Saturday, 8 November 2014

We need to talk about sectarianism

This week Jim Murphy pledged to repeal  the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 (aka the anti-bigotry law) should he be elected leader of Labour in Scotland and become First Minister of Scotland.  According to Mr Murphy, the law was rail-roaded through by the SNP using their majority, even though all the other parties voted against it, as if Labour would never have done such a thing when in a majority. 

Mr Murphy's case is that the legislation is badly drafted and unfairly singles out football fans.  In neither case is he entirely wrong.  However, the emphasis on football fans is understandable, given that this is one of the most visible ways that people come across bigoted behaviour.

Personally I've never understood religious bigotry.  When I was a child I was taken to church every Sunday and was made to attend Sunday School.  However, I was never aware of the denomination of the church (it was Church of Scotland for the record) and I had no awareness of any other religious affiliations.  It was simply never mentioned.  My first real encounter with it was in a schoolfriend's family, where my friend's sister, brought up in the Protestant tradition, had married a Catholic, and this was a source of some friction in the family.  Indeed it was the first time I ever heard the word 'Pape', and I had no idea what it meant.  Even once it was explained, it didn't make any sense.

Since then, when researching family history for other people, I have come across other cases where families have disowned one of their members for marrying someone from the 'wrong' faith.  I still find it incomprehensible.

I suspect that most people in Scotland are not religious bigots.  Indeed most people are probably not strongly religious and really don't care what religion other people may espouse.  However, there is a sizeable minority who are, and this does need to be tackled.

One of the main ways to do this is through education.  Currently Scotland allows separate denominational schools, most of which are for Catholics, although there are a small number of schools associated with other religious denominations.  This is one thing that I would like to see changed.  In my view, schools should not be associated with any religious denomination.  If religions wish to install a particular ethos in their adherents, this should be done under their own auspices and outwith the school day.  As all schools fall under the control of the Scottish Government, this should not be difficult to arrange.  At the very least this would allow children of different religions to mix and to see that the others are not monsters or sub-humans.

I would also like to see football clubs actively opposing any expression of religion at their games, as it should be in no way relevant to the sport.

Sectarianism has deep roots in Scotland, especially the West of Scotland and a history stretching back to the 17th century, following the establishment of the Ulster Plantation and taking in the 'Glorious Revolution'.  Eradicating it is going to be somewhat akin to ridding your lawn of dandelions - a lot of digging and still they come back.  However, we need to keep at it until all the dandelions are gone. 

Scotland should be ashamed of this stain on its reputation, and we need to get to work to get rid of it sooner rather than later.  The SNP legislation, while not good, is at least a first step.  Rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, perhaps the parties in the Scottish Parliament should be co-operating to look at ways to improve it.

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