The island of ignorance
‘I’m a 90 minute bigot,’ a workmate said to me a decade or more ago, ‘I go to the match and shout ‘Balde ya big black, Fenian bastard!’ but after the game is done I have a pint with my pals some of whom are Catholics.’ That attitude, expressed to me by an otherwise fairly mild-mannered man was offered with a grin as if it was perfectly normal behaviour. Would I describe him as a bigot even though he lacks the self-awareness to see how his actions are perceived by others? I tried to explain to him that his actions helped create the atmosphere where other, more pernicious, violent types of hatred might thrive but he didn’t get it.
I caught some of the Rangers v Hibs football match on TV today but decided to switch it off after a few minutes. Not that it wasn’t entertaining enough, it was just that the songs being sung by a sizable number of people convinced me that this bile had no place being broadcast into my home. It was ironic that the commentator apologised for swearing which was emanating from the main stand behind him but failed to mention the even fouler content of the home fans song book. Indeed he even praised the atmosphere in Ibrox. It is easy to find fault in a support labelled by Graham Speirs as the ‘most socially backward in football’ but there are in truth many Rangers supporters who detest this guff. They remain however, a silent majority and until they find a voice and speak up, it will go on. The Police too, who put so much time, effort and taxpayers’ money into their surveillance of the Green Brigade, seem uninterested in dealing seriously with the sort of bigoted nonsense we heard today. One wonders that had Jews or Muslims been the target of this bile would action be more forthcoming.
Those of you who read my ramblings will know I’d rather politics and sport were kept apart whenever possible and have on occasion questioned the wisdom of some of our own supporters song choices. I don’t consider Irish rebel songs to be sectarian but I do question their appropriateness at Scottish football matches in the modern era. However, the empty headed drivel I heard today from Ibrox wasn’t political; it was simply the same old tribal hymns of hate which gave the old club such a bad reputation. You have to wonder about the thinking processes which go on in the heads of people who find songs about being ‘up to their knees’ in the blood of others acceptable at a sporting event.
Social media was quick to respond to the singing at Ibrox with the condemnation of many being met with the usual ‘whataboutery.’ Thus the merry dance goes round in a circle and nothing is ever done to seriously challenge those who indulge in such overt bigotry. They seem not to recognise or care that they are echoing sentiments which should have been consigned to the dustbin of history decades ago. This is no longer the land where eminent people give tacit support to such puerile prejudice. This isn’t the land of Professor of Scots Law, Dewar Gibb, who could write without any censure that…
‘Scotland would be the most law abiding country in the world if it wasn’t for these Irish-Catholic pariahs who fill our jails.’
Nor is it the land where the Church of Scotland regularly petitioned UK Government to repatriate Catholic Irish from Scotland and when Government said ‘no,’ the Church then encouraged employers to employ those of ‘the Scottish Race’ Glasgow University Professor, Patrick Reilly spoke of ‘Himalayas of evidence’ of injustice against Catholics of Irish extraction in the post war years. Few seriously doubt that anti Irish Catholic discrimination was a reality for many in Scotland and much research supports this view. A sectarian society, as described by Professor Tom Devine, is one where there is an entrenched and popular hostility to individuals based on their religious beliefs. In the first 60 years of the twentieth century it could be argued that Scotland was such a society but Scotland has changed.
Change came in the shape of the collapse of ‘dinosaur industries’ such as ship building and engineering where petty bigotry thrived. This, coupled with huge expansion in higher education meant that the life chances of all Scots became more equitable. Working class people of all faiths and none faced similar struggles and had similar opportunities. Professor Devine also stated that the offspring of the Irish diaspora reached occupational parity with the mainstream population in the USA in 1901, in Australia in the 1920s and in New Zealand in the 1930s. Here in Scotland it was in 2001. Late in the day perhaps but a sure sign that the barriers were tumbling. The Catholic population of Scotland, overwhelmingly though not exclusively of Irish extraction, still faces some echoes from the past. For instance, the 2011 census recorded that…
‘Within the 'Christian' group, people who recorded as 'Church of Scotland' (12 per cent) were much less likely to live in deprived areas than those who identified as 'Roman Catholic' (23 per cent).’
However Catholics now rightly take their place in every sector of Scottish Society and their forebears, some of whom founded Celtic FC, would be pleased at the progress the community has made. The vast majority of Scots of all hues recognise the innate fairness of all citizens having a fair crack of the whip and would have no truck with idiotic bigotry. Those who feel the need to engage in outdated prejudicial chanting at football matches are increasingly isolated on their island of ignorance. They are increasingly out of step with a society which rejects them and their divisive opinions. They may shout about being ‘the people’ but the sad reality for them is that their hollow ‘culture’ is an anachronism, a leftover from a bygone age.
It may be tough for some of these dinosaurs to swallow, but we are all ‘the people’ now and there’s no going back to a sterile past where life chances could be decided by which school you went to.