Minority Reporter

minority“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.

A Mis-Categorisation

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.

Comments (32)

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  1. muttley79 says:

    I am not sure sectarianism (or anti-Irish racism etc) is widespread in Scotland. I have never really got the sense that the vast majority of people in Scotland care one way or another over the religious divide that exists. I think it is worst in the west of Scotland, and other parts of the central belt. Even there I do not believe that many people are bothered about hating others based on religion.

    It has manifested itself in football probably the most. I also do not think Celtic are the victims that many of their fans seem to think they are. It is generally recognised by fans of the other clubs in Scotland that you as likely to get bad decisions against Celtic, than you are against Rangers. This idea that Celtic FC are the victims of wicked masonic referees is patently rubbish. The fact is that Celtic have won far too many major domestic trophies for there to be any credence to their claim that they are in someway victims of biased officials, and the football authorities in Scotland. As someone who does not support either of the Old Firm, I believe that both clubs need each other.

  2. Jeanette Findlay says:

    I found your piece quite interesting but I would make two points (and bear in mind that I haven’t read the book in question): 1. My understanding was that he was saying that there is a virulent anti-Irish racism in Scotland (which there is), which impacts on many Celtic supporters and not so much saying that Celtic PLC is ‘hard done by’ and 2. Your support for the OB Act appears to be unsupported by any evidence that it is combatting bigotry (there is no evidence that it is as it happens). It is not tenable to say lets have any old legislation to be seen to be doing ‘something’. In fact, we already had laws which gave the police powers to arrest people for ‘the expression of bigotry and intimidation’. What this law does is make something unlawful at football which would not be unlawful on the street, at the rugby or in any other context. You can’t support that surely? I would go further and say that this legislation has almost single-handedly put us back 10 or 20 years in term of the hate and bile that there is out there.

    I would make a further point. If I had a pound for the number of people who , like Muttley79, unthinkingly say ‘Oh sectarianism is a Glasgow/West of Scotland/central belt problem’ or ‘it is a football problem’ I would be very much richer than I am today. Just because something is repeated over and over doesn’t make it true and Muttley’s position is also evidence-free.

    1. muttley79 says:

      Are you Dr Jeanette Findlay, of the Celtic Supporters Trust?

      1. Jeanette Findlay says:

        I am Jeanette Findlay and I am a member of the Celtic Trust.

      2. muttley79 says:

        Could you then explain your comments in this BBC article?

        A Celtic supporters’ trust chief who defended the singing of pro-IRA songs by fans has been described as unrepresentative by the football club.

        Jeanette Findlay, chair of the Celtic Trust, said chants about the IRA were “songs from a war of independence going back over a hundred years”.

      3. Jeanette Findlay says:

        What explanation would you need – do you have a problem with reading? By the way you have just seriously outed yourself.

      4. muttley79 says:

        In what way have I just outed myself? Care to elaborate? Do you agree that the signing of IRA songs at Scottish football stadiums in the early twenty first century is not remotely appropriate? Given the atrocities committed by the PIRA over the last forty years, are people in Scotland seriously expected not to look on this with anger and disgust (as they do with UDA/UVF chants as well)?

      5. Jeanette Findlay says:

        Well anyone who would be bothered to dig out that old news must have a very particular agenda and I assume you do. You may be interested to know that I received a series of apologies from many individuals and organisations after that particular witchhunt – including the First Minister himself. Indeed I may be the only person in Scotland with a letter from the First Minister confirming that I am not a bigot! Not that I needed that affirmation.

        Your particular one-sided view of the history of the relationship between Britain and Ireland are as of little interest to me as they are relevant, but I would counsel you not to presume to speak on behalf of all ‘Scottish people’. Some of them might not actually agree with you.

        In addition, you are entitled to take the view that sport and politics don’t mix but you would be in a very small minority across the globe and historically.

        Finally, I never really find it interesting to attempt to debate with someone who only wants to discuss the ‘atrocities’ committed by one side in a conflict – there is usually just a bit of bad behaviour on both sides would you not agree? I think you will find that Lord Saville for instance was very clear about the atrocities committed by the British Army in Derry and that is only one example.

        I reserve my right to remember the history of the country from which my family originated, to define my own national identity, to express my views freely with no intention to offend anyone – I can’t do much about those who are offended by my existence or by the fact I don’t share their world view. I have no difficulty whatsoever with those who wish to remember their war dead and I simply ask for the same right to remember those whose I consider to be mine.

      6. muttley79 says:

        Yes, I do not think politics and football should be mixed. No, I do not have an agenda, although I am sick and tired of Old Firm politics. You simply do not know what I think of Northern Ireland and its politics. I also never claimed to speak of behalf of the Scottish people. That is a preposterous claim on your part. What I did say was that in my opinion the vast majority of people in Scotland are not bothered by hating people due to their religion. That was offered as a personal opinion. I mentioned the atrocities carried out by the PIRA. You are obviously uncomfortable with this. I mention the IRA’s massacres because some Celtic fans still like to sing about, and praise this organisation. Hear is a short list of some of their atrocities: Bloody Friday, Claudy, Shankhill Road, Warrington, Enniskillen, Kingsmills, Teebane, the Disappeared, Birmingham, Harrods etc. Please could you explain why singing IRA, or UDA/UVF songs is appropriate in the context of Scottish football? The simple fact is they have no place in Scottish football. Keep Irish politics out of Scottish football!

        1. Jeanette Findlay says:

          I refer to my previous post – it pretty much addresses all the issues you have repeated in your last post.

  3. Ewan says:

    Celtic do not need Rangers. Thanks for your comment anyway.

  4. gordoz says:

    The Sectarianism suggested (very much less now than 40yrs ago for sure) is the product of British Unionsim within Scotland. Much of which could be suggested has eminated from the Boardroom of Celtic Park and their past links with Labour and Westminster office; one cannot escape that fact.

    Think of Brian Wilson and John Reid and indeed Galloway to name a few tarnished individuals linked to the British state and therefore in a sordid way the promotion of anti Irish views.

    Looks like Rangers are on the way out (who really cares) I’m more of a fan of my country and if Celtic went the same way we would all get used to it.

    Only in a new Scotland, free from Britain will we ever grow up beyond this bile of sectarianism, who is truly religious and devout or staunch nowadays anyway. If you are religious at all (either side) you avoid sectarianism anyway.

    Lets put this to bed Scotland !

  5. habibbarri says:

    Why do we call the Rangers-Celtic violence, “sectarian”? These guys are neither Protestant (catholic) nor Roman Catholic. They never darken the door of a church from January to December. It’s not sectarian in any religious sense. I think it’s tribalism, and rather primitive tribalism at that.

  6. Tonyd67 says:

    There is no old firm Rangers where liquidated 18 months ago, and for someone who doesent support either Celtic or Sevco, you make a good case for the latter.

  7. Juteman says:

    I really don’t think it’s a ‘Scottish’ problem, but an Irish issue played out on the streets of west coast Scotland.
    From an east coast perspective, it seems to be just a continuation of NI’s problems.
    Second and third generations have simply continued with the politics of their fathers.
    Maybe it’s time for these folk to leave the ‘old country’ behind, and become fully engaged Scots.

    1. Jeanette Findlay says:

      Take out the reference to Ireland and put in Pakistani, Indian, Chinese, Polish or Italian and tell me if you would make that same comment? And if you would, how many replies would you have had by now giving your right bollocking! I’ll choose my own nationality if it is all the same to you Juteman.

      1. Juteman says:

        So what nationality are you?

      2. An Duine Gruamach says:

        Well Indians and Pakistanis aren’t fighting each other in Scotland, are they? They’ve by and large left the politics of their old country behind.

  8. Douglas says:

    I can’t say much about the book without having read it, but again, I think there is a tendency to see this in simplistic terms, which is to say, as a Scottish problem.

    This is a structural, institutionalised, deep-seated British problem which manifests itself with particular virulence in the west coast of Scotland for very specific geographical, political and historical reasons, which account for the rise of Celtic and Rangers too (no, I’m not saying they are the same thing)

    Frankly, I am tired of hearing it described as a Scottish problem. You can hardly expect Rangers FC to reform if the British state refuses to do the same, and more specifically, the Crown. The fans at Ibrox the other day were merely singing from the same hymn sheet as the British state, celebrating the Queen’s “defence of the protestant religion etc”.

    This is a real problem in the West of Scotland – I agree with muttley, I don’t think it’s nearly as much as an issue in the rest of Scotland – but it won’t be solved with tinkering with legislation. It will be solved with a new relationship between the individual and the state, and for that we need a secular republic.

    By the way, if there was a similar situation in England – say London had a big French Cathlolic population, and there was a civil war going just across the channel in the north of France – this would have been solved ages ago.

    Sectarianism has been allowed to fester because it manifests itself far away from London. Just like Ravenscraig, just like Trident, just like the social and deprivation of industrial Scotland, and all the other issues we need independence for to solve.

  9. Davy says:

    Is “sectarianism” really not a Scottish problem but only a Irish and/or British problem ?
    I think it coud be acknowledged the Scottish contribution to its development……..

    “Divisions developed between rural Highland and urban Lowland Scotland ; with notions of progress being associated with industrialisation, empire , anglicanisation , and Protestantism – and those of Highland , Irish , Gaelic and Catholic origin being perceived as “backward” and a potential internal threat to the image of a “modern” Scottish establishment , collaborating in the spoils of the British Empire……..
    …..That could be a more accurate definition of “sectarianism” – ie. as a form of North British/Protestant ideological chauvinism or supremacy – regardless of who were the objects of that chauvinism/supremacy…..
    ….Which could maybe also be characterised as “fenian-phobia” – the fear/anxiety of the ruling classes to the perceived threat to their authority posed by any combination of Irish , Catholic , Gael , republican , rebel.
    It would also filter down to “divide and rule” amongst the working class.”

    1. Douglas says:

      Davy, the most important thing in terms of a solution is the relationship between the state and the individual today, in 2103 in Scotland, rather than history and the past. Obviously Scotland has its own anti catholic story too, but that is true of many other countries in Europe where there is now no problem between Catholics and Protestants at all. Why is still happening in Scotland and what can we do to solve the problem?

      The first question is, what example is the state setting today? The British state has set the example that Catholics are not be trusted. When we talk about the Queen “defending the protestant religion”, who is she defending it from? I don’t think it’s from the Jews, Muslims or other religious groups living in Britain, it’s from Roman Catholics.

      If the state has that attitude, then it obviously follows that certain sections of the armed forces, the police etc will follow the lead. It doesn’t need to be spelled out for them and they’re only half aware of it probably.

      As for anti Irishness in Scotland, let’s remember that the massive Irish diaspora was just as much protestant as it was catholic, and that it was the massive influx of protestants from Ulster at the turn of the century which radicalised Rangers and turned them from a normal football club into a bastion of Orange anti-Catholicism, into effectively, the Queen’s Eleven. Celtic’s first match, if I remember rightly, was against Rangers, who were then just another team.


  10. Abulhaq says:

    This is a very complex issue for short comment. Linda Colley in her historical revisionist work “Britons” maintained that the identity of the British Folk/Volk was fundamentally Protestant. A distinct and separate identity from the Catholic European mainland which was perceived as foreign, politically complex, troubled and troublesome. Protestantism and the fear of Counter-Reformation Catholicism was at the heart of the Anglo-Scottish union; the English considering Scotland a weak link that needed to be tied in to the cause. This cause was largely a product of English not Scottish history. It vaunted the separateness, uniqueness and independence of the British/English worldview as compared with the supposed authoritarian and cosmopolitan “Catholic” regimes of Western and Southern Europe. British Islanders were different and that difference was “godly”. The myths of innocent suffering Protestant martyrs (eg Foxes Book of Martyrs beloved of the Rev Dr Ian) the vicious Catholic torturers,Whores of Babylon and the “hocus-pocus” of the rite of the Mass, being useful propaganda by-products of the ferment of the Protestant Reformation, were added to the construct. Again the bulk of this was English in origin as was the Bible translation used to expose the neo-pagan Catholic Church’s pivotal rôle in betraying Christianity. We Scots do not fit neatly into this. Our relationship with Europe was quite different from that of England as was our less sanguinary religious history. Ireland having a longer period of Anglicization than Scotland has been exposed to the raw edge of the them and us divide that still drives the English attitude to Europe; Ukip being the latest manifestation. Like the English historical experience the Irish one has essentially little to do with us. We have strong ethno-cultural ties with Ireland which are part of our national identity but as we approach a major change we must shed this cult of sectarianism. It is an acquired syndrome, it is not visceral and should be scotched.

  11. Douglas says:

    Re the massive Irish protestant immigration to Scotland, if I was a Celtic fan, and I’m not, and I heard the Rangers fans singing the famine song, I’d sing it back to them, it’s applicable to them too……it’s all just mindless nonsense which in country which actually decided its own affairs would no longer be a problem.

    It’s Westminster, they don’t give a flying F about “the Celtic fringe” as they call it, Protestants, Catholic, Jewish or Muslin, and they never did.

    There was mass persecution of protestants in France for centuries, and yet they seem to have solved that problem a long time ago. Why has the British State not done so?

    1. Murray McCallum says:

      “It’s all just mindless nonsense”.

      I’m with you there Douglas. I never cease to be astonished by people who seem to base their core outlook on life over a few events that happened several centuries ago. Maybe better for the people living in Scotland to think about our plans for the next 20-30 years rather than divide ourselves over the past 200-300 years!

      1. Jeanette Findlay says:

        And your evidence for this sweeping assertion is? I counter with some evidence from the University of Stirling (don’t have the reference to hand) which says that Church attendance is higher among those who regularly attend Celtic Park. I make no judgement on that fact, simply pointing out that you are wrong.

      2. Jeanette Findlay says:

        Sorry that last reply was not to you but to habibbarri

      3. Jeanette Findlay says:

        My reply to you Murray is that I would also be astonished if that is what people were doing. However, and I can only speak for myself and with a certain degree of confidence, many in the Irish community in Scotland, when I say that anti-Irish racism and anti-Catholic bigotry are alive and well in Scotland and we experience it to varying degrees now – not 200-300 years ago – now, today. You can all kid yourself on that it’s only in the West of Scotland, or only at football, or its the fault of the English and that indigenous Scots (whoever they are) are without fault or blame for anything. But kidding yourself on is what you would be doing.

      4. Murray McCallum says:

        Reply to Jeanette Findlay

        I prefer “people living in Scotland” (which is what I said) to “indigenous Scots”.

        As a de facto atheist from a Catholic-Protestant household I am well aware of bigotry, e.g. my late mother’s funeral could not be held in the local Protestant church and my late father’s friend who married a Protestant could not be married in our local Chapel.

        I simply do not understand why people parade around on certain days of the year and/or openly celebrate various forms of [glorious] death. I do understand that history shows it to be very easy to divide and rule tribal communities.

  12. Jeanette Findlay says:

    Almost all human society is a bit tribal so you could try not to sound so disparaging. So, I take it you are opposed to Remembrance Day or any war memorials or any military displays or any of that sort of thing? That would be an entirely respectable position but I just wondered if it was yours.

    By the way, not allowing people to be married according to the rites of the Catholic Church – or any religion – is not de facto a sign of bigotry – I have no doubt that the decision was based on the rules of the Church and that is their right. In case you are interested, I wouldn’t be allowed to get married in a Catholic Church either.

    1. Murray McCallum says:

      I do not celebrate any of the things in your first paragraph.

      Your knowledge of the rules of Churches exceeds mine. Interestingly, my late wife was a Protestant and we could not get married in our local Chapel – not because of her religion but because she was divorced. I found this concept interesting because the priest himself was a divorcee.

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