you're reading...
politics. Scotland. Religion. sectarianism.

Sectarianism: it starts in the home and is perpetuated in the classroom.

  Well, someone has to say it.  Religious sectarianism in Scotland will never fully be eradicated while religious apartheid is written into the state education system.  So long as children grow  up to define themselves as Catholic or Protestant, in segregated schools, and associate predominantly with their own kind, then the old antagonisms and rivalries will remain. I have great respect for Catholic schools and their high educational standards –  which cause so many non-believers try to send their children there, the Liberal leader Nick Clegg being one.   However, they do discriminate on grounds of religion, and there’s no getting away from that. 

  Now, I know this line of thinking will outrage many of my Catholic friends, practising or lapsed, who believe that religious schools are a defence AGAINST sectarianism, Protestant sectarianism, rather than the cause of it.    And of course, Catholic schools don’t cause letter bombs. It is from the darker recesses of Protestant Unionism, that come the death threats and the street violence. The nail bombs sent to Neil Lennon, lawyer Paul McBride and Trish Godman, the former Labour MSP, were probably assembled by paramilitary elements in one of the stagnant pools of Loyalist Orangism that still linger in the housing estates of West Central Scotland.  Aye, and not only in the housing estates, but in some of the best addresses in Glasgow, in certain golf clubs and legal chambers. 

      Scotland’s half million Catholics rightly feel that they have been, and continue to be, victims of discrimination –  from their exclusion from succession to the throne to harsh treatment by football authorities.  It is to the eternal shame of my own grandfather’s generation of Clyde shipyard workers that Catholics generally did not get jobs in the major yards.  However,  the worst forms of discrimination, in council house waiting lists, in the workplace, in policing and the justice system, are surely a thing of he past. 

    Moreover, we live in a predominantly secular society.  Sectarian violence is a bizarre anachronism – how many of the bigots who chant religious sectarian songs at old firm matches understand the theological distinction between consubstantiation and transubstantiation?  This is tribalism – it is communal violence based on a barely comprehended historic identity.   But the identity has a basis in religion and is rooted in the separation at five years old between Catholics and Protestants.  

    And I can’t see an end to this “Scottish disease” until Scotland’s religious communities become fully  integrated, and I can’t see that happening while their children are educated in different schools.  Even the prime target of the letter bomb attack, Celtic coach Neil Lennon – a man I admire immensely for his courage and fortitude in the face of death threats, street assaults and now letter bombs – has conceded that integration is the key.   “It [sectarianism] starts in the home”, he said recently.  “It’s passed down from generation to generation”. Absolutely – and the education system is one of the transmission belts.

    Racial and religious integration begins and ends in school.  It is only when young people –  black, muslim, Catholic Protestant – start to establish relationships that cross the boundaries of identity that divide their parents, that they truly become citizens rather than representatives of an ethnic group.  That is why muslim fundamentalists try to raise children in dogmatic madrassas. I fully accept that Catholic schools are not madrassas and that, as the Pope said on his visit to Scotland last year, many work hard to foster  understanding and community.  Nor, am I arguing for faith schools to be closed, or the 1918 Act repealed.  I am opposed to private education, because it perpetuates class divisions, but I accept that, in a democracy,  you cannot outlaw  fee paying schools.  However, I do believe that schools which are financed by the state should, as a condition of their funding, be non-denominational. Or at least should be seen to be moving in that direction.  

  The former First Minister, Jack McConnell, a politician who got a lot more things right than he got wrong, was on the right track in his attempt to encourage campus schools in which Catholic and Protestants are educated at least in the same geographical space, if not always in the same assemblies or class rooms.  There have been petty troubles on the co-denominational campuses of Dalkeith and Lanarkshire – objections to religious iconography in public areas and the content of sex education lessons.   But on the whole these campuses have been a reasonable success.  However – it is a long haul.

    In the mean time there needs to be pretty drastic action to control the worst symptoms of religious sectarianism.   What we don’t need are more summits, agendas and instant initiatives designed to foster tolerance on the terraces.   Curiously, I find myself agreeing with the old firm themselves that it’s too easy  to blame football  for sectarianism, or expect football clubs to change an aspect of Scottish culture that has its roots in the home and the school. However, that doesn’t mean that it is any  more acceptable. 
    One way to keep two sides from fighting is to keep them apart.  The police have made clear that they believe the letter bomb attacks to be linked closely to events at Celtic Rangers matches, such as the midweek fixture last month which saw Lennon and McCoist square up to each other like stags before a rut. If police believe that certain public events are likely to be the site of., or provoke public disorder, they have powers to close them down.  Demand that Old Firm matches are played behind closed doors, or are abolished altogether. It may come to that. 

   This would be a disaster for Celtic and Rangers, two of our greatest sporting institutions, which depend on tickets sales for their survival.  But we have been here before.  The old home international fixtures between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were ended in the 1980s, partly as a result of hooliganism at Scotland -England matches, and partly because they fomented sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland. History may be about to repeat itself.

    As someone said in a different context: we  can’t go on like this.  The Old Firm meet again this weekend.   The slightest hint of trouble, and it could be their last  for a long time. 

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


20 thoughts on “Sectarianism: it starts in the home and is perpetuated in the classroom.

  1. As newly weds from the opposite sides of the religious divide my wife and I fled the country in 1960.We brought up a family free from the bigotry that permeated Scottish society at that time and to our sorrow, now that wew have returned, we find still does to this day.Just recently while on a short holiday break I got into conversation with one who displayed much the same characteristics of age and senility as myself.We soon discovered that we were brought up in the same town in Lanarkshire and were the same age. The inevitable soon followed -'Which school did you go to?'

    Posted by Anonymous | April 21, 2011, 10:14 am
  2. Why don't we just separate religion from the state as they do in the USA or France? No religion in schools at all.They may not be able to do it in England with their queen being the head of their church but we really don't have the same constraints here.

    Posted by tris | April 21, 2011, 11:52 am
  3. Mr MacWhirter, what a contrived, biased and ill-infiormed piece of rubbish.You have adopted the 'followfollow' brand of sectarian answer to the persecution of Catholics – blame the victims – it's the 'apartheid' and 'sectarian' schools! You have even adopted the terminology of the orange order!Catholic schools were formed because of an ill-tolerant Protestant population who would not have accepted Catholic children inhabiting the same educational space as their offspring. The Catholic Church funded schools for it's children and eventually the state adopted them as part of the act you refer to – along with the promise of continuation.Schools of any description in Scotland do not promote sectarianism. It comes from the home and sectarian organisations – such as the Orange Order you briefly mention, but don't condemn. The OO is allowed to promote it's brand of anti-Catholic hatred yet receives no condemnation from the likes of yourself. I wonder why?Did you also know that Catholic schools accept ANY child, irrespective of religion – and do not try to 'indoctrinate' not even persuade them to attend religions lessons? Did you know that Catholic schools outperform their equivalent non-denominational school? Did you know that the largest – Holyrood in Glasgow – has an almost 30% Asian population – who choose on the grounds of racial and religious tolerance, high moral standards, a welcoming and passionate educational ethos and high levels of educational attainments?Catholic schools in England and other parts of Scotland get no blame for sectarianism, the way you seem to harbour. Concentrate your efforts on the real causes – not on the agenda of the OO – then maybe people will find you a reasoned blogger! – or perhaps if you had attended a Catholic school, you may have been more tolerant of choice and freedom!

    Posted by Jim | April 21, 2011, 12:00 pm
  4. The characterization of sectarianism as a 'Scottish disease' is utter cadswallop.Firstly, it has no great foothold outside West Central Scotland.Secondly, the origins lie deep in British constitutional history.Iain knows this, of course.I Don't remember the Scottish Parliament passing the Act of Settlement. (That was yet another union dividend).Sectarianism is a British institution NOT a Scottish one.

    Posted by voiceofourown | April 21, 2011, 12:06 pm
  5. You do not have to be Catholic to attend a Catholic school, so to accuse such schools of discrimination is not only incorrect but libellous. There are faith schools all over the world and yet it is only here that this seems to be an 'issue'. Why is that? And finally, as someone who attended a Catholic school and has a child currently doing so, please let me stress that sectarianism is NOT in any shape or form taught within the walls of such schools.Please, please try and understand this once and for all instead of peddling and perpetuating dangerous myths that the likes of the maniacs currently targetting Neil Lennon, Paul McBride et al can seize upon as justification for their despicable acts and prejudices. Your 'argument' is as ridiculous and repellent as saying that rape victims are 'asking for it' if they are wearing a short skirt. Yes, there are and always will be bigots on both sides. But trotting out the Catholic school argument is simply pathetic at best and incendiary at worst.

    Posted by Anonymous | April 21, 2011, 12:35 pm
  6. Leaving aside the hyperbole employed here by the supporters of Catholic schools, I am sure that they would join me in arguing that their schools' benefits to society could be better expressed, and extended, by being funded by the Catholic church itself.

    Posted by Shug | April 21, 2011, 7:44 pm
  7. In answer to shug,catholics pay council tax to fund their schools,maybe the orange order should pay for the policing,the clean up after the drinking session finishes and compensate businesss` for loss of trade that their hundreds of marches cause

    Posted by Anonymous | April 21, 2011, 10:47 pm
  8. really?

    Posted by Anonymous | April 21, 2011, 11:46 pm
  9. I would argue strongly that while our scohooling has an effect on our lives our home life has a far greater impact. When my parents married in 1980 my father was catholic and my mother protesent, meaning that I had one set of catholic grandparents and one set of protestant. Until the age of 11 I was unaware of any difference and as far as the other children in my street (who did not go to my catholic primary school)well school was school. The only time it was brought to my attention was when another parent asked me to stop singing catholic hymns infront of her daughter, at 6 I just thought a hymn was a hymn.The only thing my catholic education gave me about religion was a better understanding of it and this understanding lead me to look else where and become an athiest. I am greatful for this education because I understand what I am talking about when the topic of religion rears its head.My family brought me up not to discriminate against anyone, and I was activley encouraged to have friends of lots of different religions just as my parents did when they were children.School was just schoolTeachers and other insitutions can only say and do so much at the end of the day you have to send the child you've been working with all day back into the bigotted arms of there sectarian parents and until they reach an age where they can make a decision for themselves all we can do is set a good example.

    Posted by Swan in training | April 22, 2011, 12:09 am
  10. I just don't see why faith…. FAITH, is something that should be taught at all in schools.The state shouldn't have a religion, and we certainly shouldn't be tied to England's religion.Even in ordinary state schools, where I went, we seemed to waste an inordinate amount of time in Bible study and singing hymns which meant nothing to us at all… Time that might have been better spend learning French, or Chinese.It's not even that it was well taught. You read some bits out of the Bible and then answered questions on it. Duh.

    Posted by tris | April 22, 2011, 12:12 am
  11. Anonymous, hoist on your petard is the phrase that springs to mind. If you accept that Catholic schools are justified because Catholics pay council tax, then you cannot then ask for members of the Orange Order to pay extra towards the costs of their little parades because they too pay council tax, and income taxes etc etc. You state that Catholic schools were created because the local protestant population wouldn't accept Catholics in the same educational establishments as their children. Do you believe this is still the case? Why do we need Catholic schools, if as you say they take on board so many pupils from other faiths? That weakens your case that Catholic schools are needed.

    Posted by Shug | April 22, 2011, 10:00 am
  12. I sincerely hope to see this line of argument in more wide-circulation print form shortly!The idea that Catholic Schools – separate STATE schools for separate religions, period – is a beneficial concept and aids the emergence of a modern Scotland free from sectarian and religious hate is laughable.Catholic schools institutionally are very much a part of the problem in local areas, which school you go to often does become a near un-breachable divide. The idea that Catholic schools protect their pupils from sectarianism, rather than indirectly fostering such sentiment within them, against the big, bad "Protestant" world outside the walls, is seriously outdated. To be clear, there need be no school leadership promoting this idea, no teacher making disparaging remarks about the other side … children naturally look for and exploit difference, when coupled with the predictable ludicrous Old Firm bigotry and paranoia on both sides, the results in predominantly Catholic schools (and the predominantly Protestant schools, Catholic's choice for separation creates) is inevitable. If you provide such a stark division, young minds will reinforce it in permanent "them" and "us" terms, even if we were to pretend they receive no such encouragement at home, with increasingly generationally distant and elaborate tales of mistreatment at the hands of the "other side".The education structure is the last institutional remnant standing in the way of tackling this problem, and it results in a lot of strong-headed, and frankly bigoted young men going out into the wider world, be it the world of work, or higher education and being genuinely surprised to find A) the other side genuinely believes they have a case to be heard too, and B) commonly, they like members of the "community" on the other side of this great CREATED AND CAREFULLY MAINTAINED divide in Scottish society.

    Posted by Anonymous | April 22, 2011, 1:40 pm
  13. To all those who advocate separate religious schools: why not separate schools defined by race, or class (or "ability")?All groups, in different circumstances, face discrimination to an equal degree at least … whats so special about religion in Scotland?!

    Posted by Anonymous | April 22, 2011, 2:04 pm
  14. There was bigotry in Scotland long before there were Catholic schoolsor indeed Celtic and Rangers!

    Posted by taimoshan | April 22, 2011, 9:36 pm
  15. You are quite wrong Iain but I accept its the easy argument: I'm just sorry to see you follow it. The roots of sectarianism in the West of Scotland lie with the two main Glasgow Football Teams, Rangers and Celtic. That is the truth and youngsters learn all about them long before they go to school. They learn it in the home. Attacking faith schools is not the answer and to demand the closure of faith schools is, in itself, a gesture of intolerance. There is also a desire among secularists to force those with religious beliefs right out of the debate. They want religion off the agenda full stop. That too is a sign of intolerance and it is not acceptable. Both sides of the old firm have contributed to the sorry state of affairs. It is time someone had the guts to tell them that. And all you can say Iain, is close Catholic Schools? (For your information there isn't even such a thing any more. All schools are required to take in children of any denomination who live in their catchment areas.) And for another thing if the education set up here produces bigotry we would all be bigots and we are not. I am disappointed in you. Both sides of this divide have their share of the responsibility to take. As a catholic myself I have felt disgusted this week listening to Celtic, and many of their supporters, being portrayed as innocent victims. They are not for they also do bigotry to match their counterparts and how. They sing vile songs too, they practise intolerance. Both Clubs at one time, and maybe even still, had links with terrorist organisations in Ulster. The other thing I object to is hearing a Chief of Police almost promising "carnage" this Sunday yet doing nothing to prevent it. If he is so sure there will be carnage why is it even going ahead? Why don't they just cancel it and make them share the points? Better still, why don't we merge the Old Firm???

    Posted by Jo G | April 22, 2011, 10:17 pm
  16. "They may not be able to do it in England with their queen being the head of their church but we really don't have the same constraints here."We don't have the same constraints. Really Tris? So let's start making our own eh? Let's single out those with beliefs and impost constraints on them? You see France as a good role model do you? France who only recently made it a criminal offence for a woman to wear a particular article of clothing? What next Tris, will it be the banning of the wearing of a cross or a crucifix or will those contaminated with religious beliefs have to have tattoos saying "believer" so that they are not permitted to participate in political debate because they are deemed unworthy? Or will you just send them to the gas chambers? And incidentally Tris, that "we don't have the same constraints here" comment is one hell of a quote. The implications are quite terrifying and if you say it often enough you will do a lot of damage to the argument for independence.

    Posted by Jo G | April 22, 2011, 10:28 pm
  17. That's a brave article, Ian. I am weary of the 'Jack McConnell' sort of initiatives on sectarianism which so very studiously ignore the elephant in the room – state funded religious apartheid. I can add little to what 'anonymous' has said above (the post beginning "I sincerely hope…"). It is not alleged that Catholic schools teach sectarianism – they do not, that is a straw man argument. They divide our children on a religious line, and that line too often proves indelible in later life. Division is divisive – it's that simple.I'm a Catholic, by the way.

    Posted by Vronsky | April 23, 2011, 9:13 am
  18. Religion transforms innocence into bigotry.it starts at Sunday school and first communion.Religion is evil

    Posted by Anonymous | April 26, 2011, 9:29 am
  19. Dear oh dear. You go around the planet and no-one else has an issue with this. Come to Scotland and after the year we've had, the issue is that *Catholics* have separate schools.Just to educate you, Catholic schools contain a huge mix of religions and what you get involved in is voluntary if you are not Catholic.Catholic schools do a *lot* of good in attempting to instill some of the values that seem to get lost every generation.So much of what i see and read these days is based on uneducated statements on things people know little about at grassroots level.The comment above from Jim is spot on.

    Posted by Steven L | May 18, 2011, 10:44 pm
  20. Surely we have all moved along far enough in the last 100 years that we can all leave our baggage at the door before we come in.It is obvious that regardless of the logic and reasoning behind education with religious segregation that it is not constructive and will not bring ALL of the people together. Yes RC schools do NOW allow people of different denomination but you try attending if you are atheist, they have rights as well. Anyway all that mumbo jumbo aside. Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln and more up to date Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo have fought for human rights which include religious and political differences. These people have been held up as fine examples of how we should think with regard to segregation.Any segregation for what ever reason will only have short term gain. Integration is the only thing that will give long term benefits to more of the population regardless of beliefs.Religion and religious teachings that inspire humanity to the greater good are a fundamental right and nobody can argue with that. Any teaching religious or otherwise these are building blocks for common and good should always be put to the front in any society. And likewise the teachings that separate or magnify differences should be cautiously approached as these can and will cause division. Religion for many many people is a life blood and a way of feeling at one with the world and everything in it. This is truly a fantastic thing but not at the price of segregation. It doesn’t really matter how well meaning the philosophy is if it is only for the few it is bound to fail.To have schools that educate regardless of religion creed & colour is truly the only way forward.I cannot think of any more upsetting scene that two little folk of 5 years who up until some date in August played with each other in an innocent way on a daily maybe even hourly basis and then suddenly told he/she is different to you that’s why they go to a different school. Is it ‘me’ or is it ‘them’ that is wrong as that must be how it is perceived when at that young age.We all realise that when Scotland had an influx from Ireland that truly disgusting things happened; work, school, sport and many more avenues were just not available to the RC’s. This is and was totally wrong no argument their. But to bring it up all these years later just goes to prove where we are in relation to an open and integrated society.It is true that many years ago RC schools were co-opted into the state school system and that assurances were sought and given to ensure this happened. These assurances were regarding the availability of the RC school to all that required it. This blinkered approach is what is holding us back a veto designed to keep segregation and ban Integration I suspect it is just a power struggle by the religious powers that be and being of the holy cloth they should see what is the right and proper thing to do for society and not just any one group of people.Value. One aspect of state schooling is value if all the schools came together under one banner much duplication of effort and facility would no longer be required and the schools themselves would gain with better facilities and hardware like PC etc. Not to mention the real estate that could be realised bringing the facilities even more up to date, come on it’s a no brainer. For once let’s look to the future and not to the past. Yes there will be tough times ahead but they have a great chance of improving however to keep the status quo is never going to work

    Posted by Jim C | December 19, 2011, 12:18 pm

Twitter Updates

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 56,997 other followers

Follow Iain Macwhirter on WordPress.com



%d bloggers like this: