Sectarianism is regarded by many as Scotland’s shame.
Roseanna Cunningham comments that, ‘Sectarianism shouldn’t be part of a modern Scotland and we need to do everything we can to eradicate it once and for all. To put it quite simply, it will not be tolerated.’
She is absolutely correct, but the problem is that the various efforts over the years to eradicate sectarianism have failed. The question that needs to be asked is quite simple:
Why has so much money been spent, and much more promised, on government projects and police initiatives, community education programmes, football summits and parliamentary debates, when the problem still exists and shows no sign of being resolved?
The reason, as far as I can work out, is that these various initiatives are only a very small part of what needs to be a much more radical solution. On their own, they are not going to have any real traction. They just won’t stick. But what would a more radical solution look like?
I think that in order to eradicate sectarianism from Scotland, it would be necessary to stop thinking about it as a problem in isolation, one that can be covered up, or removed, like an unwanted blemish on an otherwise clear complexion.
Sectarianism emerges out of a complicated web of relationships that have taken shape over a very long period of time. It is the spawn of unjust and elitist political frameworks, the adoption and celebration of official state religions, the unregulated use of discriminatory and highly exploitative economic policies, all mixed up with basic human drives and desires.
And of course, all of this fits quite neatly with human nature. It fits quite neatly into our need for safety and self-preservation; the need to protect what belongs to us and the desire to acquire more of it; the fear and distrust of what and whom we do not understand.
This is the context of sectarianism. Not just in Scotland, but in many other countries around the world.
The radical solution would require a complete rethink of how the country is governed. It would require having a much stronger sense of social justice, equality and inclusiveness at its heart and undoing the economic policies that only reward the elite groups and favoured sections of society.
It would require dismantling the connections between church and state. It would require introducing policies that promote equality and opportunity for everyone, rather than ones that subtly depend on the existence of inequality, discrimination and exclusion.
The problem is that this type of change will not happen and that is why the government continually comes up with expensive new initiatives and nice looking projects to appear to be doing something and to divert our focus away from the real issue.
The real issue is this: upholding the structures that guarantee government control, maintaining the policies that ensure continued social stability for majority groups, permitting selected people to operate outside of the rules to create the right amount of wealth to satisfy the nation’s spending commitments, debt repayments and credit ratings, is much more of a priority for the people who run the country than ensuring the eradication of one its ugly by-products.
Sectarianism, like other forms of discrimination, was integral to how the country was built and how it developed over many years. Whilst it is not so blatantly part of the tool kit of politicians and church leaders today as it was then, it nonetheless remains as a by-product of how this country, and others, continue to function and operate.
Ensuring that the country works, without radical change and substantial overhaul, means keeping in place all of the structures and frameworks that give rise to the conditions that create it. You can re-educate people all you want, but that won’t substantially change anything.
Perhaps over a much longer period of time this problem will just go away of its own accord. Perhaps this is what the Government hopes will happen, whilst it sits back and takes the plaudits for encouraging its disappearance through a raft of expensive initiatives and unnecessary laws.