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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

Scotland’s Secret Shame

The Scottish Government must acknowledge that sectarianism in Scotland runs deeper than football

Image Courtesy of Helen Robinson, Wikimedia Commons
by Jack Boag

Sectarianism is the West of Scotland’s secret shame. From my experiences growing up in Glasgow, I know how easy it is to get into to fall into the trap of being a bigot, even when you think you’re not. Singing offensive songs and flying flags with questionable imagery seems normal in that environment It all links back to Ireland, and ever since the Good Friday Agreement that hatred is now channelled into four football matches a year between two teams from Glasgow.

Back in 2012, the Scottish Government attempted to tackle sectarianism through the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, or OBFA. The key reason why it failed to solve anything and was eventually repealed is in its title: ‘at Football’. It mistook sectarianism for being something you could tackle solely at Celtic and Rangers games four times a year, and have it magically disappear, when the hatred is in fact ingrained much deeper.

Immigration between Scotland and Ireland has gone both ways for centuries, and as a result, Scotland has always had an Irish diaspora. The basis for the last wave of Irish immigration to Scotland being the potato famine. Being Irish, these immigrants were predominantly Catholic. The type of Protestantism in native to Scotland was more conservative and purist than England, creating a militant form of anti-Catholicism, similar to that of Northern Ireland. But how did that tension go into football? The answer is in the formation of Celtic in Glasgow. It was intended to be a football club for the poorer East End of the city, largely populated by Irish immigrants. It became Glasgow’s largest Catholic institution, a wide target to rail against. With that, the already established Rangers became a club for the Protestant majority, creating a football rivalry to channel religious and political hatred into.

The Troubles made worsened sectarianism in Glasgow and neither club did much to prevent it. Rangers refused to sign Catholic players until David Murray’s takeover of the club in 1986 Celtic permitted the filming of the music video for ‘Celtic Symphony’, which had lyrics glorifying the IRA, to take place in their ground. The song became a symbol of Irish unity, and the violence required to achieve it, and was common at Celtic matches. 

However, the Government failed to address other sources of sectarian hatred. Sectarian marching bands and organisations such as the Orange Order are still permitted to carry out violence-inciting walks. At their last annual Orange Walk (to commemorate the Protestant Victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690) a Catholic priest was assaulted and spat at.

Within the football ground, Celtic and Rangers fans abused Kilmarnock striker Kris Boyd and manager Steve Clarke respectively, due to their religious associations.

After the match, Clarke went as far to say that he was glad he did not raise his children in the sectarian environment he came from.

Government initiatives can uproot this scourge from Scottish society by acknowledging football as a symptom and not a root of the wider problem (in conjunction with strict liability, where the clubs can be punished for the actions of their fans). The wider problem is in the cultures of violence associated with being a Protestant or a Catholic in the West of Scotland, not supporting Celtic or Rangers. In recent years, both clubs have done what they can to try and stamp out sectarianism, but they can only go so far. The Scottish Government must acknowledge that sectarianism exists outside the Old Firm, or forever be plagued by Scotland’s secret shame.


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