Scottish sectarianism a thing of the past

Dani Garavelli argues that Scotland’s insistence that sectarianism is it’s own dirty shame turns out to be a chimera when it comes to finding any signs of the kind of discrimination attendent with sectarianism elsewhere. The fact that Rangers and Celtic fans still sing gory songs on and off the terraces may be a sign that hard core bigotry persists but, she argues, this is more grist for the satirist’s mill than indications of serious social problems. Over in the Herald, the Catholic Archbishop, Mario Conti, would seem not to agree.

For some reason, we seem to have a perverse, almost nostalgic, attachment to the spurious notion that we west coast Scots are a miserable, violent bunch distinguishable from one another only by which foot we kick with. It is an image perpetuated by figures such as the composer James MacMillan, who has claimed, with no more than anecdotal authority, that anti-Catholicism is still rife in Scotland, and Donald Findlay, who seems to wear his Protestantism as a badge of honour. And then, of course, there are the TV documentaries, such as last year’s Panorama programme which interviewed doctors in A&E departments after Old Firm matches, to conclude the country was awash with sectarian strife.

But where is the independent evidence for this contention? In a country riddled with religious bigotry, you would expect discrimination to spill over into every aspect of society: housing, jobs, education, health. Yet strangely there have been no recent undercover exposes showing how Catholics/Protestants are being denied jobs or prevented from buying homes in particular areas.

The fact some Rangers supporters revel in singing the line “We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood” and that some Celtic fans belt out IRA songs shows there is still a hard core of bigots, but demographic changes have marginalised them to the extent that – like the social flotsam that frequents Orange marches – they are now seen less as a threat and more as a source of satire for Only An Excuse.

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  • English

    Eammon McCann states ‘Outlining the reasons for its decision on Wednesday to acquit Rangers supporters of bigoted chanting at both legs of the Champions League tie against Villarreal, Uefa said it felt unable to take action over “a historical issue in Scotland.”

    The charge had referred to the singing of The Billy Boys. Said Uefa: “Supporters have been singing the song Billy Boys for years … without either the Scottish football or governmental authorities being able to intervene. This result is that this song is now somehow tolerated.”

    Which was spot on. The authorities in Scotland have for years accepted the mass singing of a fascist anthem at sporting occasions, and it’s they who must deal with it now.

    I use the word “fascist” not as a generalised insult but as a factual observation. Billy Boys was the marching song of a “razor gang” based in Bridgtown in Glasgow in the late 1920s and ’30s, led by one Billy Fullerton. He wasn’t a run-of-the-mill anti-Catholic bigot but a committed supporter of Oswald Mosely’s British Union of Fascists. The targets of his gang were not only Catholics but “Reds”: they helped smash up trade union and labour meetings when they weren’t hunting “Fenians.” This was one of the reasons they were tolerated by a “respectable” element which combined distaste for Irish Catholics with fear of Scottish socialists, particularly in the aftermath of “Red Clydeside.” This was the context for the tolerance of the song which Uefa found disturbing.

    There is sectarianism in Celtic’s support, too, no shortage of yahoos who think themselves licensed to celebrate the Shankill bombers for having killed “huns” just as their rivals celebrate the Shankill butchers for killing “taigs.”. But it’s cowardly to suggest that “one side’s as bad as the other.” There isn’t a song remotely as disgusting as Billy Boys, or as rooted in political evil, on the Celtic side.’

  • English
    I gave up on Scottish football a long time ago, so I don’t follow either team , but I’m interested in your last comment:

    “There isn’t a song remotely as disgusting as Billy Boys, or as rooted in political evil, on the Celtic side.’ ”

    What’s your opinion of Celtic supporters still using chants and songs which celebrate and commemorate the IRA (both the romanticised version of bygone days and the more modern version)?

    Whilst accepting they’re not “sectarian” in the broadest sense of the word, would you agree that they have no place in modern soccer? If your answer is “no”, then what’s your reasoning? If your answer is “yes”, then how does the club go about stopping it?

    (And before the great mass of hooped fans descend upon me, I also believe that UEFA should have thrown the book at Rangers)

  • Woof McDog

    Quite something to see the very laudable opposition in Scotland to sectarianism, especially coming from the political top.

    I wonder could we get our own politrickers to follow suit.

    Im away to Paisleys EIPS site to see if I can get his home number.

  • English


    I didn’t say it Mr McCann did. I think he is refering to songs rather than chants, but I agree Celtic also must have chants or even songs that should be banned.

  • Ok fair enough English.

    On the original topic, I was reading somewhere that something like 24% of Scottish households contained people of mixed religion. The truth is that hundreds of thousands of Rangers/Celtic fans must be living in mixed families,, living with, living next door to, working with and socialising with, those of an opposite religion. Peacefully. In no way can Scotland be called a sectarian battlefield

    But also obviously, if sectarianism wasn’t still a problem in Scottish football, then we would have no need for such organisations as:

    ·Bhoys Against Bigotry
    ·Pride Over Prejudice
    ·’Old Firm United’
    “Sense Over Sectarianism”

    But it’s from the fans themselves, not politicians, journalists or even the various church hierarchies, that any change to the match-going culture must occur. Unfortunately quite often it’s still two steps forward and one step back. The recent UEFA controversy provoked a worrying amount of introspective “what about themmuns?” in several of the Rangers sites that I occasionally read.

    But over the last couple of weeks, a debate of sorts has developed, albeit internally among some of the Rangers support, about what exactly their personal responsibility is regarding what songs are sung and what kind of behaviour is tolerated. Very slow stuff, but at least it’s moving in the right direction.