There are many Scotlands and they’re all dreadful. That at any rate seems to be the message from the Scottish government’s anti-sectarianism ‘taskforce’. We’re all in denial about sectarianism and the shadow it casts over Scottish society. Of course it’s hardly surprising that those people who spend their lives ferreting for evidence of sectarian behaviour conclude that sectarianism is both more broadly found and more deeply ingrained in Scottish society than your own experience may suggest. What do you know anyway?
Conveniently, of course, such conclusions also demand that more public money be spent educating the poor, bigoted, people of Scotland to change the way they think and act. Then again, sectarianism has been defined down to farcical levels. You will recall, I am sure, that there was a moment when government ministers could not decide if singing the national anthem constituted a ‘hate crime’.
Doubtless there remain plenty of bigots in Scotland. Doubtless too there remains some low-level, localised, sectarian discrimination in the labour market. The notion this latter is a problem across the country, however, is fanciful. Certainly passions and prejudices are easily stirred even if much – though not all – of it disappears after the final whistle at Ibrox or Parkhead.
But since we like to think of Scotland as a diverse and infinite place it seems perverse – even insulting – to suppose that all these Scotlands are infected with the virus of sectarianism.
For that matter and despite what Duncan Morrow, chairman of Alex Salmond’s ‘taskforce’ on sectarianism, says, there’s little evidence that we really need to have yet another ‘national conversation’ about sectarianism. Previous chats of this kind have, I think, generally been a waste of time. But it is time – and modernity – more than government action that has made all the difference. No-one, not even the professional bigot-seekers, thinks sectarianism in Scotland anything like as rampant or virulent or institutionalised as once it was.
Indeed the available evidence suggests that, at least by some measures, sectarianism is no more prevalent or problematic than homophobia. And yet we do not have government-appointed anti-homophobia taskforces, far less are we enjoined to endure a ‘national conversation’ about this ‘secret shame’. Homohphobia is deplorable but it’s not crippling Scotland. Nor is sectarianism.
That’s the subject of my Think Scotland column this week:
Dave Scott, campaign director for the anti-sectarianism charity Nil By Mouth told Scotland on Sunday that “Sectarianism is not unique to any one religion, culture or social class and the days of sweeping it under the carpet are over. Over 7,000 people have been arrested for sectarian offences over the past decade. Interestingly, only a third of these have been football-related. So the evidence proves this problem goes well beyond our touchlines and terraces.”
To put this in context, the police catalogued 270,053 crimes last year. Of course crimes and arrests are not the same thing. It may well be that many “sectarian” crimes do not lead to arrests. Nevertheless 700 sectarian-related arrests a year does not suggest that sectarianism is a major crisis. Far less, given the likely geographical concentration of these arrests, does it imply that this is a nationwide epidemic requiring yet more government intervention.
Crown Office figures report that there were 762 charges brought in 2012-13 on the grounds of “religiously aggravated” crime. Forty percent of these were in Glasgow and 50% were alcohol-related. By comparison 729 “hate crime” charges were the product of prejudice on the grounds of sexual orientation and 4,012 the result of racial prejudice. Bigotry predicated upon religion is no more attractive and every bit as reprehensible as bigotry based on sexual orientation or race but it takes a strange kind of self-loathing to think that, judged by the Crown Office’s own figures, sectarianism is a greater problem for contemporary Scotland than homophobia or common racism.
And yet the breast-beating and hair-rendering continues. The plain truth of the matter is that sectarianism is not, at least in terms of the law and its official statistics, a major problem in contemporary Scotland. That does not mean there are no pockets of bigotry or Scots whose minds are polluted by prejudice. Of course there are. But it does suggest that these pockets are smaller and these people fewer in number than is often suggested. We are not as bad as we sometimes seem to enjoy thinking we are.
Whole thing here. Brace yourself for more government ‘action’ however which will, as is invariably the case, lead to further infringements upon liberty and speech. Because it’s good for you, you know? All this to defeat a ‘scourge’ that’s neither as strong nor as widespread as commonly imagined. Most Scots – like most people elsewhere – aren’t bigots and it’s reasonable for them to be upset by the thought that their government appears to think they are.