture: SNSA police officer keeps an eye on the crowd during an Old Firm match at Hampden. Picture: SNS
A police officer keeps an eye on the crowd during an Old Firm match at Hampden. Picture: SNS

Dr Duncan Morrow, chairman of Alex Salmond’s sectarianism advisory group, argues that acknowledging the bigotry that blights Scotland would be an effective first step towards tackling the problem.

Writing for Scotland on Sunday, Morrow says that groups across Scotland, from football clubs to local authorities, must show leadership in order to tackle sectarianism.

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Since the taskforce was established nine months ago, Morrow says it has found that some Scots want to “minimise” or “reject” sectarianism as an issue on the basis that the best way to manage it is in private.

Evidence gathered for the taskforce has also suggested sectarianism can be found in rural communities, a finding that challenges the view that the problem is largely confined to football matches involving Celtic and Rangers and in the west of Scotland.

Morrow says that sectarianism will not be solved by legislation alone arguing that the Scottish Government’s anti-bigotry laws have to work alongside community action.

According to Morrow, the taskforce’s approach aims to avoid the “twin pitfalls” of “deny­ing the problem” or “imposing a one-size-fits-all” solution based on legislation.

“We have found broad agreement that the problems of sectarian division, mistrust and discrimination will only cease to matter if there is a will to name it when we find it and to address its consequences in a way which confirms a common commitment to a shared and equal Scotland,” he writes.

“For that to happen [it] will require the leadership of those in positions of authority and influence across civic Scotland – including football clubs, local authorities, churches, schools and education, police and community life – and the emergence of a public debate which promotes acknowledgement and effective action over denial or sensation.”

He adds: “Alongside law and politics, our approach has been to expand the evidence base, to encourage people to develop real solutions in real places and to insist that things will only change if those in leadership across society foster a new spirit of generosity and openness, accept responsibility to take action and stop the ­denial and blame.”

Morrow’s article gives an insight into what his final report will recommend when he submits it to ministers in September. It was commissioned by community safety minister ­Roseanna Cunningham last year after a spate of sectarian incidents which included nail bombs being sent to the Celtic manager Neil Lennon, the late Paul McBride QC, a prominent Celtic supporter, and the ­Celtic supporting former Labour MSP Trish Godman.

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Morrow works at the University of Ulster’s School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy and has ten-years’ experience working as a member and chairman of Northern Ireland’s Community Relations Council, which aims to bridge the religious divide there.

Despite the commonly held view that Scottish bigotry tends to be the preserve of Glasgow football derbies and Orange parades, Morrow’s taskforce has received evidence identifying sectarianism outside the Central Belt, with Catholics, rather than Protestants, reporting most incidents.

A report for Morrow’s advisory group, by Place for Hope, a non-for-profit Church of Scotland organisation, looked at attitudes in four locations outside the Central Belt. It found sectarianism was less likely to be “life-threatening” than in the Central Belt, but tended to “affect family, employment and public life”.

The Place for Hope report, based on group discussions, also remarked that sectarianism tended to be “something of a one-way street” with Catholics “more likely to be on the receiving end”.

The views expressed by Morrow and the evidence presented to him led anti-sectarianism campaigners last night to call for a broad approach to religious-hatred that looked beyond football’s tribalism.

Dave Scott, campaign director for Nil By Mouth – the anti-sectarianism charity – said: “Duncan Morrow is an international expert on sectarianism and in a debate which is too often drowned out by loud angry voices his words should be listened to.

“Sectarianism is not unique to any one religion, culture or social class and the days of sweeping it under the carpet are over. Over 7,000 people have been arrested for sectarian offences over the past decade. Interestingly, only a third of these have been football-related. So the evidence proves this problem goes well beyond our touchlines and terraces.”

He added: “To date the government has got itself mired in football and its time to look at the bigger picture. Schools, parades, employment practices and the role of faith groups should all be areas for open and honest public debate and ministers should be leading it.”

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Both Celtic and Rangers football clubs have pledged to take action to reduce sectarianism among fans.

Celtic were unavailable for comment, but an Ibrox spokeswoman said: “Rangers Football Club’s position on antisocial behaviour is abundantly clear. The club is committed to eradicating all forms of inappropriate behaviour and continues to work tirelessly via the club’s Follow with Pride campaign and supports all initiatives aimed at tackling this problem.”