Community Experiences of Sectarianism

This study explored community experiences and perceptions of sectarianism, based on in-depth qualitative research within five case study communities across Scotland. The insights obtained provide depth and context to other research about sectarianism, including quantitative survey and national criminal offending data.

16. Strengthening communities

16.1 Many participants offered their views on what might be done in their local area to reduce problems of sectarianism. A popular solution was education, whether through schools or through community programmes that could reach families.

Sometimes if you are really wedded to an identity and somebody else has a different identity, then you can see where there is potential for conflict there. But I think what averts that particularly here, I just think it is this push on tolerance. Particularly at the school … now the kids actually write their sort of anti-bullying policy and they are tolerant of not just themselves and each other but the world at large, and all the different religions and all this thing. And you think wow, the fact that they are buying into it is what makes it work.
(Woman, Interview 1, Western Isles)

16.2 Many of our participants saw sectarianism as something that derived from ignorance and from values learned through families and social contacts. It was common for participants to say that there is no quick solution. A few argued that current generations could not be reached, and that the answer was to focus on the young. Poverty and social exclusion were also emphasised as a cause by several participants.

16.3 As we have mentioned in this report, some suggested other solutions such as banning or severely limiting Loyalist and Irish Republican marches and parades (this would however be difficult to reconcile with rights of freedom of expression); ending (or, for others, continuing) separate schooling for children of different religious backgrounds; and greater use of criminal sanctions (whether as a 'zero tolerance' approach in everyday policing, or particularly in relation to football disorder). Some saw faith bodies as a means of integrating communities; in contrast others insisted religion would need to decline before sectarianism could:

People don't care enough about it here, man, people don't care about religion's dying, so the quicker the churches just shut up shop … and the lodges do the same, that would get rid of it.
(Man, Focus Group 2, Glasgow)

16.4 Evaluating such suggestions is outwith the focus of this report. It may be useful here, though, to examine specific instances where the communities we studied appeared to have some success in dealing with problems they identified as sectarian. What works may be a local solution suiting a particular area, rather than a nationwide one. Furthermore, if one result of the 'discursive deficit' is that people tend not to talk about experiences of sectarianism, then it may be difficult for anti-sectarian initiatives to attract community support. In such cases, a local approach may be helpful.

16.5 In the Western Isles, we encountered stories about sectarian incidents but found relatively little concern about the impact of these, when compared to other case study sites. Participants spoke freely and confidently about experiences they or others had had, and issues that concerned them. When asked what worked in their community as a means of tackling sectarianism, several focused on the close social relationships within their local area that crossed religious groups.

16.6 Religious observance was much more important to the communities here than in the other case study sites, but both individuals and their religious representatives had strong interactions and deep ties. These could be found in their local communities, in shared religious ceremonies, and in the interactions promoted within the local schools. One man, who was an atheist himself, said about a Catholic official:

He told me that when he was young … Sunday comprised of going to the Roman Catholic Church in the morning and going to the Presbyterian service in the afternoon and then going to another one ... He says they didn't escape from religion but they saw both sides … So there was no fear of the unknown and there was no sort of 'them and us' and there was just a recognition that they had slightly different beliefs and there was no problem because there was no physical separation. Eh, and this as I say is a high-ranking member of the Roman Catholic Church in the islands to this day
(Man, Interview 8, Western Isles)

16.7 One young woman said, about her previous home:

… It is quite a Catholic area, and we were made to feel very welcome. They all knew we were Protestant ... And that didn't seem to make any difference to people down there. They were equally friendly, welcomed us into the village, stop and speak … we socialised equally and the people were equally inviting in terms of invitations to birthday parties for our kids and things like that … What they did there was they offered everybody who wasn't a crofter a potato patch on the machair … what they did was they ploughed it for you next to their potato patch and you got, you know, so many strips. And then they would harvest it for you as well.
(Woman, Interview 1, Western Isles)

16.8 There appeared to be significant social support that would help to neutralise the harm caused by sectarian incidents. Much of this reflects the distinctive histories of the islands, so is not generalisable beyond them to Scotland as a whole: what is interesting is how this succeeds locally.

16.9 Elsewhere, several participants focused on the multicultural, cosmopolitan culture that had developed in their local area. Some saw this as diluting old, possibly sectarian identities. Although not all participants welcomed the arrival of new ethnic communities, for others, transient populations were seen as beneficial: some saw the changing populations as a means by which communities learned to be more tolerant.

I think [our area] is lucky that it's never had a group over a period of history that has settled and built up that sort of base for sectarianism … that's what sectarianism is, an extremism and … ah … I don't feel that we have that in [our area]. I think we have, where it's a busy city, everyone is busy, everyone is exposed to a multicultural society from an early age, and people are very tolerant of everyone around them.
(Man, Interview 3, Edinburgh)

16.10 As we mentioned in Chapter 4, some participants expressed concern, however, about presenting sectarianism as a Scotland-wide problem or an element of the national character, fearing that this would encourage other Scots to adopt sectarian identities where they were not currently present.

Thinking about my nephews so they're up in Aberdeenshire, and they em, they get taught about sectarianism in the classroom, but the teacher was saying … that they actually know nothing about it and then they teach it as part of, you know, the government wants sectarianism talked about in the schools, and he says that they teach it and then the kids go out into the playground and then they suddenly start saying 'oh you're a Protestant, you're a Catholic' which they didn't do before. So it's almost a kind of product of, it's supposed to address the issue but it seems to kind of raise it in people's consciousness.
(Woman, Interview 4, Edinburgh)


Email: Linzie Liddell

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