Dancing to the bigot's tune

Because my mother was English, I had years of vicious bullying at school in Scotland
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The Independent Culture
HAVE YOU heard the one about the Scotsman, the Englishman and the Irishman? The Scotsman was so preoccupied with his hatred of the other two that the moment his country got a measure of independence, he squandered his new-found freedom in endless discussions of how the hell he was going to deal with having these interlopers breathing the same air as him. Not funny. But certainly remarkable. Recent weeks have seen the controversy about endemic Scottish bigotry move off the football terraces and into all sorts of other places.

Most recently there was the out-of-court settlement accepted by Frank and Sandra Walters, who, backed by the Commission for Racial Equality, claimed racial discrimination by Colin and Jacqueline Pearson. The Walterses had moved from Liverpool to the tiny village of Clarencefield, in Dumfries and Galloway, in 1997, but fled to Carlisle last year saying that anti- English feeling had forced them to abandon their home. Their ordeal, they said, had focused around the local pub, where "Flower of Scotland" had been played on the jukebox 16 times in one evening. This would seem to me more a case of torture than of taunt, but apparently this was not the only horror the couple had endured.

According to the couple, an argument over a pool tournament had led to the Walterses being barred from the pub, of which Colin Pearson was the landlord, and also, though this has been hotly denied, the cold shoulder at the adjoining post office, of which Jacqueline Pearson was the postmistress. The settlement admits no liability on the part of the Pearsons, although they have agreed to pay damages of pounds 4,000 with pounds 40,000 in costs.

Locals, many of whom are English, say that the real problem was that folk didn't much like Frank Walters, who by his own admission is a stickler for rules and approached pub pool games as if, in the words of one local, "he was playing at the Crucible". Mr Pearson's father, as his lawyer was understandably at pains to emphasise, hails from Birmingham.

This rather murky pantomime, whose comic aspect and ambivalent conclusion should not obscure the fact that anti-English feeling has been strong in Scotland for ever, reached its final act following the composer James MacMillan's opening address to the Edinburgh Festival. In his mastery summary of the history of anti-Catholic bigotry in the auld country, he swept aside the accepted wisdom that the sectarianism that has blighted Scottish life for centuries is finally on the wane. Laying into every Protestant in the land, accusing us all of "sleep-walking bigotry" and declaring that "There is still... a palpable sense of some threat and hostility to all things Catholic in this country", MacMillan left his listeners in no doubt that there was much more to be done in this area than merely cleaning up a couple of football clubs.

Some critics have said that MacMillan rather spoiled his anti-bigotry stance by suggesting among other things that "since childhood I was brought up to deal with reflective abstract concepts like the metaphorical, the metaphysical and the sacramental". These, he says, are concepts common to the Catholic and the artist. No wonder, then, that the average Prod is a bigot. That gripe aside, even though I am neither a Catholic nor an artist, I find myself very much in agreement with the contents of James MacMillan's speech, and admiring of his courageous decision to make it.

But it's not just problems with the English and the Irish (or the bog- hoppers, as Scots Catholics are sometimes called) that Scotland has been grappling with lately. After years of slapping itself on the back for being a nation free from anti-black racism, Scotland is facing up to the fact that this, too, is a myth. Last month the Lib-Dem deputy first minister Jim Wallace launched an attack on the "cancer" of racism, saying that "For far too long we have been complacent, seeing racism as an English problem". Announcing two initiatives, set up in response to the Macpherson report on the Stephen Lawrence affair, he came up against fierce criticism from anti-racial pressure groups for failing to set up an independent body to regulate the police.

Nevertheless, it is true that the problems of racism in Scotland are now being brushed aside far less often than they were until recently. One high-profile case at the moment involves a night-club owner, Stephan King, who faces action against him by the Commission for Racial Equality for alleged racial discrimination in the door policy of his Glasgow club, Archaos.

Twenty-five-year-old Nabeed Ramzan was so outraged at being turned away from the night-club that he hung around and monitored the bouncers' behaviour.

He alleges that within 18 minutes he saw 22 black clubbers turned away because they weren't "regulars". A sacked bouncer has now claimed that he was instructed to turn away Asians, and that racist door policies are indeed part of the culture of the club.

The population at large is also airing its views about racism. In a nationwide poll the Daily Record found that half of all Scots believe they live in a racist country and that the problem has grown over the last five years. Two-thirds of those questioned thought that many Scots were anti-English. More than four in 10 ethnic-minority Scottish residents believed Scots were racist.

While all of this may sound like the most dreadful of bad news, I rather think it may be a cause for some celebration. As a young girl in Scotland I not only saw the most dreadful anti-Catholic bigotry around me all the time, but also, largely because my mother was English, was subjected to years of vicious bullying at school.

And I got off lightly. A boy in my class at primary school, handsome, intelligent, artistically gifted, gregarious, was subjected to a knife attack that disfigured his gentle, good-looking face. He was an Asian boy, slashed at the age of 11 in 1974, back in the days when no one spoke of sectarianism, of anti-English feeling, or of racism. Back in the days when racism was a problem that hadn't yet raised its ugly, distorted face in Scotland. Tell that to Roni, whose family moved away after the attack, perhaps appalled by the further injury they received, which was that many of the local people found reasons for dismissing the idea that the stabbing had been racially motivated.

In those days, no one would have dared to suggest that these things existed in Scottish culture. Now people from all walks of life are making their views public knowledge. There is still a risk attached to doing this. The man who passed to a Scottish paper the video that forced the sectarian QC Donald Findlay to resign from his job as the vice-chairman of Rangers says he is living in fear of his life. Since his name and address were published in a fanzine - an act that was clearly malicious - he has received death threats against himself and his family.

He now says he might have behaved differently if he could turn the clock back. But, significantly, he also says: "I do not want my daughter to be brought up as a bigot." Many ordinary Scots want the same thing for their children, just like James MacMillan, who spoke movingly to one newspaper about the day his daughter was subjected to religious taunts she didn't understand.

MacMillan entitled his speech "Scotland's Shame", and indeed the religious bigotry that exists in Scotland is shameful. So is all of the hatred of difference that exists in Scotland, and which has for years been fostered under a cloak of silent acceptance .

But at least it is now being acknowledged and tackled. There is plenty of time for Scotland truly to become the cosmopolitan and humanitarian country that it has projected itself as of late. The recent opening up of the floodgates of confession is a positive part of a healing process that Scotland is already well on its way to achieving. The nation is standing up and demanding change. That change, I feel certain, is coming.