“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” – so said Eleanor Roosevelt. You wouldn’t immediately associate Phil Mac Giolla Bhain with the former First Lady of America. But the idea behind her inspirational epigram is a recurring theme for the Donegal-based writer in ‘Minority Reporter Scotland’s Attitude Towards Her Own Irish’, his follow up to bestseller ‘Downfall’.
Blooks get a bad press. But in this case the punchy paired-down prose of Mac Giolla Bhain works well as he sets out his case that Scotland is bedevilled by an anti-Irish racism, a rancour that is fostered maintained and preyed upon by special interests. This bigotry is, he argues, widespread, systemic and unacknowledged. It’s a compelling case, well made, and few, having read Minority Reporter would disagree. The question that comes back to haunt us again and again, and it’s a question that confronts the wider independence movement is: what kind of Scotland do we want to live in?
Who can challenge the idea from Mac Giolla Bhain that: “A modern outward-looking, confident Scotland – multicultural and welcoming to all – cannot shelter the sentiments contained within the Famine Song”?
For those who seek to hide these difficult questions away, or would rather they weren’t raised for fear of alienating a section of Scottish society from the indy cause, I’d say these are exactly the kind of questions that any movement that wants to be consistent in means and ends needs to act on.
A key theme of Mac Giolla Bhain’s analysis is the notion of deference. It’s clear this would seem to be a recurring motif of British national identity.
One of the extraordinary things about the Rangers saga is why a club with such a massive fan base again and again has been hoodwinked and again and again appears to defer to ‘businessmen’ with, at best, dodgy and cloudy backgrounds, and, routinely, criminal records. It’s a tale of our time that the business class is not just metaphorically merged and merging with the criminal class but literally too. The tax evasion / tax avoidance semantics which is used as a means to explain and alleviate any guilt (moral or legal) from Rangers executives is the key point at which this crossover between thugs in suits and ‘businessmen’ is seen.
None of this would have been exposed if it hadn’t been for Mac Giolla Bhain and a handful of other bloggers and alternative media writers with new outlets beyond the grasp of traditional media and their fatally cosy relationships of the heralded school of Succulent Lamb journalism.
Loyalty is an over-cherished quality.
As the author puts it: “They remain an evidence-resistant subculture, easy to fool and uncomprehendingly loyal to the nearest available male authority figure in brown brogues”.
As I write it’s been announced ‘Rangers’ report £14 m loss, yet McCoist’s salary is £683,000 more than the Prime Minister. (£825k > £142k) to play Stenhousemuir. Shrewd. Stenhousemuir is a CIC (Community Interest Company). That’s an extraordinary scale of self-delusion and it will only have one outcome.
Mac Giolla Bhain argues that what we describe (and obsess over) as ‘sectarianism’ is in fact anti-Irish racism. At first this is a difficult argument to get your heard around as the debate has been on a repeat setting (and often going nowhere) for decades. It’s “fenian bastards not catholic bastards” he points out.
“Had my nationality been allowed the same cultural space and esteem as Italians born in Scotland, I might still be there. Rangers supporters aren’t singing for the Italians of Largs to “go home”. If Scotland is truly to b a modern, culturally confident country ready to take its place in the community of nations – after centuries of being an absorbed province of the London state it should allow the Irish in Glasgow to self-define.”
This notion of ‘self-definition’ is an important one. It takes us into an area of cultural right and personal expression.
In the third part of his book the author outlines some of the rapid social change we should expect. Sometimes we are mired in such unchanging worlds where attitudes and frames of thinking seem interminably stuck, that this is useful. He describes two married lesbian Scotswomen voting in next years independence referendum:
“In the historical blink of a single century, the lives of women and gay people have been transformed from legally enforced inequality to empowerment. If that vignette of two lesbians joined together in marriage and voting for Scottish independence had been proposed when I was born in 1958 it would have been considered the offensive, blasphemous output of a diseased mind.”
There’s many things I don’t agree with Mac Giolla Bhain on. I back the idea that the Scottish Government needed to try and prevent the expression of bigotry and abuse. I back the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill. I back a law that gives police power to halt expressions of bigotry and intimidation. I don’t see an alternative.
I think his analysis of the status of Celtic FC lacks complexity. With income of £20.4 million from the Champions League run in 2012/13 plus a recd transfer fee of £12.5 million for Victor Wanyama, with Peter Lawell on the board of the SFA, Celtic Plc are as much a part of the modern corporate Scottish establishment as anyone. To pretend otherwise doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. As a supporter of a club outwith the Old Firm the idea that either are hard done by seems ridiculous.
I have two further complaints. One is that almost all the references, translated hyper-links and notes are to his own blog. This is a trend. I hope that he’s able to extend his range beyond the East End of Glasgow and the Ibrox/Govan area. His powerful analysis and bravery in the face of intimidation deserve a wider lens.