Echoes of the past
My elderly neighbour is one of those decent old chaps who were brought up in the correct manner. He may struggle a little physically these days but his mind is still sharp and incisive. Well over eighty years of age and a Celt from the age of 5 when he was taken by his Donegal born father to watch Celtic lift the Empire Exhibition trophy at Ibrox. He’s one of those old timers who can recall incidents in games with great clarity across the decades and rattle off the starting 11 from 60 years ago with ease. I popped in to see him with a couple of Celtic books I thought he’d like and as usual we got talking about the Hoops and events at Celtic Park. I filled him in on the changes going on around the stadium and he smiled wistfully, ‘I suppose it’s for the best but I still liked the old days. Nothing could beat the old Celtic Park when the continentals came calling or when we needed a late goal and that crowd roared the boys on.’ His eyes sparkled as he talked of Tully destroying the famous Rangers ‘Iron Curtain’ defence in 1948. ‘They wouldn’t even tackle him at the end up, stood off him, scared he’d give them the slip again.’ I smiled, loving these tales from the old days at Celtic Park.
As I got up to leave I asked, almost as an afterthought, ‘How are you voting in the Referendum next September?’ His face changed and he said to me, ‘I know you’re voting yes, but I’ll be voting no because this country will be like the old Stormont run Northern Ireland if we vote yes.’ As I left his house I got to thinking about his words. Was Scotland really such a divided society? I reasoned that the old timers faced a lot more prejudice in their time than the younger generation do today and that leaves its mark. It was only natural that they were suspicious of what kind of Scotland we would create if we left the UK. In my neighbour’s youth Celtic fans were, almost without exception, children of the Irish diaspora. As time moved on, Celtic attracted a more mixed support and this reached its zenith after the club brought such glory to Scottish football in the Stein era. My neighbour’s fears about the sectarian nature of an independent Scotland were it seemed to me, an echo from an age long gone. Later that day I was surprised by my young Nephew who also said he was voting no and for reasons not dissimilar to my old neighbour. He told me…‘ I hate the Tories, but the ‘Brothers’ will be running the show if we ditch the UK, Look at the way they’re jailing Tims for singing Irish songs?’ I asked him who he meant by the ‘Brothers’ and he responded by outlining his theory of masonic influence on Scottish society. Here we had two Scots separated by 60 odd years in age voting to stay in the UK because they had concerns about the type of nation we’d become. That got me thinking firstly about the ‘Offensive Behaviour at Football Act’ and how it was conceived and implemented.
I was one of the people who though the Politicians reaction to the so called ‘shame game’ in 2011 when Rangers imploded and had three players dismissed, was shameless populism. I’d seen worse behaviour on and off the field in the past without the press led hysteria we saw after that game. Besides, what had Celtic done to be tarred with the same brush as the Rangers team and support which were frankly disgraceful that night? Despite my reservations about the new Act, I did think it might be used to allow the Police to finally get off their asses and take on the ‘FTP’ brigade who had poured out their bile for decades with impunity. As we now know they in fact poured much of their resources into persecuting fans guilty of little more than singing songs the chattering classes disagreed with. Of course, these fans pointed out the absurdity of trying to ‘criminalise’ one identity or political opinion in what purports to be a pluralist democracy. My nephew, like many younger Celtic fans, sees the implementation of the Act as a hint of what an independent Scotland will be like. But is this a fair assumption given the experience of those of a green persuasion in the wider Scottish society?
Historically, the Scottish National Party did have some leading figures who could be relied on to espouse anti-Catholic rhetoric. Andrew Dewar Gibb, who held senior office in the SNP, wrote in fairly racist terms about the Irish Catholic community in Scotland in his 1930 book Scotland in Eclipse but that was a lifetime ago when ideas of race and religion were obscured by ignorance and quasi scientific ideas we would laugh at today. Dewar Gibb was writing around the time when the Church of Scotland was also debating the repatriation of the Irish from Scotland on the grounds that they were a ‘Menace to Scottish society.’ In a pamphlet entitled ‘The Menace of the Irish race to our Scottish Nationality’. The Irish were portrayed as drunken, idle, uncivilised and damaging the moral fibre of Scottish society. They were also seen as carriers of disease indeed typhus was often described as ‘Irish fever.’
More recently, William Wolfe, President of the SNP was also noteworthy as no friend of Catholicism. Letters released recently show a furious row in the SNP over his outspoken opposition to the Papal visit in 1982. The fact was however that most other senior SNP figures were furious about his outdated views is telling. Alex Salmond, for all his faults, has spoken warmly of denominational schools and what they contribute to Scottish society and a significant proportion of Scottish Catholics have shifted from Labour to the SNP in recent years. Of course, Mr Salmond is looking for votes but his words are a million miles away from Wolfe’s jaundiced bigotry. In contrast, George Galloway warns Scottish Catholics thinking of voting yes in the referendum to ‘be careful what you wish for.’ George’s assumption isn’t far off that of my old neighbor in that he foresees the rise of the bigots in an Independent Scotland. The majority disagree with George’s opinion of the Scottish people. It was argued that most Scots simply have no time for religion at all or are equally dismissive of both sets of ‘camp followers’ who seem more focused on Irish politics than Scottish at times. Mr Galloway and his ‘Just say Naw’ campaign would it seems wish for self-determination for Palestine and Ireland but not for Scotland.
For most Scots the independence debate is a political debate which is not framed in terms of ethnicity. For them, this is an attempt to form a state which the ‘Yes’ camp hope will foster social justice, be fairer, more democratic and truly represent the opinions of the population. Three Quarters of Scots vote for Centre-left parties and are foisted with a Centre-right Government elected in southern England which is clearly out of touch with the needs and desires of Scottish voters. The ridiculous and unnecessarily harsh, implementation of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act may have alienated a minority of Celtic fans from the idea of Independence but the majority can still see the big picture. Indeed, the ‘Yes’ camp constantly remind us that a vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP. In that they are correct. Acts can be amended or repealed and once the absurdity of the ‘OBF’ Act is demonstrated in the courts or challenged at the court of human rights, it will change.
As for my elderly neighbour and his concerns about Scotland becoming another Stormont era Northern Ireland, that is more the product of his formative years growing up in an atmosphere where sectarianism thrived and had tacit support from some leading figures in society rather than an accurate reflection of modern Scotland. Yes, the bigots are still out there but they are a dwindling minority locked into a world view which is outdated and absurd. Their days of real influence on political events are past. I for one have faith that the majority of Scots have moved on from any petty prejudices that may have been exhibited in the past. Whatever you decide to vote in September, do it for the right reasons and don’t base it on some outdated idea that the majority of Scots are hostile to any particular community because they are not. I have faith in the decency of the vast majority of Scots.