“Scotland never divided the way Ireland did…”

Steve Bruce with a well researched broadside on the dodgy accusation that Scotland is awash with sectarian, football related violence:

Scotland never divided in the way Ireland did. It did not divide politically: the native Scots who worked with the Irish settlers and their children in the labour movement and in the Labour party always vastly outnumbered those who supported tiny and short-lived anti-Catholic parties.

Scotland never divided residentially: nowhere in Scotland displayed Belfast’s pattern of residential segregation. And despite the Catholic church insisting on maintaining a separate school system, social mixing has always been common and, as interest in religion has declined, intermarriage has become commonplace. In Northern Ireland only about 6% of marriages are mixed but in the 1990s, just over half of Scots Catholics under 35 who were married had non-Catholic partners.

Scotland’s disgrace is not religious bigotry. It is the unthinking way in which sectarianism is assumed. In 2004, on the Sunday after a heated Rangers-Celtic game, a Sunday tabloid newspaper ran a two-page story under the headline “Real toll of that Old Firm mayhem”. One page was given over to a fire which severely damaged a Catholic church in Stornoway. The implication was clear: “Priest’s church blaze agony” was caused by “Old Firm Mayhem”. The boring truth, which merited just one column inch in a sister tabloid the following week, was that the fire was caused by an electrical fault.

And from last week in the wake of what looks like an un-Scottish premeditated campaign of intimidation (and worse) against several key members of Glasgow Celtic Football Club, David Goldblatt had this to say:

The reflex action of many is to call for the removal of politics from football; an operation likely to kill the patient. As with most cultural forms, from the cinema to the novel, the politics of football will be what we make of it. For those already locked into sectarian conflicts, racist politics or authoritarian manipulation, football, its crowds and its rivalries, offers enormous potential for recruitment and demagogy. For those who want to promote a politics of universalism, fraternity and equality, its canvas is equally attractive. If we want the chance to pursue the latter, then we must accept the possibility and threat of the former.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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