Sectarianism In Scotland Essay Help

It won't just be Celtic and Rangers fans who are on edge when the rival clubs meet in the Co-operative Insurance Cup final at Glasgow's Hampden Park this Sunday.

Their last heated clash ended with the incendiary sight of Celtic manager, Neil Lennon, and Rangers' assistant manager, Ally McCoist, squaring up to each other.

Something had to be done. So Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, called both clubs to a summit at the behest of the police. They agreed to consider football banning orders for fans convicted of domestic violence, which has been known to soar by 138% when the two teams play on a Saturday. There are also measures to reduce alcohol consumption and improve players' behaviour.

However the Old Firm clash has another, particularly ugly element – sectarianism. By some quirk of history, Scotland's two largest and most successful football clubs have a cultural identity closely bound to Northern Irish politics. Celtic has a mainly Catholic following. Rangers is older, and has attracted a large Scottish and later Ulster Protestant following.

As the years have rolled on and secularism spreads, the support base has broadened. Glasgow's Pakistani community, for example, can be found among each club's fans. The clubs have also made considerable efforts to emphasise their Scottish identity – both have their own tartans. The grounds are family-friendly, corporate entertainment is lavish, and most fans no different from the average Arsenal or Man Utd follower.

But despite major efforts by both clubs, there are problems on the terraces. In particular there are elements of Rangers supporters who continue to sing offensive songs.

Some of the most glaring examples of sectarian violence are directed against Lennon, a Catholic from County Armagh who had to abandon his international career with Northern Ireland when he joined Celtic – he received death threats and was advised by police to take them seriously.

Since the clash with McCoist, Lennon's family have been forced to move to a safe house. Much of this is fuelled by internet hate sites, including several on Facebook encouraging people to hang or shoot him. His treatment has been roundly condemned – Salmond recently deplored it during first minister's questions in parliament. He has said that the prosecution service and police will form a special task force to clamp down on internet hate sites.

Salmond isn't the first politician to come up against "Scotland's shame". Sectarian-aggravated offences have been in place since 2003, and at that time the Labour first minister, Jack McConnell, held a series of high-profile anti-sectarian summits. They highlighted the problem, but were also controversial in that the Catholic church and the Orange Order were given parity and clashed over denominational schools and the Act of Settlement, which bars Catholics from the throne. However, the new government preferred grassroots initiatives.

Whether we shout down sectarianism or work quietly to eradicate it, the broader question is why it persists. Institutional sectarianism, once rife in Scotland, is long dead. Fifty years ago, Catholics would have found it difficult to enter certain trades and professions. They only achieved pay parity in 2001.

There are complex historical reasons for this. Northern Irish Protestants are descended from plantation Scots Presbyterians, settled in a deliberate attempt to make the island loyal to the British crown. The success of Scottish industry in the 19th century lead to a large influx of Irish, both Protestant and Catholic. Naturally, they brought their divisions with them. There was also the added complication that Irish workers were often brought in to undercut the wages of Scots.

This is all historical. Catholics now think of themselves as Scottish. There is an articulate, well-educated Catholic middle class. One of these, Peter Kearney, the media spokesman for Cardinal Keith O'Brien, recently claimed anti-Catholic bigotry was rife in Scotland. It was an indication of the Catholic community's confidence that such a thing could be stated so strongly.

The government is likely to agree to the breakdown of sectarian crime figures – so that academics can analyse who is attacked or abused, where and when. Anti-sectarian groups were pledged £500,000 this year at the recent summit. If the breakdown shows, as many suspect, that Catholics are overwhelmingly victims, the whole approach to education work will inevitably change.

Salmond has a good relationship with the Catholic church. He gave a cast-iron assurance that the status of separate Catholic schools was safe under the SNP. He went further in advance of the Pope's visit, saying Scotland owed its very nationhood to the Catholic church.

Nowadays Scots of Irish descent tend to have the same voting patterns as the rest of the population. The Conservatives once performed well in some working-class areas of Scotland because of an "Orange vote" that supported their position on Ireland. That has disappeared, along with Scottish Tory MPs.

So why is vocal sectarianism a problem, even as the country becomes more enlightened as a whole? Is it the rise of ned (chav) culture, or does it have distinct roots?

Professor Tom Devine of Edinburgh University has written extensively on Scottish and Irish history. He suggests that Scotland, for long a stateless nation, sought to over-invest in religion as a form of identity. Perhaps this is why politicians in the Edinburgh parliament, which confers a statehood of sorts, are so anxious to stamp it out. Churchgoing may have declined. Now they just worship football which, like the old religion, has its dark side.

Sectarianism is not someone else’s problem. It is an issue for all of us.

And to address this issue, we need to understand it. Read more about the history of sectarianism in Scotland and get details on current legislation.

Let’s start with a bit of sectarianism myth-busting...

It’s not just about football related incidents or violence.  (In 2012, the Scottish Government’s figures for football-related  hate crime saw a rise of 16%, but they say this is because more are reported than ever before, indicating a growing intolerance for this.)

  • It’s not confined to the west of Scotland/central belt.
  • It’s not about marches (just 2 per cent of reported incidents related to marches/parades).
  • Its not confined to young working class males.

Overt verbal abuse, violence and in-your-face sectarianism does still manifest itself in our schools and on our streets. You will still see graffiti about Irish Politics in some places in Scotland, and you might still be unwelcome at the local sports club because of your surname.

But it is also necessary to be aware of, and be ready to recognise and challenge, the more subtle sectarianism lying below the surface of everyday life in Scotland today.

  • Like everyday conversation/language
  • Like learned behaviours
  • Community/family/peer pressure – “entrenched hostility”
  • ‘white collar’ discrimination in the job market
  • institutionalised sectarianism
  • abuse via social media/networking sites

To challenge sectarianism today, you need relevant, current responses. Stand Up aims to equip workers/teachers with the information and resources to explore beneath the overt and tackle ingrained attitudes and behaviours.

Offensive sectarian language is still used in Scotland on a daily basis, with abusive terms such as “Hun” and “Orange bastard” being used negatively against Protestants (or those perceived to be) and others such as “Fenian” and “Tim” used negatively against Catholics (or those perceived to be). This reinforces religious and racial stereotypes as well as fuelling the divisions and conflict between the denominations and poeple of no religious denomination. Children commonly use words without any knowledge of their meaning, but with an understanding that these words are a means by which to insult others.


Sectarianism as we know it in Scotland today is perhaps most visible in relation to football. The historical links of some clubs and the traditional ethnic and religious make-up of their supporters have led to them being held as symbols of religious, cultural and political beliefs. An element of supporters following premier league clubs such as Glasgow based Rangers FC and Celtic FC, and Edinburgh’s Hibernian and Hearts use songs, chants and banners on match days to express abuse or support towards the Protestant or Catholic faiths. In a similar way, some football fans proclaim a political commitment, and they promote their support for Northern Irish based terrorist groups such as the IRA and UVF. At some matches this can generate an atmosphere of hatred, religious tension and intimidation which continues to lead to violence in communities across Scotland. This has been widely reported in the media over the years.


Scottish government (national outcome)

"We take pride in a strong, fair and inclusive national identity."

"Scotland's national and cultural identity is defined by our sense of place, our sense of history and our sense of self. It is defined by what it means to be Scottish and to live in a modern Scotland in a modern world. It is the tie that binds people together."


The other pages in this section look at the historical roots of sectarianism and links to more about UK and Scottish Government legislation relating to sectarianism, including the new ‘football act’.

But relying on legislation is not enough. A change in culture is necessary. Attitudes require to be challenged.

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