Time to leave sectarian marches behind

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Amélie Davidson

Following the recent ban of five Glasgow marches over sectarian disorder fears, Amélie Davidson examines Glasgow’s problem with sectarianism.

On 12 September, Glasgow City Council banned four loyalist marches and one Irish republican parade from taking place over the threat to public safety. The ban came after protests against two republican marches led to a police officer being injured by a firework and 10 people being arrested. In another incident on 20 September, two men were arrested after a riot broke out in Govan when an Irish unity march was met by counter-demonstrators. Is it now time for Scotland to ban all marches?

In a so-called progressive country, my belief is that all marches should be banned over sectarian fears. These marches are outrageous and state-facilitated hate, and have been the catalysts of hate crimes for years. How can Glasgow City Council possibly allow these marches to take place, for which the sole purpose is to antagonise other members of the community? 

Marches should be banned permanently due to the disruption that they cause on our streets, plus the cost of ensuring citizens are kept safe. It cost a shocking £300,000 to deploy 500 specialist public order officers to the two demonstrations, which doesn’t include the many other costs, such as a helicopter, conventional police, and mounted officers. This is a complete waste of taxpayers’ money, especially in a time of such austerity when on every street corner of Glasgow sits a homeless person. 

Sectarianism continues to be a part of day-to-day life in Glasgow. Of course, people have the right to identify as being part of certain religions and to celebrate the traditions around those religions. However, when this leads to hateful behaviour it is unacceptable. These marches are outdated and are hindering progress against tackling the issue of sectarianism in Glasgow.

During his six years as first minister of Scotland, Lord Jack McConnell launched a national drive against sectarianism and religious hatred. This resulted in action plans implemented by Celtic and Rangers, new laws and a national agreement – signed by loyalists and Irish republicans – to change marches and parades, strong support for interfaith initiatives, and many other actions.

When asked for a comment, Lord McConnell said:

“Sectarianism and religious hatred in Scotland have deep roots and many causes, including fear of the other side, ignorance, and tribal loyalty. For decades the problem was deemed too difficult to tackle. But I was determined to challenge this behaviour after devolution and as first minister I could see we were making change happen by bringing people together to confront and change their actions. 

“Abandoning this work after 2007 was a catastrophic mistake by my successors. This is a complex problem so it needs all hands on deck. And it needs national leadership. That leadership needs to address all involved and push practical action to deal with causes and impact.

“It is time to go beyond warm words whenever there is an incident in the news and set out a plan for consistent, determined leadership to put this bigotry – on all sides – in the dustbin of history.”

The recent sectarian violence in Glasgow has renewed calls for Catholic schools to be abolished, with former deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders, Tom Wood, writing in the Scotsman that “as Scotland moves forward with equality as our watchword, our century-old practice of segregated education is contradictory to say the least. If we really want to dig out the roots of sectarianism, we must do what’s difficult, and have the courage to tackle the historical anomaly of religious segregation in our schools.”

But what would abolishing Catholic schools achieve? Would this solve Glasgow’s issue with sectarianism? I believe that Catholic schools are an integral and highly successful part of public education in Scotland. Last year, the centenary celebrations of the 1918 Education Act (Scotland) took place, showcasing that Catholic schools are good for Scotland. The act was a piece of historic legislation which secured the Catholic community a system in which the Catholic faith permeates the whole of a child’s life. Catholic schools in Glasgow have children of all faiths and none in them, but they teach religious education which embraces love for all. Scotland’s society must escape the mentality which sees any presence of the Catholic faith in the public domain as provocation. 

Having attended a Catholic primary and secondary school myself, I do not recall having ever been taught bigotry. On the contrary, we were taught to be kind and to love our neighbours. We were taught to follow the “golden rule” of “treat others the way that you want to be treated.” Catholic schools are not places which breed hatred and bigotry, but rather places that breed the love that is so desperately needed in today’s society. Sectarianism is a deeply-rooted and widespread social issue in Glasgow and, in my opinion, it is quite simply ignorance to point the finger at Catholic schools.

Speaking to Dr Roisín Coll, director of the St Andrew’s Foundation for Catholic Teacher Education at the University of Glasgow, she said: “The aim of a Catholic school is to place Jesus Christ at the centre of all that is said and done in order to achieve the full potential of every pupil and contribute to the common good of society. Catholic schools teach children the values of the Gospels, to love and respect one another and to recognise everyone being made in the image and likeness of God.”

She added: “Sectarianism is a Scottish phenomenon and to suggest that abolishing Catholic schools is the solution is, as a prominent educationist once said, ‘like pulling the wrong tooth’. The supposed connection between the existence of Catholic schools and sectarianism in Scotland has been exhaustively analysed. No evidence whatsoever has ever been found.”

Freedom of speech and assembly is an important and democratic value. However, that shouldn’t mean that we are obliged to tolerate hate speech, intimidation, or violence from people with ancient hatreds. Glasgow has been blighted with sectarianism for years. It is time for change. They say “People Make Glasgow”, but the people taking part in these marches are making Glasgow a symbol of hatred and bigotry: and that is not our Glasgow. 


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