SECTARIANISM: The anti-bigotry campaign born in a ‘tragic place’

11 June 2020

It is almost the anniversary of the publication of these articles by Andrew Picken appeared on the website of BBC Scotland News. This begs the question, does publicity help to eradicate or ameliorate the kind of sectarianism, anti-Irish and anti-Catholic abuse, violence and even murder  that goes with it? Sectarianism and bigotry have been identified as ‘Scotland’s Shame,’ by politicians and police officers at the highest level. Yet, as we saw again at the weekend, it is still with us and not just in the West of Scotland. Devolution and an SNP government for the past 14 years has achieved little or nothing to bring Scots together as a nation. Will independence help to do that? Will we ever be rid of this curse which shames Scotland in the eyes of the world? Editor

Cara Henderson and her friend Mark Scott who was murdered by Jason Campbell as he headed home from a Celtic v Rangers game in 1995

By Andrew Picken

Twenty years ago, in the aftermath of a senseless death, the anti-sectarian charity Nil by Mouth was born.

While it came from a “tragic place”, it sparked a debate about sectarianism which was not really happening at the time in Scotland.

But two decades on, its founder Cara Henderson says Scotland still has a long way to go in tackling the problem.

The issue is “more in the open than ever before”, says Cara, but is far from fixed.

She set up the charity after the sectarian murder of her 16-year-old school friend Mark Scott – a Celtic fan who was stabbed to death as he walked home past a Rangers pub.

The anti-bigotry drive “consumed” her life, she told BBC Scotland, and it took a long time to come to terms with Mark’s death.

Nil By Mouth was “far from planned” and came out of a desire for some good to come from the loss of her friend.

‘Hiding in plain sight’

“We just wanted to get people to talk about the issue and ask questions,” Cara says.

“Back then it was talked about in a sideways manner, not directly, it was this thing that was hiding in plain sight because we were so used to looking at it.

“I think people were bewildered at me. I didn’t fit into any category, an outsider, and that worked more for me. I was a girl who didn’t know much about football, with no political affiliations as such.”

Cara, now aged 40, says the campaign was a “weird way” to start her adult life and she often felt exposed and as uncomfortable with the praise as with the criticism.

“After I stepped back from Nil by Mouth it took me a long time to come to terms with everything.

“The trauma of what happened to Mark, I got stuck in it emotionally for a number of years, it was almost too big for me to process.

“But I am proud of the charity, it came out of a very tragic place but some good has come from Mark’s death.”

The murder of Mark Scott and the creation of Nil By Mouth sparked a period when the issue of tackling sectarianism was high up the political agenda.

In 2002, the then first minister Jack McConnell launched a new anti-bigotry drive, calling sectarianism “Scotland’s secret shame”.

The following year the Scottish Parliament backed new laws which for the first time made a specific provision for the prosecution of offenders for religious prejudice.

In the following years Nil By Mouth evolved from a campaigning group to running education projects in schools and workplaces.

Sectarianism hit the political agenda again in 2011 when “viable parcel bombs” were sent to Celtic boss Neil Lennon and there was disorder surrounding Old Firm games.

This resulted in the controversial Offensive Behaviour at Football Act which was eventually repealed after critics said it unfairly targeted football fans and failed to tackle the problem.

One way used to understand the extent of sectarianism is to consider religiously aggravated offending in Scotland.

The graph above shows the number of people who are facing charges where the police have also judged there to be religiously offensive aspect.

The data shows conduct derogatory towards Catholics remains the biggest problem, but attacks on Muslims have also significantly increased.

The focus of sectarianism disorder switched to the issue of loyalist and republican parades last year when some marches in Glasgow resulted in clashes with the police and counter-demonstrators.

Cara, who now lives in Switzerland and has stepped back from formal involvement in Nil By Mouth, says there has been progress in tackling bigotry in Scotland.

“It used to be a more back page story, in with the football, and over the years it has become a front page story,” she says..

“It is sad but in some uncomfortable sense that is a measure of success, the issue is talked about, acknowledged and more in the open than ever before.”

‘The problem is still there’

She added there was a “lot to be positive about” with a range of anti-sectarian initiatives, especially at schools, now the norm and attracting significant Scottish government funding.

But the fact Nil by Mouth still exists is a negative because it “shows the problem is still there”, Cara added.

Cara describes her role and that of Nil By Mouth 20 years ago as “starting the conversation” on Scotland’s sectarianism problem but insists she was tapping into a wider feeling in society that tackling the issue was “long overdue”.

March 2017

Culture of denial over sectarianism in Scotland, report says

A culture of denial about the extent of problems caused by sectarianism still exists in Scotland, a new report says.

The report, written by academic Dr Duncan Morrow, said this culture remained an obstacle to progress.

Dr Morrow, who headed an advisory group on tackling sectarianism, also called for a review of hate crime legislation.

The Scottish government said it was clear that more work was needed on sectarianism and that it was committed to taking forward the recommendations.

Dr Morrow said recent work had demonstrated the issue could be addressed through “active leadership and concerted effort”.

He said a review of hate crime legislation should consider how sectarianism incidents could be integrated into a more general approach.

Report recommendations

  • The Scottish government should continue to make clear that the priority is to end the behaviours, attitudes and structures that underpin sectarianism
  • The focus should move away from naming and shaming individuals or groups
  • Local authorities should ensure that formal policy and practice guidelines are developed to address sectarianism at local level
  • A review of hate crime legislation should consider how sectarianism and sectarian incidents could be integrated into a more general approach
  • Every effort should continue to be made to involve football authorities, clubs, supporters organisations and youth organisations directly in active measures to address sectarian behaviour and attitudes in football
  • Local partnerships between schools of different backgrounds should be encouraged, including sharing of resources and topics of interest
  • Highlighting the importance of monitoring equalities within inspection in schools should be considered

Dr Morrow called on the Scottish government to shift its emphasis away from historical blame.

He said the focus should be on ending the behaviours, attitudes and structures which underpinned sectarianism rather than naming and shaming any individual or group.

His recommendations include sharing of best practice across the relevant authorities, greater community involvement and a commitment to tackling the issue as part of equalities education in schools.

Lack of urgency

He also said there had been a disappointing lack of urgency from local authorities to the findings of his group, published in 2015.

“Local authorities should actively consider how best practice in tackling sectarianism can be shared more systematically across Scotland,” he said.

Dr Morrow said football was only one part of the jigsaw of sectarianism.

He said he was sceptical as to whether government proposals to tackle the problem were sufficient to change the evident sectarian behaviour in Scottish football.

“I remain seriously concerned that the primary concern of the authorities remains to avoid responsibility rather than to take action,” he said.

Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing said: “It is very clear from Dr Morrow’s report that work remains to be done in eradicating sectarianism from sections of our society.

“Considerable work has been taken forward over the past few years and I am very pleased to note that some progress has been made since the final report by the advisory group, but more needs to be done.”

‘Obstacle to progress’

She added: “The Scottish government cannot eradicate sectarianism in isolation and while we are committed to taking forward the recommendations that are for us, we must also continue to work with local authorities, the third sector, community groups, football clubs and more to foster a Scotland where sectarianism is consigned to history.

“Together we can nurture a modern nation that isn’t weighed down by the prejudices of the past. I will now carefully consider Dr Morrow’s report and respond in due course.”

Dave Scott, campaign director of anti-sectarianism charity Nil by Mouth, said: “The contents of Dr Morrow’s report highlights there is much to be optimistic about in terms of how Scotland is tackling sectarianism.

“Fifteen years on from Jack McConnell’s ‘secret shame’ speech we now see many sections of society pulling together to show Scotland to be bigger, better and bolder than bigotry.

“However, it’s clear from the report that Scottish football continues to be an obstacle to progress and it’s consistent refusal to manage its own environment undermines efforts in wider society.

“Given the millions of pounds of public money the sport benefits from each year this cannot be allowed to continue and our political parties must ensure that the game steps up to the plate or faces the consequences of its inaction.”

  • What Scotland witnessed at Ibrox Stadium and in George Square at the weekend shows that the people who matter, the football supporters on the terracings and grandstands and sitting by their television sets, care not one whit for what politicians and pundits have to say about this issue.  Scotland sounds like a society en route to anarchy. Editor


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