Sep 11 2019


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 website, where it was published for the first time this August.






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”! Continue reading “SCOTLAND’S SECRET SHAME”

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Mar 20 2009

Inside Ulster Loyalism

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 2:24 pm

by Ed Walsh – Irish Socialist Network (first published in Resistance no. 8)

UVF: The Endgame (Poolbeg, 2008) by Jim Cusack & Henry McDonald

Jim Cusack and Henry McDonald are well placed to tell the story of the UVF, having spent decades building up contacts inside the loyalist scene. If you want to know what happened over the last forty years in the North, this is a very useful book. If you want to know why it happened you may need to take the authors’ political analysis with a pinch of salt.

The two writers are keen to downplay evidence of collusion between the British state and loyalist paramilitaries. While they acknowledge that members of the RUC and UDR gave assistance to the loyalist groups, the authors deny that collusion was systematic. Cusack and McDonald give us a stark choice – either the loyalist paramilitaries were sock-puppets of the British state, or else they must have been completely autonomous. But there’s another way of looking at things which is far more convincing: the UVF and the UDA may have a life of their own, but their effectiveness during the Troubles would have been limited if the state forces had dealt with them as they dealt with the Provos. The spectrum of collusion could range from active support (of which there was plenty) to helpful neglect.

The authors also stress their view that loyalist opposition to a united Ireland would have been strong enough to block its realisation, even if the London authorities had been keen to withdraw. There is no way of proving this claim right or wrong, since London never had any intention of withdrawing and was prepared to commit vast resources to contain and defeat the IRA. Again, Cusack and McDonald are trying to lead us back to the false notion that Britain was a neutral player in the conflict. That said there can be no question that the strength of unionist belief in the North (often intensified by IRA attacks on Protestant civilians) is the most important prop for what remains of British rule in Ireland.

At one point the authors accuse Sinn Fein of taking a Jesuitical approach to the consent principle. But you need a bit of mental gymnastics to pick your way around the issue of partition. In principle, it’s wrong to suggest that partition of Ireland has a democratic basis (it was imposed by the crudest form of military aggression and based on sectarian gerrymandering – the Northern state has a unionist majority because it was designed that way, just like the Serb Republic in Bosnia or the Turkish enclave in northern Cyprus). In practice, however, its hard to imagine an end to partition before a large number of Ulster Protestants are convinced they have nothing to fear if British rule ends.

Some left-wingers would rather kick the national question into touch and concentrate on other matters. The experience of the UVF itself suggests why this approach is likely to founder. Cusack and McDonald describe the post-ceasefire attempt to build a working-class unionist force with a progressive line on social and economic issues that was spearheaded by David Ervine and Gusty Spence. They don’t spend much time, however, asking why that attempt failed. The majority of working-class Protestants have continued to vote for the DUP, despite its right-wing economic policies, while the Progressive Unionist Party {linked to the UVF} has failed.

The authors note that Ervine, Spence and Billy Hutchison never convinced the UVF rank-and-file to adopt their left-of-centre agenda. But talk of socialism and class politics was hardly going to blend with loyalty to a capitalist, imperialist state and its institutions. The British Labour Party has always been crippled by its submission to a political order shaped by ruling class interests. The PUP’s support for British nationalism is an even greater hindrance to any progressive ideas its leaders may have wanted to advance. You can cheer the troops returning home from the colonial occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, as so many Protestant workers did before Christmas – but ultimately you are cheering a system that inflicts 40% unemployment on the people of West Belfast, regardless of their communal identity

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Mar 20 2009

Normality? By Whose Standards?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 1:59 pm

The second, from the eirigi website (eirigi) (19.12.08), contrasts the current role of the armed forces in the Six Counties and in Scotland. However, if there is ever to be a serious move towards the exercise of Scottish self-determination, we too could experience such British ‘normality’.

As of January 2009, the British army in the Six Counties will no longer operate under its own control structures. From January, the occupation forces will take their orders directly from what is called High Headquarters in Edinburgh.

The move will leave around 30 British military personnel, including a brigadier general, surplus to Irish requirements.

For Irish republicans, the development is hardly of major significance – the removal of a brigadier general won’t leave Ireland much closer to liberation.

But in the terminology of normalisation – the tweaking of the British occupation for maximum optical effect – this was another major step on the road to harmony.

The standard bearers for normalisation, however, ignore one major problem when they claim that Ireland and Scotland are now two peas in a British pod.

The British government garrisons 5,000 armed troops in several locations across the Six Counties and introduced the Justice and Security Act in 2007 to give these troops specific permanent powers. The powers, which were previously only available under emergency legislation, include the right to stop, search, question and arrest, as well as the power to enter, search and seize property.

If the British government and its cheerleaders seriously viewed the role and presence of British troops in the Six Counties as being no different to those in Scotland, surely the question arises as to why it refuses to extend the same powers to its troops based there.

After all, by Britain’s own yardstick of what passes for normality in society, Scottish citizens should enjoy the same ‘protection’ given by British troops as Irish citizens in the Six Counties.

What could be more normal than British squaddies, under the control of High Headquarters in Edinburgh, being given powers to arrest and detain Scottish citizens without a warrant; to enter and search the homes of Scottish citizens; to have the power to search and stop the cars and other vehicles of Scottish citizens; to examine and record documents belonging to Scottish citizens; to take possession of lands, buildings and other property belonging to Scottish citizens or to destroy that property or take any action which interferes with a public right or a private right to that property; and to have the power to close Scottish roads and other rights of way?

Could it be that the ordinary Scottish citizen, if faced with armed troops with the legislative ability to exercise such powers at the behest of a government in London, might question the need for those powers?

Could it be that the ordinary Scottish citizen might well feel affronted if stopped by armed troops exercising such powers? Could it be that the ordinary Scottish citizen might consider how he or she could resist? Could that Scottish citizen’s thoughts, along with the thoughts of many others, rest on ways and means to re-assert and re-claim their national independence?

Such thoughts would be considered normal, unless, of course, your views were those of the British government towards Ireland.

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