Let's keep an eye on the truth about the divide

24th June 2011 at 01:00
The Scottish media have been quick to jump on the sectarian bandwagon after Lennon's attack

Last month, I went to watch Hearts play Celtic in the Premier League. They're usually great games, but that one was certainly a disappointment. The attack that night on Neil Lennon, the Celtic football manager, was an entirely unacceptable, dangerous assault on an individual who had every right to feel he was in a secure environment. As Voltaire might have said, we might sometimes disagree with what Mr Lennon says, but we should defend to the death his right to say it.

I was on the far side of the pitch and too far away to hear anything. But, because I was there, I can say that I found aspects of the recent debate about "the sectarian divide" offensive and ill-informed.

That night, although there was a lot of shouting and jeering between supporters, the sustained singing of IRA and republican Irish songs was limited to the mass of travelling Celtic fans at the away end - away fans in any club always seem a little less "restrained". I wasn't particularly offended; I didn't feel it was directed at me. It wasn't really directed at anyone, it was just tribal nonsense emanating from alcohol and testosterone-fuelled fools. Sitting in the largest home stand, I heard abuse being hurled at Celtic fans but its basis wasn't religious, sectarian or bigoted, and it was only tribal insomuch as it was in support of a different football team.

Yet, the west-of-Scotland-dominated media immediately jumped in to condemn the Tynecastle attack on Mr Lennon as further evidence of a deep sectarian malaise throughout Scottish society, and it's been on the attack ever since. In fact, much of the bigotry comes from the media themselves, and they must accept a significant portion of the blame for the current atmosphere. It's cheap, lazy journalism, born of a need to produce quick copy for demanding editors.

The vision of 21st-century Scotland as "Protestant" versus "Catholic" emanates primarily from the west of Scotland. The rest of Scotland is not without its own demons. Class remains a pervasive divisor in Edinburgh. There is a significant urban-rural divide north and south of the Central Belt. Scotland remains male dominated, even if women are starting to close the gap in some areas. Ethnic minorities are intimidated, as are gays and lesbians. Ours is not a society of equals.

At the roots of our sectarian divide lie the usual suspects - poverty, unemployment, competition for housing, fear of the unknown and the loss of security. Last year, the target was Asians, now the bullies are looking around for other whipping boys.

I don't deny religious bigotry exists in Scotland, and it needs to be tackled head on. We need to clarify in our own minds why religious segregation in our education system is acceptable but racial segregation is not. I welcome the SNP's anti-sectarian legislation, but I'd be much happier if it were bundled up in a more general anti-racist, anti- homophobic, anti-sexist measure aimed at protecting all victims of abuse in Scottish society. Otherwise, we might all end up taking our eye off the ball.

Gordon Lawrie, Secondary teacher, is a modern studies teacher.

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