Tuesday 31 August 2021

There's more than one form of hatred in Scotland

It is peculiarly stupid for Scottish people to hate those of Irish descent or to suggest that they should go home. The word Scotland derives from the Irish tribe that settled here in the Dark Ages. So, to hate the Irish is to hate ourselves. To hate people because they are Catholic is equally stupid. Nearly all of us are descendants of Catholics, because Catholicism was the religion of Scotland up until the Reformation. It is only because we were once Catholics that we are Christians at all let alone Protestants.

Everyone who lives in Scotland rather than is here on holiday is at home. My grandfather arrived here from near Dublin in the late 19th century. But I have no home in Ireland. To suggest I go home there is as senseless as to suggest that you go home to your grandfather’s house, which may belong to someone else now, or may not even exist.

But there are various hates in Scotland and it would be well not to mix them up. Irish people and Scottish people are the same race. Modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic both descended from Middle Irish. People have been moving across the Irish sea both ways since time began. To suggest that there is a racial distinction between Scottish people and Irish people is itself racist. But white people cannot be racist about each other. If everyone in the world were the same race there would be no such thing as racism, though there might be other forms of prejudice.

Racism has become the unforgivable sin in the modern world, but this does not justify extending the term to cover all forms of hatred. People do not sing about those of Irish descent going home because they are of a different race. They are not motivated by racism, but rather by sectarianism and xenophobia.

We have different words in order to describe different things. It is just as bad to hate someone because he is a Catholic or of Irish descendent as it is to hate him because he has black skin. Hating someone for a characteristic he was born with is the worst form of prejudice because it is hating someone for something he cannot help.

The oddness of West of Scotland sectarianism is that while Catholics hate Protestants and vice versa they don’t do so if the Catholics happen to come from Poland or the Protestants come from Germany. No one is interested in what school you went to if it was in Warsaw. Sectarianism is not straightforwardly about religion then. Nor is about nationality, because nearly all of those involved have the same nationality. It is merely a tribal dispute between people who are nearly the same, kept going by a rivalry between two great football teams and the fact that too many people from this area are segregated into different schools from age five onwards.

I don’t believe that those singing about people going home seriously wish anyone to go home. Nor indeed do those singing about the IRA seriously support terrorism. Rather these songs are a way of expressing an identity distinct from its rival. Each side sets out to offend the other in order to get the reaction which maintains the difference. Each side enjoys singings songs that are forbidden, without necessarily meaning any of the words that are sung. These are the rebel songs of a conflict that no longer exists. They may be fun to sing in the pub, but it doesn’t mean anyone is going to actually do anything about it. This is a squabble about nothing. About a religion whose rituals we have forgotten and dogma we know longer know.

There is a lot of faux outrage whenever Rangers fans are caught doing something they ought not. I suspect this is one reason why some of them continue to do it. It’s the equivalent displaying two fingers. But sectarianism is also displayed when people suggest that it was somehow illegitimate for Scottish Protestants to be “planted” in Ulster. All forms of migrations are just fine except those that go from Britain to Ireland. There are frequent suggestions that British people in Northern Ireland should go home and that they are merely part of an occupation that stretches back a thousand years. But the Protestants in Northern Ireland have been there since the original settlement of North America. To suggest that Northern Ireland is not their home is just as bad as the song the Rangers fans were singing.

While Irish Republicans demand “England get out of Ireland” and some Scottish nationalists demand “England get out of Scotland”, and while banners are carried describing Tories as scum and we sing about sending English people homeward to think again, then it is quite clear that it is not just Rangers fans who sometimes make dubious statements or sing dodgy songs.

Scottish football fans were heard in London taunting the English and singing if you hate the f**ing English clap your hands. But they probably didn’t really mean it and few if any of them did anything about it. But this hatred is at least part of the motivation for the desire to separate Scotland from England.

Sectarianism and xenophobia have real world consequences beyond the singing of unpleasant songs. English people are sometimes made to feel unwelcome in Scotland, which is the equivalent of telling them to go home. People on both sides of the sectarian divide can face prejudice and sometime violence. But there is at least nothing visible or indeed audible that distinguishes between one side and the other. Dress them both in suits and you cannot tell the difference. Its only the uniform, the songs and the flags that distinguish the two sides. If I was so keen to maintain that I was at home, I wouldn’t wave the flag of a foreign land. I feel no need to do so, even if my ancestor came from there.