The Big Question: In 2006, are Catholics really being discriminated against in Scotland?

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The Independent Online

Why are we asking this question now?

Cardinal Keith O'Brian, head of Scotland's Roman Catholic population, has voiced concerns that a breakdown of sectarian offences has revealed that Catholics are most likely to be victims of offences linked to religious prejudice. According to the Cardinal the extent of aggression towards Catholics has demonstrated that sectarianism in Scotland is more than just "alcohol-induced post-match revelry and hooliganism".

The figures released by the Crown Office in November 2004 looked at 110 offences that resulted in pleas or findings of guilty, it found there were twice as many offences against Catholics than Protestants. Out of 110 recorded incidents, Catholics were the target in 63 per cent of instances and Protestants in 29 per cent. Islam was the target in 1 per cent and Judaism in another 1 per cent.

According to Cardinal O'Brian, analysis of the figures, when population share is taken into account, demonstrates that Catholics are almost eight times likelier than Protestants to be victims of a sectarian crime. He wants to see more action taken to address the social and political climate which allows this to happen.

How bad is the problem?

Although legislation was passed in 2003 to allow all religious prejudice to be treated as an aggravating factor in offences in Scotland, sectarianism continues to be prevalent in everyday life. While the focus of the traditional hostility between the faiths has been blamed on a culture of football hooliganism the statistics suggest that much of the violence occurs away from the terraces.

The 2004 Crown Office survey revealed that 85 per cent of sectarian attacks were not related to football at all.

Over the past three years there have been in the region of 1,455 cases reported by police to prosecutors. More than half of these offences, some 830, occurred in Glasgow alone. Court proceedings were launched in 1,286 cases of which 752 were in and around Glasgow. The result was a total of 850 convictions, of which 488 were in Glasgow. Some 109 other cases are still waiting to be heard.

During any Old Firm game between Rangers and Celtic it is estimated that emergency call-outs for Accident and Emergency teams will increase by 66 per cent, the vast majority of those are made up of violent or drunken assaults between opposing fans.

Considering that within the past 20 years it wasn't acceptable for a Rangers player to have a Catholic girlfriend, and no Catholic played for the club until the late 1980s, it is easy to see how the problem has been perpetuated. Even Rangers player Paul Gascoigne got in on the act a few years ago when he was disciplined for imitating playing a flute at one match - a reference to the flute bands used to head the Orange marches - in front of the crowd.

How did it start?

The roots of sectarianism in Scotland go back as far as the 16th century and the Reformation, which was far more popular in Scotland than in England.

As Protestantism became the official religion anti-Catholic sentiments and legislative provision became accepted. By the 17th century non-Catholic Scots were emigrating to Ireland resulting in conflict between the Irish Catholics and Scots settlers culminating in the Scottish population of Ulster fighting against the Jacobites at the Battle of the Boyne, which is marked to this day by Orange parades in Glasgow.

Then in the 18th and 19th century many Irish, driven out of their homes by famine and poverty, migrated to Scotland - many of them settling in Glasgow looking for work. The competition between rival faiths and mutual mistrust created a hotbed of sectarian feeling which has been perpetrated ever since.

As recently as 1923, the Church of Scotland produced a report called "The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality" and Church ministers, the Orange Order and the Conservative Party lobbied against Irish immigrants, many of whom were Catholic, over fears that they were a threat to job security.

In 1931, the Scottish Protestant League won seats on Glasgow City Council and an even more vitriolic anti-Catholic Party, Protestant Action, won six seats on Edinburgh council in 1936. Anti-Catholic feeling was passed down from generation to generation, often reinforced by the fact that children were kept apart as Catholics went to their own schools supported by the church.

How is prejudice manifested?

Sectarianism and religious bigotry have been accepted as part of a way of life in many parts of Scotland, especially the central belt and on the west coast in particular, for hundreds of years. Generations of Scots have been brought up in a culture of division which has seeped into almost every aspect of daily life in many communities.

Seemingly innocuous questions, such as what's a person's favourite colour or which school did they go to, can be enough to start trouble or discriminate against job applicants. Even an individual's name, particularly if it is of Irish origin, can make a difference between acceptance or hostility from opposing communities. And euphemistic terms used to describe the followers of the opposing faiths, such as Left Footers and Tims for Catholics and Right Footers and Billies for Protestants, often conceal an undercurrent of enmity. Orange Order parades are a common sight in Glasgow, which also helps to fuel the attitude of "them and us" among a divided community.

What is being done to combat sectarianism?

Two years ago, Jack McConnell, First Minister, promised to combat the problem. Legislation has been introduced which outlaws sectarian behaviour and football clubs in particular have been targeted to rid the terraces of sectarian chants and songs. Fans who insist on goading their rivals over religious differences can now be prosecuted and banned from future matches.

In addition to tougher legislation on hate crime offences, the Scottish Executive is also targeting children in an attempt to educate new generations and end the scourge of sectarianism.

New teaching materials for schools have been issued to schools to promote enlightened attitudes and help children, brought up in a culture of bigotry to understand and celebrate religious diversity.

Is enough being done to combat sectarianism in Scotland?


* New legislation has been introduced that outlaws any hint of sectarianism and the courts are taking a tougher line with offenders

* That Scotland is becoming a more tolerant society is illustrated by the backlash against any public figures airing sectarian attitudes

* Anti-discrimination education has led to an increase in the number of Scots who would support a ban on all sectarian marches


* The rate of violent offences recorded by the courts suggest that Catholics are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators

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