Oppose the ‘anti-sectarian’ authoritarians

Guest post from Dr Stuart Waiton, Lecturer at the University of Abertay Dundee and co-founder of Take a Liberty (Scotland)

‘No one should be subjected to intolerance, prejudice or violence in 21st Century Scotland’. So reads the Scottish Executive website discussing Banning Orders, introduced in 2006, orders that can ban abusive or bigoted fans from attending any football game anywhere in the world for up to ten years. Ironically, as the authoritarian discussion about how to rid Scotland of sectarianism rumbles on it appears that the Scottish Government are illustrating their own far more worrying form of intolerance, prejudice and violence.

Tolerance, it appears, today means not tolerating views that we don’t like. Not too long ago this was called authoritarianism. Now there is talk of making sectarian conduct at football matches a specific criminal offence punishable by five years in jail, with similar powers to target bigotry on the internet. Not too long ago challenging bigotry and sectarianism was seen as a political challenge, today, like many other things, it has become something to be policed out of existence.

But then even this is to take the reactionary approach of the SNP and today’s pundits too seriously. Any serious analysis of sectarianism in Scotland would have to conclude that it is largely a fiction. In fact if we take Rangers and Celtic out of the equation – where is this sectarianism? We can no doubt find some stupid kids fighting and call it sectarianism, but previously sectarianism was a powerful force in society, something that meant people would be denied jobs, houses, would never inter-marry, or associate with the ‘other’ side. Today none of this holds true.

Celtic and Rangers fans may shout IRA or Fenian this and that, but they then troop off home to their Protestant wife or Catholic mates. Today ‘sectarianism’ is a 90 minute game and the main reason we are aware of it at all is because politicians and pundits are grandstanding, attempting to look tough and purposeful by doing their ‘thing’, which today means being ‘outraged’, standing up for the ‘offended’ and introducing all sorts of draconian law and forms of policing.

Strangely, this whole furore has erupted largely because of a few extreme acts – the sending of a bomb to Neil Lennon (for which there are already laws to send these idiots down), the scuffle between him and Ally McCoist (which actually wasn’t extreme at all but was portrayed as such), and the ridiculous assault (another criminal act) on Lennon at Hearts.

These events have magically been tied into the hundreds of thousands of everyday Old Firm fans who shout and sing at football matches. Here we find the prejudice of the Scottish elite about football fans, with their own comments filled with bile and hatred about this imaginary sectarian force in society, backed up with serious violence in the form of imprisonment for up to 5 years for singing a song that someone somewhere finds offensive.

No one should be subjected to intolerance, prejudice or violence in 21st Century Scotland, except that is for Celtic and Rangers fans. This is the real shame on Scotland.