New shocking statistics released by the Scottish government last week have revealed what many knew to be the case: namely that if you are a Catholic living in Scotland in the 21st century you are more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than if you are a member of any other ethnic or religious minority.
Comprising 16 percent of the Scottish population, Catholics were victims in 58 percent of the 693 criminal offences aggravated by religious prejudice in 2010/11, the highest recorded number in four years. Protestants were victims in 37 percent of cases, while crimes related to Judaism comprised 2.3 percent and Islam 2.1 percent.
It should also come as little surprise that 51 percent of hate crimes in Scotland occurred within the Glasgow area, given the relative social weight of the Scottish Catholic community in the west of Scotland. Moreover, the fact that only a third of the charges were directly related to football refutes the notion that this is an issue that can be confined within the narrow parameters of Glasgow’s Old Firm, Celtic and Rangers FC.
Overall, the only conclusion to be drawn from these statistics is that attempts to paint this issue as one of equivalence can longer be sustained on any objective level. On the contrary, they prove that, culturally, anti Irish Catholic racism and bigotry remains entrenched within a significant section of Scottish society, and that until the nature of the issue is recognised and confronted no amount of legislation will deliver a just solution.
Last season’s sectarian hate campaign endured by Celtic manager Neil Lennon, the intended victim of mail bombs along with other prominent figures associated with the club and a Glasgow-based Irish cultural organisation, shamed the country around the world. The shame was compounded by the acquittal earlier this year of a supporter of Edinburgh club Heart of Midlothian FC who towards the end of last season ran onto the pitch and assaulted Neil Lennon in front of 16,000 fans in the stadium and tens of thousands more watching live on television.
In addition, leading members of the Catholic clergy in Scotland have been on the receiving end of hate mail and bullets sent in the post, while as recently as last weekend Celtic player and Republic of Ireland international Anthony Stokes was forced to move out of his West Lothian home after the windows were smashed by a gang of youths while his partner, pregnant with child, was inside.
The current attempt by the authorities and political establishment in Scotland to criminalise Celtic fans for singing Irish rebels songs at games, songs that are political in orientation, is rightly being resisted by Celtic supporters clubs. Celtic’s Irish heritage cannot be separated from the freedom struggle that brought the country into existence, and Irish republicanism in its modern incarnation is an avowedly non sectarian political creed and doctrine. Football and politics are intertwined around the world and in Scotland especially, given that Celtic were formed in 1888 to raise funds to feed an Irish immigrant population living in conditions of extreme poverty and destitution in the west of the country, where its assimilation into mainstream society was blocked. The association of Rangers FC with anti-Irish racism and religious bigotry came as a reaction to its rival’s role in raising and representing the aspirations and hopes of those immigrants.
George Galloway is currently promoting his book, Open Season, on the hate campaign suffered by Neil Lennon. Though Lennon’s plight is explored in some detail, this is by no means a book on football. On the contrary it charts the social and political history of the issue back to the mid 19th century, when Irish immigrants began to arrive in Scotland in significant numbers. I researched most of the historical data contained in the pages of the book and despite having read widely on the issue over a number of years was genuinely shocked at how deep and virulent this strain of racism ran in Scottish society – and at all levels. The book also provides an historical analysis of Irish republicanism beginning with its founder, Wolfe Tone, a southern Irish protestant, in the late 18th century
The history of the struggle against racism and religious bigotry around the world throws up the irrefutable truth that it must be confronted if it is to be defeated. For too long in Scotland when it comes to anti-Irish racism and Catholic bigotry it has been swept under the proverbial carpet by the authorities and political establishment. It continues to be so with the Scottish government’s new anti-sectarian legislation, which rather than identify the source of the problem attempts to obfuscate it by placing the victim on an equal moral and legal footing with the perpetrator.
Without the necessary political will to confront racism and bigotry, it can only thrive. This is the only conclusion to be drawn from the Scottish government’s own statistics on hate crimes in Scotland. They demand nothing short of a complete rethink of the way ahead.