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.

6. Where sectarianism happens

6.1 In this report, we want to focus on a deeper understanding of sectarianism's variations and historical and local community contexts, rather than large-scale geographic distinctions. Media debate about sectarianism often focuses on supposed personality characteristics, good and bad, of people from specific parts of Scotland. But much of a community's history of problems with, or freedom from, sectarianism has to do with quite separate factors of history and environment.

6.2 The results are not easily predictable. For instance, our Western Isles participants sometimes pointed to the closeness and long history of the communities as a possible reason that sectarianism was not a larger problem than it was, despite strongly Catholic and Protestant communities living side by side. In contrast, an Edinburgh participant observed that he had worked in parts of the Borders where parts of some towns had long-established, stable communities - but rather than acting as a buffer against bigotry, these had created the conditions for prejudiced beliefs to be transmitted through the areas and take hold.

6.3 With this in mind, it is useful to consider what participants had to say about where identifiable incidents happen.

Location and timing

6.4 The locating of sectarianism was a highly contested issue across the focus groups and interviews. For those living outside of Glasgow, there was general agreement that sectarianism was a problem of 'the West of Scotland'. However, in the Glasgow case study, some participants claimed that sectarianism was more prevalent in the surrounding areas than it was in the city of Glasgow itself. Furthermore, some of our participants who lived in more isolated communities felt that it would be easier to exclude people based on religious affiliation given the close-knit nature of the community; they argued that this would be more difficult in a large city like Glasgow where people were less familiar with each other.

6.5 Although participants tended to locate sectarianism as an issue for west-central Scotland, those who had experienced sectarianism did so in a wide range of different places and times, including when visiting Glasgow if they did not live there, but importantly, also in their own neighbourhoods, or in nearby communities. From the focus groups and interview data, it appeared that community experiences of sectarianism were more intense in west-central Scotland than in the other communities we visited, but stories were told about sectarianism in all of the communities.

6.6 There were specific places and times that our participants flagged up as increasing the likelihood of them experiencing sectarianism. The days on which football matches happened (particularly involving Celtic and Rangers but also sometimes relating to other teams such as Hibs and Hearts) were mentioned frequently. Specifically, some participants referred to being cautious about visiting - or even walking by - specific pubs on these days. Some said they avoided routes to football grounds and to town centres, particularly in the evenings after a game. Some stayed in their homes, or, more rarely, left the neighbourhood completely.

6.7 Some mentioned being careful on public transport due to what they felt was the increased likelihood of them getting caught up on some form of sectarianism. Indeed, public transport was mentioned by a number of participants, both in relation to football matches but also more generally, both in the past and still today:

And you'd be in trains where there was inappropriate language being used.
(Woman, Interview 1, Western Isles)

Ibrox and Celtic Park, they are the Coliseum of sectarianism. That is where the battles are played out. And I would describe getting the bus to Glasgow like the chariot in Ben Hur. You know, it erupts. It erupts and that's where I find myself hearing it. And half the time it might be somebody who is completely drunk saying something or having a wee rammy with somebody or it can just be people randomly expressing that ignorance.
(Man, Interview 5, Glasgow)

6.8 Several stories were told during one of the Glasgow focus groups of incidents with taxi drivers refusing customers service due to their perceived or admitted religious background, or in one instance a customer refusing to enter a taxi due to the perceived religion of the taxi driver himself.

6.9 As well as being careful about visiting pubs and using public transport on match days, participants also discussed being careful about wearing specific colours on these days in order to minimise the chance of them running into trouble.

Certainly through my partner's family, so he is from just outside Glasgow, again kind of leafy suburbs, but his kind of main focus point was Glasgow. They're from a Church of Scotland family, they're Rangers supporters, and the stories that he would tell about going into Glasgow and having to be like having to be really careful about what he'd wear and not going into the wrong pubs, always having coins in his pockets to throw at people in case like trouble started and those sorts of stories kind of really made me eh yeah, it kind of opened my eyes a little bit because I think it's like growing up in England, you don't really, well, and also having gone to the school that I went to, I didn't really think about religious differences as that big an issue.
(Man, Interview 4, Edinburgh)

6.10 Aside from match days, participants referred to a range of places and times when they had experienced sectarianism, or when friends and family members have encountered it. Some were cautious about how much personal information they revealed about themselves to others they met because they were concerned about being judged and associated with having a particular religious affiliation. Here, participants were sensitive about revealing their surname, their educational background and their family history.

6.11 Concerns were raised by a small minority of the participants about experiences of sectarianism in recruitment practices - such as during interviews when the interview panel have access to their CV and knowledge of their surname and educational background - as well as with regards to their general treatment in the workplace and their access to promotion opportunities. There were few accounts of this being personally experienced by participants but this was still expressed as a concern by some.

6.12 Alcohol was also mentioned by many participants when asked what cultural aspects of Scottish society helped contribute towards sectarianism. Aggressive behaviour in environments that might otherwise remain enclosed could spill out into more public places. One participant, when asked whether she had herself seen any violence that she would put down to sectarianism, said that a street near her home had been closed off due to violence between rival groups drinking in two separate pubs at either end of the street.

6.13 Social media, online environments, and email presented another set of locations where participants recalled experiences of sectarianism. One participant in Edinburgh recalled a particularly nasty experience of sectarianism over email but for most, their experiences were not personally directed at them but were visible to them through the complex layers of information and comments posted on social media. These experiences or encounters varied in nature and intensity but many resulted in some sense of discomfort for the participants. This has similarities with Noble's (2005: 110) discussion of racism where he mentions that 'this might include name-calling, sometimes said aggressively, sometimes not, jokes in bad taste, bad manners, provocative and offensive gestures or even just a sense of social distance or unfriendliness or an excessive focus on someone's ethnicity [or religious affiliation]'.


6.14 What was striking was not just where sectarianism happened, but where it did not. A distinctive word that participants often used to describe sectarianism (but not to describe other exclusions such as racism) was 'pockets'.

6.15 Even in the most troubled areas, this came up. Rather than just meaning a fixed geographical place, however, it seemed to be a synonym for something more extreme than the places or people around it.

Sometimes this meant particular people associated with a specific geographical place:

Quite a lot of supporters live outside and travel through, drink in those pubs and then travel to the match ... So we see the pockets of it when they come in to our area.
(Man, Interview 3, Edinburgh)

Or a particular workplace:

Discrimination, yeah, in very, very isolated pockets. I know some companies, I know one in particular who wouldn't give a job to a Catholic. And it's just like, it is daft. It is really daft. And it is that caveman mentality.
(Man, Interview 6, Glasgow)

But it also could be flash incidents:

if you ever see a violent scene ... Fortunately enough the stewards were brilliant and they literally dragged these guys off the terracing at a rate of knots ... but the thing could have spilt over and I'm thinking that was vile and, you know, it was a pocket but quite vicious, you know.
(Focus Group 1, N Lanarkshire)

And sometimes it referred to an outdated mindset:

But that doesn't mean to say that there isn't, that there is no problems at all. There are still pockets of it, you have to be honest, admit there are pockets of it. There are pockets of it where it goes back to the Reformation ... And that is still lingering, yeah there are pockets of that still lingering.
Focus Group 1, Western Isles)

6.16 It is these distinctive elements that perhaps create so much difficulty for attempts to estimate the prevalence and nature of sectarianism in Scotland. As we saw in the two chapters on the 'discursive deficit' and 'where sectarianism happens', in public and in private, there are a great many spaces where sectarianism does not exist or is not expressed.

Gender spaces

6.17 One element that came out strongly is how much of the public display of sectarianism is divided by gender. Sectarianism in Scotland has been argued to be a masculine problem (Deuchar 2009; Deuchar & Holligan 2008; and Murray 2000). The examples of sectarian behaviour discussed by our participants were usually masculine behaviours directed by men at both men and women.

I think there is a big thing, especially in kind of male circles in Glasgow, where the banter does kind of skirt that line and there is kind of racist slurs and sectarian ones as well which aren't extensively kind of meant in a hurtful way but, kind of, the language that you would associate as being harmful and painful is kind of dressed up as a bit of fun.
(Woman, Interview 2, Glasgow)

6.18 The following examples emphasise how ingrained this can become:

I think it's more family. If you've got like family members that are involved like, well, hooliganism for example, that runs in families. If your grandad's done it, your dad's done it, there's a high chance that you're gonna do it. It's probably the same with sectarianism as well, it's down to the way you're brought up.
(Man, interview 7, Edinburgh)

Cos your dad tells you you're a Rangers fan but he also tells you that along with that you're a Protestant, but he fails to mention what a Protestant is or what they believe in, although you'll kind of know what they believe in because he'll kind of, you know do certain things that fit in, but you don't really know but you know your dad's a Protestant and a Rangers fan and he's told you you are, so you can do that too. And then when you get older you mix with people who have had similar sort of experiences, but some might know exactly what it is that they represent, and some people might you know, know nothing, and I suppose that's where it, that's why I think it comes from, it comes from a kind of misunderstanding of, you know, what's going on.
(Man, interview 5, Edinburgh)

6.19 Women's roles within community experiences of sectarianism were not seen as wholly passive. They did not though feature as heavily within the more violent and aggressive forms of sectarianism that were cited. They take evasive action to avoid the risk of conflict, they develop strategies to protect their families (Goodall and Malloch 2013), and like men they are vulnerable in public spaces such as the school and the workplace. However they too can transmit prejudices and they have an established role in some public events, including ones seen by many of our participants as a cause of trouble. Nevertheless, our participants repeatedly blamed men.

6.20 They also criticised certain masculine cultures. Football, marching, music and parades were often said to create unnecessarily aggressive and intimidating (masculine) environments. This shapes communities and can infiltrate other spaces, notably public transport and main retail streets on the days around major events, but also the home. One of the men who took part said:

This isn't just about class, it's definitely about gender because let's face it, the people that suffer most from the fall-out of sectarianism are women … the whole thing about sectarianism is about the families and it's about communities.

I think it's like any kinda, when you talk about sectarianism there's people out there playing a war out in their minds and sometimes in their homes, and women and children are always the collateral. You know, for me … How many children have been physically and mentally abused and suffered? Because … how many have got a slap from their dad? How many, for disagreeing, or not being man enough, or you know?

6.21 Nearly all of the recollections about sectarian jokes and banter were about men engaging in such behaviour with other men, and pubs and drinking culture were often the context in which such actions were experienced or overheard. It came over strongly that the use of humour and banter about sectarianism is overlaid with masculine attributes and qualities.

6.22 As some of our participants noted, this may simply be minor humour between close friends; however, the combination with alcohol may easily result in jokes and banter spilling over to alienate others. Worse still, as our participants explained, this may then become aggressive and violent, resulting in the exclusion of those men and women who are in the minority or those who are mistaken for having a particular affiliation.

Personal experiences of endemic sectarianism

6.23 We did come across a small number of participants who spoke of constant sectarian abuse in their everyday lives. One was a Catholic woman working in a Rangers-affiliated bar. She said that she encountered sectarian behaviour often, that it had led to violence in her Glasgow pub in the past and that she was confident it would again. She observed that it was not unusual for her regular customers to refer to her using highly offensive sectarian language ('dirty Fenian bastard'), but was insistent that it did not bother her.

Interviewer: How common is it, sectarian language in your pub?

Participant: Quite common.

Interviewer: Quite like daily?

Participant: You'll hear it at least once a day.

Interviewer: You'll hear sectarian language once a day?

Participant: Aye, aye.

Interviewer: Even though there's no Rangers game on?

Participant: There could be something on the news aboot the Pope and that's it, it starts them off or.

Interviewer: Is it some … do they need a trigger?

Participant: Naw.

6.24 The night before Celtic and Rangers games in the city, however, she would normally be unable to sleep, worried about the next day and what it might bring. Religion, she said, generally did not play a role in her life. Catholicism meant little to her identity and only became an issue when she went to work.


Email: Linzie Liddell

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