Sectarianism on the Rise

BY EFFIE DEANS

Where I come from in Aberdeenshire there was no such thing as sectarianism. No one in school ever asked me about religion. I neither knew nor cared which church if any anyone else went to. There were no marches here until very recently. We were able to “stand free” from all of that or so we rather smugly thought.

Christianity is becoming ever rarer in Europe. I find the idea therefore that people should hate each other because of the denomination they happen to follow to be peculiarly unhelpful. I am Russian Orthodox. I am neither a Catholic nor a Protestant, but I have read and admired works by authors who were. I find aspects of Catholic and Protestant thought to be both interesting and important. My final assessment is that the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism is small with regard to matters that are essential, but sometimes large with regard to matters that are inessential. It doesn’t matter one little bit to me if someone is a Catholic or a Protestant. They share the same faith as me. More importantly they are my neighbour just as they would be if they shared a different faith or none.

I have never experienced sectarianism in the way that it is experienced in the West of Scotland. The words that are used to insult are usually unfamiliar to me. I don’t know the words to the songs. I don’t follow football. But I fear sectarianism is no longer about the school you went to, the religion you were born into or the football club you support. It has spread beyond its Glasgow base and infected all of us.

What is sectarianism? The Oxford English dictionary defines it as:

The sectarian spirit; adherence or excessive attachment to a particular sect or party, esp. in religion; hence often, adherence or excessive attachment to, or undue favouring of, a particular ‘denomination’.

From this we can conclude that although sectarianism is frequently associated with religion and denomination, it has a wider meaning.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in 1834 “[In Shakespeare] there is no sectarianism, either of politics or religion.” What this means is politics can also be sectarian. This is familiar from Glaswegian sectarianism. Traditionally the Rangers side was associated with Ulster Unionism, while the Celtic side was associated with Irish nationalism and Republicanism.

Some Protestants in Glasgow go on Orange marches, while some Catholics go on Irish Nationalist/Republican marches. Each commemorate events which took place in Ireland.  But until recently these marches were in no way associated with politics in Scotland. Irish politics had not really spread here.

But something changed in the years following the SNP taking power in Scotland. While they sought to criminalise certain traditionally sectarian behaviour at football matches, they spread a new form of sectarianism throughout Scotland.

Who marches in Scotland now? We have the Orange Order, various republican orders such as Cairde na hÉireann and the West of Scotland Band Alliance. To these we can add the All Under One Banner Order. Shall we call it the Yellow Order of the SNP thistle?

Scottish nationalists march for the same reason that the Orange Order and Irish Republicans march. They want to exaggerate their strength. They want to encourage a sense of group unity with other Scexiteers and separateness from their fellow Scots who want to remain British. They want to intimidate people who disagree with them politically.

There is of course no need to march in a democracy. People march when they are frustrated by democracy not going their way as was the case in September 2014 and also in June 2016.

Marching is fundamentally anti-democratic when you live in a democracy. A few thousand people marching are a tiny number compared to the whole population, yet they think that this tiny fraction is somehow representative. It isn’t. It’s a sect. The reason for marching is to celebrate this modern form of sectarianism.

British Scots don’t march. A few extremists and far right sectarian nutters stand on the fringes of the Scottish nationalist marches and desecrate the union flags they touch while exchanging abuse with the marchers. They damage the cause they supposedly support. I have only contempt for sectarianism whether green, orange or yellow.

A few years ago, Aberdonians turned their backs on an Orange march down Union Street and felt very virtuous about it, but some of them took part in a recent All Under One Banner March as if that were somehow different. But they disgraced their “stand free” motto and turned it into just another sectarian song.

We are not all under one banner. Scotland is split right down the middle politically. While our side votes for Conservatives, Liberals or Labour, the All Under One Banner side votes according to an identity that is exclusive and not shared by the rest of us living here. It’s a separatist identity and we want nothing to do with it.  If you look under the banner, you’ll find that they are only pretending to be different. Some front organisations unite in voting SNP, while we remain split three ways.

Scottish nationalism is frequently thought to be based on hatred for England. There is an element of this. But much more important is hatred of Britain and hatred of Tories.

There is no word on either side of the Glaswegian sectarian divide that is as insulting as the word Tory when it is spoken by a Scottish nationalist. The SNP has built its power on the basis of the hatred expressed by this word. If there were not the vicious hatred of Tories, based on some half remembered folk tale of the poll tax and Margaret Thatcher, there would be no demand for independence. It is an irrational hatred, because it hates Tories whether they are good bad or indifferent. It hates Tories automatically and without reflection because of who they and what they believe. It is the most sectarian hatred in Scotland because it is more widespread geographically and endorsed by the leader of the SNP.

The SNP hates Britain and the British because we as a nation sometimes vote Tory and infect Scotland with Tory Covid spreading across the border. As a British Scottish Conservative, I have experienced a level of hatred that is as bad as any Catholic or Protestant has faced in Glasgow. It is as vicious as racism though we are of the same race. It is tribal, divisive and dangerous.

The SNP have divided Scotland far more than traditional Glaswegian sectarianism ever could. The SNP has spread its marches and its hate to places like Aberdeenshire that never knew such nonsense before. They have divided us so that we no longer dare mention who we vote for in the same way that some people from Belfast don’t mention their surname or the school they went to.

The modern divide in Scotland follows much the same fault line as Glaswegian sectarianism. Irish nationalists and Republicans together with those who hate Britain support the SNP as a way to get historical revenge by simultaneously partitioning Britain as they unite Ireland. 

The rest of us just want to go back to the Scotland that was not divided. Where we didn’t much care about politics and there were no marches at least where I live. Take your banner away, we are not under it.  

The SNP have normalised hatred of British people, Tories and those who simply support the unity and territorial integrity of our country. They have done it by uniting everyone who hates Britain whether because of historical grievances, foreign wars, or because we are an ally of the USA. All these haters have been united under one banner. Their hatred is as malicious as any previous form of sectarianism. Far from eradicating sectarianism, the SNP have embraced it. “Tory” spoken with Sturgeon’s venom is as insulting and sectarian as “Hun” or “Fenian” ever were.

The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here. 

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