The Celtic Way
I had an interesting debate on Twitter recently about the ongoing glorification of the military in the UK and the place of the Poppy appeal in popular culture. It’s clear that Whitehall has been playing the Patriotism card in recent years with the introduction of Armed Forces Day Parades in most parts of the country. Such jingoistic flag waving is seems to me is partly designed to undermine those who question why the UK is involved in military action in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place. It is worrying when the Military is hero worshiped in this manner as it makes it far easier to sweep any abuses under the carpet. 300 Iraqis are currently awaiting compensation for abuse at the hands of the UK’s forces and every conflict from Burma to Aden, from Kenya to Ireland has seen its share of excesses by the British military. For those of an Irish nationalist persuasion, there seems little to celebrate as the British Army has been guilty of some dreadful actions throughout Irish history.
For those of us in the Celtic family of Irish extraction, there is also the issue of the scurrilous and ignorant flaunting of the symbols of ‘Britishness’ by the Loyalist fringe in Scotland who cling to outdated exclusivist ideas of what nationality is about. I had an example of this mentality myself in Glasgow recently; I was standing in Glasgow City Centre on a humid June day as the Armed Forces Day parade passed by. I hadn’t planned to attend the event, I just happened to be going that way. A middle aged chap dressed in the top of a deceased football club mumbled to me… ‘Great tae see the boys marching through Glasgow eh?’ Before I could reply he shouted at the passing soldiers, ‘Heroes every wan o’ ye!’ His obese companion, clearly the worst for drink shouted ‘No Surrender’ at the passing troops as if they were off to defend the walls of Derry rather than patrol Helmand Province. A glance around me demonstrated that there were more than a few followers of the dead club cheering the Parade. Some wore club scarves and most had clearly been drinking judging by the slurred speech and occasional bursts of ‘Rule Britannia.’ What was going on, I asked myself? Was Armed Forces day being turned into some sort of Loyalist gathering? Surely that wasn’t the purpose the politicians had in mind when they decided to promote this worrying glorification of the UK’s Armed Forces? To be fair, most people watching the Soldiers march pass looked with disdain on the loud and rather coarse behaviour of the Deadco’s followers. They no longer represented mainstream Scottish opinion. They were the leftovers from a time, long gone, when the petty privileges of institutional bigotry made them feel they were in some way special. They actually weren’t as those with real power knew that the working class was far less dangerous and easier to control when divided by mindless sectarianism. As a character from Oliver Stone’s excellent movie ‘Gangs of New York’ said, ‘That’s the thing about the poor, you can always hire one half to kill the other half.’ James Connolly saw these false divisions as being fostered to keep the workers divided and to stop them changing the social structures which impoverished them all. He described the petty privilege given to one section of the community in the North of Ireland as ‘Tuppence against tuppence Ha’penny’ as both communities lived in poor social conditions.
I waited patiently for the parade to pass and had to endure another chorus of ‘Rule Britannia’ from men who saw no irony in singing songs in praise of Britain’s imperial past while wearing the shirts of a club which robbed the ‘crown’ of millions in unpaid tax. Their ideas of being ‘British’ were locked into outmoded and unthinking paradigms based on unquestioning and uncritical loyalty to the ‘crown’ and its forces. This is matched by their hostility to any who don’t think as they do. It is sobering to think that the UK Muslim Community currently endure the sort of suspicion and low key hostility the Irish once put up with. This is the mindset which tells Scots of Irish descent that ‘The Famine is over’ and suggests that they go home. Of course such moronic racism ignores the inconvenient truth of the forced plantation of Ulster, mostly by Scots who wouldn’t dream of ‘going home’ to Scotland.
My Twitter conversation turned to the Poppy debate too with those of Irish Republican views stating clearly that they would never wear this symbol of the forces which brought so much suffering to their land. I couldn’t disagree with their viewpoint but merely asked that the right of each individual to choose whether or not to buy a poppy be respected. The sort of ‘Poppy Fascism’ which sees not buying one as somehow disloyal is balanced by those who see the purchase of one as somehow supporting the policy of the Government in getting involved in the sort of wreckless bloodbath we saw in Iraq. It is of course neither of these extremes. It is simply an individual choosing to support a charity which helps former military personnel of all generations, creeds and colours. There should be no pressure either way. I respect and understand the Irish Republican viewpoint on this but equally respect those who purchase a poppy as exercising their freedom to choose. We can disagree without being disagreeable as my fair minded Twitter friends demonstrated.
As the soldiers marched off and the last strains of ‘Rule Britannia’ echoed of the tall buildings of the City Centre, I thought of how identity in the Islands which make up Britain and Ireland is so complex and multi layered. I’m a Scot of Irish descent and don’t feel particularly British at all. I’ll be voting ‘Yes’ in the independence referendum so my country can control its own destiny and not have its young people sent off to fight pointless wars for oil or power. I also want Scotland to be an inclusive country where all who want to be Scottish are welcome. This won’t be decided by the colour of their skin, their creed or politics. It will be decided by their acceptance of the values which we all want to see in our country; fairness, respect, tolerance of diversity and caring for those most vulnerable in our society. I see so much of these values among many Celtic fans who try to live up to the club’s founding principles of charity and inclusion. As individuals and as a club we can be an even greater force for good in Scotland. From Glasgow to Thailand, from Kenya to Haitti our fans have dug deep to help others and offer a positive example of the Celtic way. We all have a role to play in how we act and in teaching the new generation of Celtic supporters the Celtic way. So many of you do fine work for charity and are a positive force in Scottish society. That was what Walfrid wanted after all and you honour him by continuing his work.