The issue of ‘sectarianism’ in Scotland has raised its head again following loyalists attacks on republican marches in Govan on August 30th and Glasgow city centre on 7th September. Whilst the attacks made by the loyalists were on legal marches, politicians and the media have predictably fallen back on the ‘sectarian’ two tribes approach. This attempt to cover-up the central issue, the nature of Northern Ireland’s and Scotland’s relationship with the UK state, has a long history, as shown by the response of Jack McConnell
Emancipation & Liberation is publishing an abridged version of an article written in 2006 by the late Brian Higgins, which addresses the issue of ‘sectarianism’. The full version of this article can be seen on the Intfrobel.com website, where it was published for the first time this August.
SCOTLAND’S ‘SECRET’ SHAME
The issue of religious sectarianism in Scotland has been raised by Jack McConnell’s 2005 Valentines Day Summit, and by the BBC’s Panorama programme, Scotland’s Secret Shame, on Celtic and Rangers, broadcast soon afterwards. Tam Cowan has even (if unintentionally!) added impetus to this debate, illustrating the significance of the subject. He invited Jack McConnell on to his Offside programme (BBC Scotland, 6.3.06, a satirical rant at Scottish football and the SFA. He questioned McConnell about ‘Scotland’s Secret Shame’ by famously asking him, “What’s secret about it?” Cowan 1 – McConnell 0. More seriously, we have UEFA making a bizarre ruling over Rangers supporters’ sectarian behaviour, at the Championship League matches against Villareal. They initially washed their hands by declaring such behaviour to be “related to a social problem in Scotland”!
1. SCOTLAND’S SECRET SHAME – BRITAIN’S POLITICAL BLAME!
Scotland’s secret shame – No, we’re not talking about the nominal Scotsman, Fettes-educated liar and mass murderer, Tony Blair; nor his right hand man, Scotbrit Brown, who together stole last May’s General Election with only 36% of the vote. This is about a burning political and social issue, which has too often been neglected in the past and needs to be addressed by socialist republicans in Scotland and further afield today and tomorrow.
Sectarianism and bigotry are very controversial issues in Scotland. They were given a very high political profile with Jack McConnell’s Valentines Day Summit in 2005. He mainly laid the blame for these problems at the door of Celtic and Rangers football clubs and their supporters. Sectarianism and bigotry in Scotland were also given a Britain-wide media prominence in the BBC’s Panorama programme, Scotland’s Secret Shame, shown soon after, on February 27th.
‘JACK OF HEARTS’ VALENTINES DAY ‘LOVE-IN’
McConnell chose a good day to massacre the truth! There were some very strange bedfellows around the table at the Valentines Day Summit. Yet this only shows that a British-wide consensus and political popular front exists around some very false notions of sectarianism and bigotry.
This is highlighted by the most the recent and prominent campaign in the field – ‘Nil by Mouth’. They make the same mistake in attributing these evils to Rangers and Celtic football clubs and their supporters.
The press also takes this line, particularly tabloids like the Daily Record. One moment they are piously pronouncing against sectarianism. Then the next, they use Celtic and Rangers to fan the flames of bigotry, often through the use of lurid and screaming headlines. They rarely let the truth get in the way of a ‘good’ sectarian story, particularly before and after matches at Parkhead and Ibrox. The result of this is to make the problem appear to be a ‘sporting’ rather than a serious socio-political issue. This lets the politicians off the hook and this is no accident.
THE BBC’S SCOTLAND’S SECRET SHAME AND BLAME GAME!
BBC’s Panorama programme went Britain-wide. It made Scotland look like a sectarian hellhole, little different from Northern Ireland. Therefore, how lucky Scotland is to be part of the Great British Union! The Scottish Parliament can take heart from the less sectarian atmosphere in England and get the support of a sympathetic and understanding Westminster government, under the paternalistic leadership of Tony Blair and New Labour!
Once again, this programme saw the main problem as lying in the working class and Celtic and Rangers supporters, in particular. However, it did also mention certain links with Ireland! But it didn’t follow this through. Instead, the journalist, Graham Spiers, showed a middle class prejudice (which is quite common) by branding Rangers and Celtic supporters as “uneducated`”. What he really means is there are not many university-educated chaps like him among the ‘lower orders’. He forgets that the working class is ‘educated’ by middle class, press, television and radio hacks like him steeped in class bigotry and prejudice. They resort to finger-pointing to disguise their own role in all this.
One unintentional moment of light (blue) relief in the programme was provided by a Rangers Director. He gave us the new football phenomenon – “the ninety minute bigot”! Just as ridiculously, we ask, “What if the game goes into extra time!” The programme’s title also begs the question, “What is secret about the problem?” – only its true causes. But on the real causes of bigotry the programme did little to enlighten us.
2. FOOTBALL IS A POLITICAL DIVERSION – ‘RELIGIOUS’ SECTARIANISM AND BIGOTRY ARE NOT THE REAL PROBLEM
The British establishment and its media use football as a smokescreen to hide the real causes of sectarian strife and bigotry in Scotland. The existence of Celtic and Rangers football clubs and their supporters may appear to be the most visible embodiment of sectarianism and bigotry in Scotland. However, they are but the expression of a deeper and more widespread problem.
Scotland has indeed had a past marred by religious sectarianism and bigotry. As recently as the 1920’s the Church of Scotland took a bigoted and racist stance against Irish Catholic immigrants. There were mass Protestant anti-Catholic parties in both Glasgow and Edinburgh in the 1930s. The Orange Order then had a solid base of support within the Church of Scotland and the Tory Party was linked to the Ulster Unionist Party. There has been job discrimination against Catholics in quite a number of areas, particularly shipbuilding. Some of these attitudes still (ma)linger on in Scottish society.
Nevertheless, loyalist unionism never came to dominate Scottish politics as it did in Northern Ireland. The Labour Party in Scotland was always open to Catholics. The Labour Party won control of many Scottish councils, including the largest, Glasgow. It has also formed seven British governments since 1945. This meant that Catholics had avenues of economic, social and political advance, which certainly didn’t exist in Northern Ireland.
Scotland has no gerrymandered Protestant and Catholic ghettoes. The Orange Order has no significant representation in the Scottish Parliament or base of support in the Church of Scotland. The Tory Party has long broken its direct links with the Ulster Unionist Party and has fielded Catholic candidates, aiming to get the Catholic middle class vote. Scotland has had a Scottish Secretary, Helen Liddell, from a Catholic background; so indeed is the current First Minister’s wife, Bridget McConnell. Even Rangers now field Catholic players.
It is a misrepresentation of reality, to lump together the following as examples of an ongoing religious sectarianism with its roots in Scotland’s Presbyterian past:- the undoubted and sometimes shocking violence that occurs around ‘Old Firm’ matches; the demand for official permission for Irish republican marches; the intimidation associated with the Orange marching season; and the unsavoury Scotland/Northern Ireland loyalist links, highlighted by Johnny Adair’s current residency here. The songs celebrated at either end of an ‘Old Firm’ game are neither psalms nor hymns. The flags being waved are ‘national’ not denominational.
THE ROOT CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM – THE BRITISH STATE’S ATTEMPT TO MAINTAIN CONTROL OVER IRELAND
There has been a huge decline in religious influence on the state in Scotland. The numbers identifying with the major Christian denominations and attending their churches, especially the Church of Scotland, has continued to decline. You have to look elsewhere to see why so-called ‘sectarian’ strife is still to be found in Scotland. The root cause lies in continued British rule over Northern Ireland. Scotland and (Northern) Ireland have long had close economic and social links. Irish tenant farmers and later, workers (both Catholic and Protestant), came to Scotland from Ireland looking for jobs. Some of the divisions and conflicts over national identity have been imported over here. The Orange Order is one organisation which was imported from the north of Ireland to Scotland. It has been a central and continuous influence in promoting sectarianism and trying to maintain Protestant privilege. It still wants the UK to be an officially Protestant state with a Protestant monarch.
The British state has actively promoted sectarian division in Northern Ireland, in order to maintain its control. Sectarianism is designed to pit Protestant against Catholic, and worker against worker. In the past it split the Irish-Irish from the Irish-British; today it tries to sustain a division between the Irish and the Ulster-British. What we are seeing in Northern Ireland is a national struggle, not a religious struggle.
The most advanced element in the struggle to create a united Irish nation, has always upheld the original republican demand for the unity of ‘Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter’. This is anti-sectarian by definition. The most reactionary element today defines itself as Ulster-British, an identity which only includes Protestants, and is therefore sectarian by definition. This Ulster-Britishness can only be maintained by the continued partition of Ireland; the continued occupation of the north by the British army; a loyalist statelet, police force and militia; a loyalist paramilitary reserve; and the continuous celebration of Orange triumphalism.
Yet, despite loyalism’s somewhat embarrassing public image, it still provides part of the forces necessary to maintain British rule. British Direct Rule and military occupation were not enough to suppress the Irish republican opposition. And, despite some woolly-minded and sentimental thinking, the British state has no intention of giving up control of ‘The Six Counties’. To do so, would be to signal to the world, the weakness of British imperialism and the likely end of the UK itself.
OFFICIAL ANTI-SECTARIAN CAMPAIGN PART OF BRITISH STATE’S STRATEGY TO MAINTAIN UNIONIST CONTROL THROUGHOUT THE UK
The timing of the Establishment’s newfound concern with the problem of “religious sectarianism and bigotry” in Scotland is also significant. For most of the period of Ireland’s struggle against the British state, Scotland could hardly be described as Ireland’s ally. Scottish regiments could be relied upon to uphold the Union when asked to serve in Ireland. As late as 1955, the Scottish Unionist Party (then still linked to the Ulster Unionists) could win over 50% of the vote.
Many Catholics, in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, saw the wider British state as a possible ally. This state might be able to contain the official loyalist unionism found in Northern Ireland and the unofficial, but nevertheless, still menacing loyalist unionism found in the Central Belt of Scotland. The Labour Party enjoyed massive support amongst Catholics in Scotland because it was seen to be both anti-sectarian and liberal unionist. The British state also had greater resources to address the economic and social problems, which affected the Catholic working class particularly badly in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
However, with the decline of the British Empire, the UK’s continued slide in the world’s economic league, and the cutbacks in the British welfare state, support for the Union and a British national identity have declined sharply in Scotland. Republican sentiment has grown, particularly since the 1980s. The British state has had to undergo extensive constitutional change to try to hold the UK together. New Labour took office in 1997 committed to a New Unionist policy of ‘devolution-all-round’, for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Each devolved assembly is meant to take responsibility for maintaining the Union in its own territory, in return for some local legislative or administrative autonomy. By far the biggest problem facing the UK state has been the setting-up of a stable regime in Northern Ireland. The very purpose of that statelet’s continued existence has been to buttress Ulster Unionist/Protestant supremacy, as a guarantor for the continued Union.
Ever since the Civil Rights Struggle, events in Northern Ireland have found an echo in Scotland, amongst both Irish republican and nationalist supporters and amongst loyalist and Orange Order supporters. Now, however, there is a British-backed ‘pacification process’ in place, highlighted by the Good Friday Agreement. But the UK government has failed to get its central building block in place – a power-sharing Executive leading a reformed Stormont. Therefore, the Scottish Executive has been given the task of quarantining Scotland from any political repercussions over here. This is why, McConnell is portraying the continued ‘troubles’ over here, as an issue of sectarianism and bigotry rooted in Scotland’s religious history, in general, and Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs, in particular.
NEW LAWS AGAINST SECTARIANISM TARGET THE REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION
Since the Valentines Day Summit, the Scottish Executive has passed new laws. These allow the police to target clubs and pubs displaying ‘sectarian’ material. This has led to a number of traditional Irish pubs having posters showing the Hunger Strikers removed. None of the removed material attacks Protestants. This shows the hollowness of the official claims to be combating religious sectarianism and bigotry. The targets of the official clampdown are Irish republican symbols of resistance to British occupation and rule.
Revolutionary republicans and communists reject the ‘plague on both your houses’, it’s a ‘tribal war’, or ‘it’s all due to football’ approach to the issue of sectarianism and bigotry in Scotland. This is the approach adopted by the British Unionist politicians and the liberal media which bows to their agenda. It is an approach which disguises the political reality, both in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The pretence of dealing equally with ‘two warring tribes’ is highlighted by the orchestrated media hounding of Republicans in Northern Ireland. They have not been responsible for a single attack on British state forces, loyalists or Protestants in Northern Ireland since the second 1997 Ceasefire. In the meantime, loyalists have killed innocent Catholics and Protestants, mounted viciously sectarian campaigns around the annual Drumcree march, at Harryville Church, Holy Cross Primary School and are currently pursuing their campaign of ethnic cleansing, directed at Catholics in Ahoghill and at Asians and others in South Belfast. Even a full scale armed loyalist riot, directed at ‘their own’ police force, the PSNI/RUC, in a fit of pique at being denied the right to intimidate and harass nationalists in North Belfast, was handled as if it were a minor breach of the peace offence!
SILENCE FOR THE POPE – WHY?
Organisations like Nil by Mouth, no matter how well-intentioned, ignore the wider context, when they seek official support for their opposition to ‘religious’ sectarianism and bigotry. Treating the problem as if it is religious in origin can also be totally counterproductive. A good example of this was the official decision to have a minute’s silence at some S.P.L. matches after the death of Pope John Paul. The same press which promoted the minute’s silence then turned on the fans who broke it, accusing them of religious intolerance and lack of respect! It is absolutely intolerable that a minutes silence was demanded for an extremely reactionary old man who lived in Rome and had no connection whatsoever with Scottish football or any team within it.
Given this official high-level equation of Celtic with Catholicism, Rangers fans could be forgiven for thinking that Celtic’s board, team and supporters are all lined up behind the Pope! We doubt that any of the Parkhead players would subscribe to being one of the ‘Pope’s Eleven’ – they’d rather be one of Gordon Strachan’s! Neither Celtic, nor any other Scottish team is a Catholic club. So why the minute’s silence – other than an excuse to stoke up resentment and bigotry.
PLAYING UP RELIGIOUS SECTARIANISM – IGNORING ANTI-IRISH RACISM
Funnily enough, on the occasion when real bigotry and anti-Irish racism are blatantly on display, the same media ignores its significance. The hounding of Celtic’s Portadown born Irish Catholic player, Neil Lennon, on and off the pitch, by loyalist bigots, is a disgrace. He is also subjected to vile anti-Irish racist abuse at most grounds he plays at. None of this is ever officially reported or campaigned against in Scotland. However, following the cause to its roots, would not take you to Scotland’s old Presbyterian religious sectarianism. It would take you to Portadown, that ‘Little Rock’ in Ulster and the festering sore which is the product of continued British rule in Northern Ireland. This is not something the Scottish establishment and mainstream media want to highlight!
Anti-Irish racism is not even recognised as a problem in Scotland. Indeed, it is tolerated.Tam Cowan, who is about as funny as a boil on the arse, sometimes uses his Wednesday column in the Daily Record to crack anti-Irish jokes. Therefore, the official (and hypocritical and limited) anti-racist campaigns show their own blind spot. Whereas British imperial power has retreated from Asia, Africa and the West Indies, it has no intention of finally abandoning its first colony, so anti-Irish racism still has its uses over here.
The real divide is not a religious one between Protestant and Catholic, but a political one between British unionist and Irish republican. Many loyalist bigots find it difficult to understand the difference between Irish republicanism and Catholicism, infamously hating ‘Fenian bastards’. Yet the nineteenth century Irish Fenian Brotherhood included both Catholics and Protestants and was strongly opposed by the Catholic hierarchy. Of course, it is very much in the interests of the British establishment to portray a national democratic struggle as a religious sectarian squabble.
3. THE BRITISH STATE IS OPPRESSIVE AND DIVISIVE
There are those on the revolutionary Left who maintain that the formation of the British state was a liberating and progressive development. It led to the Industrial Revolution and a united British working class. We profoundly disagree with this. There has never been anything progressive or remotely liberating (except for the ruling class and capitalists) for the vast majority who lived in the British state and its empire. Just think of those slaughtered for opposing British rule and wanting independence. Remember those millions who died in the 1914-8 “war to end all wars” to maintain the British Empire and its class rule and extreme privilege.
Today, British trade unions are in chains, shackled by the most draconian anti-union laws in Europe. Migrant workers and asylum seekers are harassed by British officials and locked up in British detention centres. Travelling people are hounded around Britain and working class youths are subjected to vilification, curfews and ASBOs. Ask any of these people how ‘progressive‘ the British state is.
RELIGIOUS STRIFE AND VIOLENCE NOTHING NEW
Religious strife, and sometimes, extreme violence between Catholics and Protestants, is nothing new in these islands, nor indeed Europe and elsewhere. Such strife was a fact of life long before Celtic and Rangers were founded. Catholics and Protestants found themselves on different sides in political battles in the past. The Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1603 led to another attempt to achieve centralized political control of these islands. One area where resistance was particularly strong, was in the clan-based Gaelic (and Catholic) social order in Ulster. King James, acting on behalf of both the English and Scottish ruling classes, transplanted largely Lowland Scots Protestant settlers in this area to counter the rebellious natives.
In the 1639-50 Civil War of the Three Kingdoms, Irish Catholic Royalists faced both Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritan Republicans. Yet, even then, the most advanced class elements were able to overcome some of the false divisions encouraged by the ruling class of the day. The revolutionary democratic Levellers in England refused to go to Ireland to put down ‘Catholic’ rebellion. They preferred class solidarity to religious loyalty. We could do with similar ‘levelling’ today!
The 1707 Act of Union was used by the ruling classes of England and Scotland to cement a Protestant British identity, making it easier to unite the lower orders behind the British Union and to provide cannon-fodder for a rapidly expanding British Empire. This Empire was based on expanding capitalist trade, agriculture and manufacture. Those pre-capitalist societies, which got in the way, were mercilessly suppressed and subjugated. This led to the outlawing of much Gaelic culture. This followed the earlier suppression of Catholic worship in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands alike.
THE ORANGE ORDER – DEFENDING PROTESTANT PRIVILEGE AND THE BRITISH STATE
By the end of the eighteenth century, these divisions were being overcome, when many Presbyterians and Catholics, and even some Anglicans, in Ireland joined to form a united front to oppose British rule. The United Irishmen had the Protestant, Wolfe Tone, as one of its leaders. This new-found, anti-sectarian class unity led the British ruling class to give its backing to the newly formed Orange Order in order to uphold God and the Crown, Britain and the Empire.
In the past, the British ruling class found it convenient to blame all opposition to its rule on ‘Papist plots’. The Orange Order has continued with this line, long after the British ruling class turned to other scapegoats – Jacobins, Bolsheviks, or Islamic extremists today. Even when founded in 1795, the Orange Order’s knowledge of real history was slender. The Dutch Orange, King William fought the Battle of the Boyne (the site is now in the Irish Republic), in 1690, with the blessing of the Pope of the day, in a European power game; certainly not to defend some distant Protestant ‘colony’ in Ulster.
The Orange Order, and the closely associated loyalist paramilitaries, have a history of instigating pogroms, or ethnic cleansing, directed against Catholics, republicans and nationalists, and those living in mixed partnerships and families. In return for privileges in job and housing allocation, the Orange Order loyally enforced the rule of the British Crown and state in ‘the Six Counties’. It was the British Establishment figure and Orangeman, Lord Carson, who created the armed Ulster Volunteer Force, in 1912, to prevent even a liberal unionist measure, Irish Home Rule, from being implemented. British senior military officers in the Curragh Mutiny backed him.
The loyalist forces were mobilised once more, when a large majority of the Irish people voted for Sinn Fein independence candidates in the 1918 General Election. Over the next few years, loyalists managed to carve out that Six County political slum, which was ruled through Stormont, as a one-party sectarian statelet for the next fifty years – fully subsidised by the UK Exchequer.
Whenever there was a possibility that Catholics and Protestants might unite to fight against exploitation, the Orange Order and loyalist forces moved in, to line-up the Protestant workers behind the Unionist bosses once more. This happened when Catholics and Protestants united and fought over unemployment benefits in the 1930s.
In 1972, loyalists once more showed their opposition to any liberal reform of the Union, when they mobilised the Ulster Workers’ Council (Catholic workers not invited) against the power-sharing (middle class Protestant and Catholic) Sunningdale Agreement. The British government backed down surprisingly quickly in the face of this particular ‘strike’, showing no inclination to uphold the rights of the ordinary person ‘to go about their normal everyday business’! Obviously, this particular strike didn’t represent a move to the Left.
LOYALIST REACTION TODAY – THE BRITISH FACE OF FASCISM
Today there are few jobs and houses on offer, so loyalist privilege consists more of the ‘historical right’ to triumphantly parade and march all over the political hopes and aspirations of Catholics, nationalists and republicans and trample these into the ground.
The Orange Order has many of the hallmarks of fascism in its organisation, politics and practices. Father Alex Reid got it quite wrong in his recent attack in Belfast on ‘Nazi’ loyalism. Ulster Loyalism is not a nasty German import, but a very British homegrown product that preceded Nazism by over a decade. Loyalism doesn’t need goose-steps and swastikas. It has the lambeg drum and the Union Jack. Loyalism has and will use all means it considers necessary to maintain its ‘religious’ and ‘racial’ purity, i.e. its Britishness. The only ‘democracy’ it is interested in, is that which gives it an inbuilt veto to protect its privileged position within Northern Ireland. It point-blank refuses to recognise anything which does not go along with this.
There is no ‘British road’ to real democracy and freedom for the people of Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England. The example of Ireland shows the sort of allies and measures the British ruling class is prepared to adopt if we ever make serious moves to break free from their UK. state. Real democracy (i.e. rule by the majority and not an elite class) can only be achieved by revolutionary working class struggle and unity.
THE SECOND HALF!
1. FOOTBALL – THE NEW OPIATE OF THE MASSES
Marx was absolutely correct when he said that “religion is the opiate of the masses”. It was one way countless millions of workers and their families escaped from the hell on earth of their daily existence at that time. They were led to look to a life after death, which would be heaven, compared to the one on earth!
Religion is still being used as a socio-political opiate in some countries. However, it no longer has the same influence or following in the West, particularly Europe, as it had in Marx’s time. But today football is truly global and supported by billions worldwide. The majority of these are working class and football now serves a role similar to that which religion used to. It enables billions to escape the drudgery, and in many cases misery, of their daily lives by going to football matches, or by watching it on TV at home, in pubs or cafes, or by reading about it.
Big business is well aware of this and has moved in big-time. They economically control, exploit and market football on a massive global scale. They also exploit the competitive nature of the game politically and use their media to pit country against country in a very nationalistic and racist way. Just look at the press and TV when England plays Germany, France, Italy or Turkey. Some British papers, such as the Sun, even have separate editions so they can play off England against Scotland in England and Scotland against England in Scotland, whenever matches between these two countries occur! Of course, they then blame the fans if they resort to violence in response to all the media’s nationalist and racist hype.
Football has become a microcosm of the worldwide class system. Far from things getting better in their ‘free market’ economy, the rich clubs and players just get richer; whilst the poorer clubs just get poorer! Even Gordon Taylor, Secretary of the English players’ union, gets £650,000 a year salary – so he too is big business!
Now things are so bad that Russian billionaire, Abramovich, who got his money by the ruthless exploitation of Russian workers, is the most powerful figure in English football (don’t tell us the FA run the game!). He effectively bought Chelsea the Premiership title last season and is doing the same again this season. Oh, how the Russian poor could use Abramovich’s millions. Cue Mr. Murray and Mr. Desmond, the filthy rich, biggest shareholders of Rangers and Celtic respectively.
Multinational business has taken hold in Scottish football too, as can be seen with Romanov’s takeover of Hearts. No doubt Lithuanian workers would appreciate getting their hands on some of Romanov’s millions. (Where are the Bolsheviks when you need them!) Romanov now wants to take over the Bosnian team, Celik, too – no relation to the Glasgow club!
CAPITALIST ECONOMICS – A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR CORPORATE HOUSES
Celtic and Rangers are both corporate businesses, the same as most other professional football clubs. Like all big clubs they mercilessly exploit their fans. The firms they employ to make merchandise, use cheap, sometimes even child slave labour. The big clubs make obscene amounts of money from this. Some of the money goes towards players’ wages, but we never hear of big-earning players complaining about this. Isn’t it strange how football players seem to be exempt from being taken to task, or questioned about their social attitudes, or their political opinions. Stars and superstars, in particular, are not judged by ‘normal’ standards.
Celtic and Rangers football clubs are not the causes of religious sectarianism and bigotry. However, both clubs well know that the existence of these evils raises passions which heighten the tensions and increase the competition upon which their profits thrive. Of course, the club owners are not too concerned about this reality. They aren’t to be found on the terraces and streets, or in the pubs and housing schemes, where working class people bear the brunt and pay the price of ‘religious sectarianism’ and anti-Irish racism.
Outside political pressure may have forced the clubs to sponsor official anti-sectarian campaigns, but these don’t address the central problem already outlined. They also know this is a political problem which it is not their business to address – and they won’t. After all, it will take a political and social revolution to change the situation and their businesses would go with it!
Even if a total clampdown on all the authorities’ perceived ‘sectarian’ displays, singing and behaviour was successfully imposed in the football grounds, this would not eliminate it, but displace it elsewhere, since football itself is not the cause of the problem.
POLITICAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CELTIC AND RANGERS SUPPORTERS
Supporters of both Celtic and Rangers come mainly from the same working class base. Yet, there is a political difference between the supporters of the two clubs. The British establishment is well aware of this too. Its current anti-sectarian campaigns make sure they don’t tread on any sensitive toes.
The political parties in Scotland have largely abandoned one-sided religious sectarianism. This makes it easier to stand above the fray and manipulate both sides for divide-and-rule purposes. Labour draws its support from both mainly working class Catholics and Protestants, and the Tories from mainly middle class Protestants and Catholics.
Rangers supporters sing “God save the Queen”, “Rule Britannia”, of guarding Protestant “Derry’s walls” and being up to their knees in “Fenian blood”, and other such touching ditties. Celtic supporters mainly sing ballads associated with Ireland’s struggles for freedom from British rule, including the more recent Republican struggles. They sing about those fighters murdered, imprisoned or deported for defying the British state. Some of this is sentimental republicanism. There is also a reactionary anti-Protestant Ancient Order of Hibernian contingent among the Celtic supporters. The AOH tried to mimic the organisation and style of the Orange Order, but for Catholics. Fortunately the AOH is very small and is opposed by all sincere republicans.
However, by and large, the potential for support for Scottish republicanism and for freedom from the British Crown and state is much greater amongst Celtic fans. Socialists know the difference between selling papers outside Parkhead and Ibrox! And, if your paper has the title ‘republican’, you would only try selling it outside Ibrox if accompanied by a Citizen Army!
2. THE NEED FOR A REPUBLICAN UNITED FRONT TO COUNTER
THE BRITISH UNIONIST POPULAR FRONT
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, its anti-democratic Crown powers, its continued imperialist role in the world, and its state-promoted reactionary British identity, all need to be opposed consistently. From the extremes of Ulster loyalism, through the Tories and New Labour, to the Lib-Dems, there is a British unionist consensus over the need to defend the UK state. The SNP only seeks to give some of these imperialist institutions a thick coat of tartan paint. That is why they defend her majesty’s Scottish regiments so vehemently.
Others, on the Left, such as the SWP, believe the British state can be pressured in a progressive direction, effectively making them part of the British popular front. You are either for the break-up of the British state or you are not. The SWP’s sister organisation in the North of Ireland omitted to mention the presence of British troops in their General Election manifesto! There is a very broad Right, Left and Centre, British unionist popular front.
This can only be countered by a Socialist Republican United Front of political organisations in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England committed to the defeat of the British unionist state and its Crown Powers, and to the establishment of democratic secular republics in each of these nations. Communists would be able to show that the only final guarantee of all our freedoms – national, religious and sexual – is the creation of an international socialist society which finally ends the capitalist exploitation which underwrites all oppression. Forward to real political, economic and social freedom.
A NOTE OF HOPE IN THE POLLS
People all over the world are fighting back – from Venezuela and Bolivia to Iraq and Palestine. In ‘sectarian’ Scotland two recent polls reflected some of this. 49% voted for a republican president against 37% for a prime minister (appointed by the Queen). In the second poll in the Scottish Socialist Voice, a staggering 17.5% of people in Scotland already support the SSP’s core aim of supporting an independent socialist republic of Scotland. You could start a revolution with that.
So let’s get out there and start beating the big Scottish socialist republican drum and drown out the noise of those drumming and marching to a different tune.
Allan Armstrong – The Making and the Breaking of the UK State, chapter xiii) The contrasting political nature of the effects of ‘New Unionism’ in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales at:-
For more articles by Brain Higgins see the links provided at:-