May 27 | comments icon 15 COMMENTS     print icon print


Anti-sectarian law must be enforced

— As the Scottish Government moves to toughen existing legislation, and the Church renews calls for a focus on anti-Catholic bigotry MICHAEL BRADY points out the need for enforcement by the police

IN last week’s article I mentioned the fact that there needs to be an acceptance of the existence of anti-Catholicism and anti-Irish racism as a major part of the sectarian problem in Scottish football and society, and that education is a key facet in tackling sectarianism. Recently re-elected First Minister Alex Salmond commented, on his first day in parliament last week, of the ‘parasite of sectarianism.’ He has also promised more robust laws to deal with bigots.

Given the criticism that has been levelled at the police in Scotland—allegations of a lack of knowledge of what constitutes sectarianism; claims of turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to anti-Catholicism and anti-Irish racism; perceived inflammation of tensions with comments in the media; and claims of a lack of transparency on arrests and fines related to sectarianism—the question remains: can we be confident that the police will enforce effectively whatever legislation MSPs pass?

Police motivation

Over the course of this football season, the police have been more vocal on the subject of arrests and fines with regards to matches involving Celtic and Rangers—the sole arena that the force appear to focus on with regard to tackling sectarianism.

After the so-called ‘shame game’ on March 2, which saw three Rangers players red carded, Celtic win 1-0 and a touchline spat ensue between Celtic manager Neil Lennon and Rangers’ assistant manager Ally McCoist, Strathclyde Police said that they had arrested 34 people inside Celtic Park itself, 187 people throughout the day for disorder offences, 40 people for domestic abuse and that they had issued 139 ‘fixed-penalty’ notices.

Shortly afterwards, the now infamous sectarian summit was convened amidst calls that Strathclyde Police was being stretched to the limit in trying to deal with the situation in an around Glasgow derby matches.

The problem with such figures is, first and foremost, that there is a lack of clarity as to whether they are all directly linked to sectarian behaviour. Also a mere 34 arrests inside a stadium with close on 60,000 spectators hardly points to a major problem. Perhaps the answer to the police’s seeming desire to highlight such figures comes from Les Gray, chairman of the Police Federation, who said: “We simply do not have the money and resources to do this.” He also went on to claim that Glasgow derby matches should be played behind closed doors or banned altogether.

With cuts to policing budgets (announced in the summer of 2010) perhaps the police’s focus is on self-preservation as opposed to tackling sectarianism?

Voicing objections

This suggestion is given weight by the fact that when Celtic and Rangers met in the League Cup Final on March 20, the police, and indeed Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill, appeared to ignore renditions of the anti-Irish ‘Famine Song’ by thousands of Rangers supporters in their clamour to hail it as a ‘showpiece final,’ adding weight to the allegations that the police are, at best, ill informed on what constitutes sectarianism and at worst, simply ignoring it.

Critics alleged a prevailing attitude within the police force of ignorance of the problem, which is underlined by their attitudes to supposed ‘sectarian songs’ and again looking for sectarian parity, when none exists. When Rangers supporters sing a song calling for an ethnic group to ‘go home,’ that is an overt display of racism. Similarly when they sing of being ‘up to their knees in Fenian blood,’ that is an outpouring of religious bigotry.

Bizarrely, prior to the Rangers vs Celtic match at Ibrox in April, Chief Superintendent Andy Bates, divisional commander for Glasgow South and East Renfrewshire, in his promise to ‘blitz the bigots,’ brought Celtic supporters into the equation when he said: “If you sing Boys of the Old Brigade, we’ll arrest you… If you sing anything derisory about the Pope or the Queen, we’ll consider that an arrestable offence.”

Leaving aside the fact that on the second point—singing an anti-monarchist song would see singers such as John Lydon of The Sex Pistols and Billy Bragg arrested, the first point again suggests a lack of knowledge of what is and what isn’t sectarian.

Defining sectarianism

Chief Superintendent Bates and his colleagues would have been wise to heed the outcome of a court case, in which Professor Tom Devine was called as an expert witness.

The accused in that case had been charged under Section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, with committing a breach of the peace aggravated by singing Irish Republican songs, which mentioned, in their lyrics, the IRA, in much the same was as the Boys of the Old Brigade does.

However, the sheriff concluded that doubtless some members of the public might take offence at the songs being sung in support of an organisation, which the UK Government considered to be a terrorist movement. Nonetheless, he ruled that the IRA was a military organisation, was not sectarian in intent and that those who showed support for it, real or rhetorical, were not showing ‘malice or ill will towards members of a religious group.’

“To my knowledge, little of this case was reported in the press, which is a pity because its results have significant legal implications as to how Scottish law officers and the police respond to fan behaviour at these matches,” Professor Devine said.

The equality group Celebrate Identity, Challenge Intolerance was also critical of the police in this regard. It commented: “From an equality perspective, there are no reasons whatsoever for supporters attending football matches to be arrested for singing this particular song, or any other patriotic songs that are a reflection of legitimate pride in one’s cultural, national or ethnic identity…the song Boys of the Old Brigade is a legitimate song relating to nationhood.”


In light of the fact that Queen Elizabeth II, on her state visit to Ireland last week, laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin for the IRA members who had fought in the War of Independence, the police’s grasp on what constitute sectarian singing seems tenuous at best.

However, this is not the only area where police could benefit from better education and understanding of the sensitivities regarding sectarianism. Another field that needs work is the media.

Before the Rangers vs Celtic match on Easter Sunday—April 24—Strathclyde Police Chief Constable Stephen House suggested that the combination of alcohol, sun and a bank holiday could make the derby match the ‘perfect storm,’ for violence.

“It is a bank holiday, it’s the last meeting of the season—which is crucial for the result—and the weather forecast is hot,” he said. “That means people will be drunk and they will get injured or raped, assaults go up and so does domestic violence. We do not see the clubs as the enemy. We do not blame Celtic or Rangers for the violence.”

Despite the disclaimer at the end, the chief constable would have been better advised to omit the reference to Celtic and Rangers or just not made the comments at all, as they do, to an extent, place blame on both clubs.

Les Gray fared little better. In a radio show he seemed to suggest that people who have pictures of the Pope in their homes are, in some way, responsible for the continuation of sectarianism. When he was contacted on his position, his comments continued to highlight a lack of clarity on the issue.

“The Pope is the head of the Catholic Church and his image can be quite rightly displayed in people’s homes or wherever without an inference of bigotry or anything else,” he said. “I was referring to the minority of people who hijack images of his Holiness, the queen and other figures and display them in a fashion to taunt other people, in particular Old Firm fans.”

Yet, the display of pictures of the Pope or indeed the queen in someone’s house is surely a private matter and not an attempt to taunt anybody.

Education is a key facet in terms of tackling sectarianism, and given that the police are charged with this important task, providing the forces in Scotland with a clear focus must be a priority.

Comments - 15 Responses

  1. Billy Wilson says:

    Where do I start with this?Sublime messaging with the photo of Ibrox in your article?

    Let’s talk about sectarian schooling.

    • R Kelly says:

      Sectarian schooling will be abolished within 5 years … I can’t believe it still happens in this day and age.

    • Cameron says:

      Under UK law is it not an offence to glorify a terrorist organisation named on the anti terrorism act? Just wondering why one song us sectarian & one is punishable in the eyes the law where both sets are intact offensive & would be deemed illegal purely onvthat basic regardless of them being pro terrorist or bigoted. Thanks

  2. R Kelly says:

    This victim mentality is killing our wee country and is quite frankly getting boring. There is no Anti Irish / catholic racism in Scotland. Scottish Catholics of Irish decent need get on with life … just like Irish Catholics do in every other country in the world including other parts of the UK.

  3. John Millar says:

    And what about anti protestant bile that is belted out at Celtic Park every 2 weeks, is that in order?

  4. Graham says:

    DOnt ask such hard questions…… Questions about segregated schooling and anti protestant chanting and Pro IRA chanting will NEVER get answered, or if it does it is so slanted as to be totally unbelievable and undefendable For example… ah but IRA chanting is NOT sectarian. People with like minds of this site will ALWAYS stand in the way of tackling a problem which very much needs tackled…. bigotry and sectarianism. But as long as their are groups or instituions who do not face the FULL facts, take the blinkers off and tackle the problem head on AND not on one sides terms it will never be tackled.

    As long as the subject of sectarian schooling is not tackled (Doesnt fit with peoples true agenda), as long as its one sided, it will be forever seen as what it is – a smoke screen.

    Highly acclaimed academics have proven the link between seperate schooling, hell the government sponsored a report that said as much, but it MIGHT OFFEND. Tough !!!! If you truly want to get rid of bigotry and sectarianism and that is they way to do it. I dont like some things in law and certain things that happen, but if it is for the greater good then that is that.

    THen their is the question of the claims of ANti Irish, Anti Catholisms that is “rife in Scotland” and a “Cancer of Scotland” – I must live in a wee bubble I dont see it as bad as that, Imy very good Catholic friends dont see it like that – Its been blown out of all proportion to fit with a very dangerous agenda of some small minded, bitter people with their own agenda.

    Decent people that I know, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim etc etc are getting really fed up at people pushing these agendas and making the situation worse..

    I will expect the usual non comment or twisted view, or of course this not been published.

    • Jo says:


      As the product of a catholic education I’d like to assure you that I agree with you that bigotry exists on both sides of the “religious” divide in Scotland. I learned that, however, not in school, but as I got older and realised that my home life was not the same as that of other catholics I had gone to school with. Equally I found some of my protestant peers came from homes that were bitter while others did not. The reason was that bigotry in Scotland is not taught in schools: if it was we would all be bigots and we are not. Bigotry is taught in homes: it is handed down from generation to generation and the place where it explodes is in the Old Firm setting and what passes for football in this country. I still remember some wee boys I went to school with and I remember their fathers. Those wee boys grew up just like their fathers and their sons are just like them. Bigots.

      Weans aren’t handed a copy of the Jerusalem Bible or the King James version in Scotland: they are given a Celtic strip or a Rangers strip and THAT is where bigotry starts in Scotland. To quote the many heathens at Celtic Park, “Celtic is my religion, Parkhead is my church.” Many of them would not recognise God if He was to walk up and shake hands with them. Schools have nothing to do with that. Schools do not cause it: homes do: upbringing does and the Old Firm play a huge role too.

      I cringe every time I see yet another Scottish family out on a good day and there’s some poor wee tot bedecked in either Rangers or Celtic regalia so that his eejit of a father can make a statement, not about who the child is, but about who he intends to rear that child to become.

      As a catholic myself I am happy to focus on some of the things I find vexing: the Irish business. I was not reared to think of myself as “Scots-Irish”. We were Scottish. My father was a very proud Scot and I am too. I am NOT Irish even if I have Irish ancestors. I listen to those who insist they are Irish and who were born here and I get bored quickly. I get bored too with Celtic supporters who insist Celtic are an Irish Club when they are not. Certainly the Club was founded by an Irishman but that does not make it an Irish Club. It is registered at Companies House Edinburgh.

      I also find it irritating in Catholic parishes to see “cultural music and dance” flagged up when the culture being celebrated is Irish and not Scottish. We are Scottish, these parishes are in Scotland and part of Scottish communities so for me they should at the very least include Scottish cultural music and dance in the activities available. That is surely who we are when we were born HERE not in Ireland and for me, that so many ignore the Scottish connection, is disrespectful and quite wrong.

      I will, however, still say to you that diversity in education is a very good thing and that those who seek to abolish faith schools of any kind have an agenda of their own that they are not being honest about. The secularists, for example, claim to represent freedom until you mention religious beliefs of any kind because they are not capable of tolerating religious beliefs and they believe they have the right to dismiss the view of anyone who has religious beliefs. That approach cannot possibly represent “freedom” and so that makes them hypocrites. It makes them guilty of promoting their own brand of bigotry by seeking to exclude those whom they seek to exclude. That is also a form of fascism. What next? Will they want to send all believers to the gas chambers? (Mind you, their rabid hatred of all things spiritual makes me wonder often, if they are so convinced God doesn’t exist, why are the spiritual beiefs of others such a threat to them?)

      I think people need to take a good long look at themselves in Scotland, all of us. There’s a parable which runs along the lines of being able to see a splinter in your brother’s eye while missing the entire tree lodged in your own. Its a good parable.

  5. GOAAAAL says:

    HMMMMM selective memories Catholic church & the Sunday Liam

  6. Colin says:

    Sectarian schooling? Catholic schools welcome all fact. I should know I went to one and there were plenty of protestant’s at my School. Catholic Schools exist in most countries in the world and provide a high level of education . Shown me any other civilised country in the world has has a problem with them ? The fact you called it sectarian schooling only shows ignorance. Do know what is actually taught in Catholic schools R Kelly?

    • R Kelly says:

      Utter nonsense…. Facts state that Catholic schools are for Catholic children, that is why they are called catholic schools. If Non-Catholics were at your school then it was non denominational not catholic.

      Sorry to rain on your parade, but I was also educated in a Catholic school so in answer to your question… Yes I do know what is taught in Catholic Schools, albeit it was 30 years ago.

      • Jo says:

        R. Kelly. You are behind the times. All schools in Scotland are now obliged to take children from within their catchment area regardless of religion. So there is effectively no longer even such a thing as a catholic school. You can find out more about the various groups attending such schools these days very easily if you really want to.

  7. Martin B says:

    First, the schools: Catholic schools educate children across the globe; the proportions of English and Scottish children educated at Catholic schools are very similar yet it is only in Scotland that the Catholic school excites so much hostility. Maybe the problem lies with Scotland not Catholic schools.

    Secondly, the police: thirty years ago the perception was that they were, by and large, a sectarian force. This has certainly changed but to what extent is unclear. I am pro-police and have good reason to be grateful to excellent officers. But why is it that when it comes to matters sectarian some senior officers invariably reach for the stupid pills? What they consider sectarian beggars belief – a photograph of the Pope, for goodness sake.

    Professor John Kelly should have the last word on this issue. His take on sectarianism is that many Scots hold latent, even unconscious, anti-Catholic and anti-Irish prejudices. Kelly states that when Celtic FC is added to this brew the mix may prove fatal for some.

  8. Joe says:

    Well, I’m an RC myself and I’ve thought about this long and hard and i think that both ‘sides’ have to take some share of the blame – albeit in different ways.

    The unfortunate thing is that apologists for both sides are so locked into their own certainties that often they can’t see this.

    For example, on the Protestant side – Rangers FC had a practice of signing Catholic footballers that came on to the market. Not once were they condemned or forced to change by the game’s governing body, the SFA. I also cannot remember any media clamour or pressure to get them to change. Celtic, on the other hand, never discriminated against players on religious grounds.
    Therefore, by this logic, it cannot be claimed that both sides are equally sectarian.

    Secondly, there’s this argument that Old Firm fans like to use when they say things along the lines of “Rangers fans songs are worse because they are religiously motivated, whereas Celtic’s are more political” – well, that doesn’t really wash with me. I think offensive songs are offensive songs and people (on either side)who peddle this kind of hatred cannot complain of the consequences when people take exception to it.

    Furthermore, Scotland DOES have a history of anti-Catholicism and anti-Irish racism. This is a fact, beyond doubt, debate or argument. Things like the Church of Scotland’s campaign in the interwar years to repatriate the Catholic Irish, Orange walks, opposition to Catholic schools and even things like the Act of Settlement are living examples of this.

    However, people may point the finger at the Catholic education system and say that, regardless of its undoubted reputation for academic excellence, it still divides children aged 5 and upwards into two different groups. This is not just a criticism of RC schools, though – the same could be said of Muslim, Episcopalian or other faith schools. I think young children, certainly from my own personal experience, esp at Primary school level, are aware when they go to separate schools that there is, in some ill-defined way, something different between them and the local non-denominational pupils down the road.

    I think the defenders of faith-based education often miss this important point. They automatically dismiss critics with valid concerns as anti-Catholic bigots and what have you. They’re not bigots though, it’s the unnecessary division that bothers a lot of people.

    People who insist on children being educated in isolation from other young Scots during their school years cannot complain when the majority population harbours certain suspicions about them. This is not a racist or an anti-Catholic sentiment.

    Finally, and i’m surprised that no-one has mentioned this – we live in a highly secular society, where very few young people have a church connection of any kind. I am 29 years old and there are about 3 people from my year at school, including myself, who still go to mass regularly. It makes me wonder what is the point in having a Catholic school in the first place, if the kids and families aren’t interested.

  9. Effie Raskey says:

    Hate to split hairs, but when you wrote “a nomadic quest to be liked again” . .. . . did you mean quixotic?

  10. We live in a secular world and such issues are a mere poignant reminder.

Leave a Reply

latest features

Africa has much to teach us and give

April 24th, 2020 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS

I can still remember when Sr Stella Niwagira arrived in...

Meet the individuals thriving because of donations to SCIAF

April 12th, 2020 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS

Ryan McDougall tells the stories of two previously impoverished African...

Education and lessons learned from a Ugandan aid trip

April 10th, 2020 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS

Peter Galloway reflects upon a recent aid trip to Uganda,...

We need to spread the love, Wuhan Catholic writes

March 30th, 2020 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS

In a special report, a Catholic living in Wuhan, the...

Social media

Latest edition


exclusively in the paper

  • Unite in prayer against the virus, Paisley bishop pleads
  • Papal award recognises 60 years of Faithful service
  • Catholic high school leads trend with positive outcomes for pupils
  • New memorials celebrate Croy’s proud mining heritage
  • Top Catholic university rolls out programme in Scotland

Previous editions

Previous editions of the Scottish Catholic Observer newspaper are only available to subscribed Members. To download previous editions of the paper, please subscribe.

note: registered members only.

Read the SCO