An Examination of the Evidence on Sectarianism in Scotland: 2015 Update

A summary of the evidence on sectarianism in Scotland

Executive Summary

This paper provides an update to the summary of evidence on sectarianism that was published by the Scottish Government in 2013. It summarises some of the evidence that has been collected since then, including information about public attitudes to sectarianism in Scotland, qualitative research in communities where sectarianism was perceived to exist either currently or in the past, research to understand the impact of public processions on communities, and further analysis of the 2011 census, the Scottish Household Survey, and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey.

The paper begins by providing an overview of religious affiliation in Scotland before examining data on perceptions and experiences of sectarianism. In exploring the extent to which sectarianism actually presents itself in Scotland, it draws on national data on sectarian-related crime and evidence about expressions of sectarianism in different locations and situations. Given the limited research on the experience of sectarianism, the paper also explores, the question of whether there is any evidence of structural disadvantage for Catholics in Scotland.

Religion in Scotland

The 2011 census provides evidence of further secularisation of Scottish society since 2001, with a substantial increase in the proportion of people who say they have no religion (from 28% in 2001 to 37% in 2011). Between 2001 and 2011 there was a further decline in the proportion of people identifying as 'Church of Scotland' from 42 to 32 per cent of the population, whereas the proportion who identified as Roman Catholic stayed the same (at 16 per cent).

Perceptions of sectarianism

  • Perceptions of sectarianism in Scotland are still strong. The vast majority (88%) of people in Scotland believe that sectarianism is a problem, although 69% of people think it is a problem only in parts of the country and only 19% people think that it is a problem throughout Scotland.
  • It is more commonly perceived as a problem in Glasgow and the West of Scotland.
  • There is evidence of perceived improvement in relationships: almost half of people in Scotland think that relationships between Catholics and Protestants have improved over the last ten years.
  • There are some perceptions of job discrimination against Catholics and Protestants - 24% of survey respondents think this happens 'some' or 'a lot' of the time to Catholics, and 17% to Protestants.
  • When asked about Scotland as a whole, most survey respondents didn't think that it was likely that either Catholics or Protestants would be harassed or threatened because of their religious identity, but 35% thought it very or quite likely that Catholics would experience such treatment, while 28% thought the same for Protestants. However, when asked about harassment in their own area, lower proportions said this was a problem (9% for Catholics and 8% for Protestants). Thus for many, sectarianism is viewed as a problem that happens elsewhere in Scotland.
  • People living in the most deprived areas of Scotland are more likely than those living in more affluent areas to think that harassment of both Protestants and Catholics is very or quite likely in their area.
  • Football is the most commonly mentioned factor people believe contributes to sectarianism in Scotland (88% mentioned it, and 55% thought it was the main factor). The next most commonly mentioned contributory factors were Loyalist (including Orange Order) marches (79% mentioned it, and 13% thought it the main factor) and Irish Republican marches (70% mentioned it, and 3% thought it the main factor).
  • The qualitative research found gender to be an important factor both in terms of sectarian behaviour, and sectarian victimisation. The examples of sectarian behaviour that were raised in the study were usually about male proponents - in pubs and drinking settings, as well as within family life.
  • The qualitative research also found that perceptions of sectarianism were sometimes inherited from older generations, and from earlier eras, which were sometimes perceived as the source of the more bitter examples of sectarian feelings. The research also found examples of historical sectarian prejudice that lived long in the memory.

Experiences of sectarianism

  • In contrast to the strong perceptions of sectarianism in Scotland, there is evidence to show that personal experiences of it are relatively uncommon in terms of harassment, discrimination and criminal victimisation.
  • The Scottish Household Survey (2013) reported very low levels of self-reported sectarian discrimination and harassment in the last 3 years. Overall, 7% of the sample reported that they had experienced any kind of discrimination - and 6% of adults reported experience of any kind of harassment. However, only 0.3% of the sample reported sectarian-related discrimination and 0.2% reported sectarian-related harassment.
  • The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSA) survey found a higher prevalence of discrimination than the Scottish Household Survey (SHS), with Catholics much more likely to have ever been the (self-reported) victims of employment discrimination. Fourteen percent of Catholics said they had been refused a job or promotion (compared to 1-5% for other groups) and had also experienced more harassment or threats because of their religious beliefs (15% compared to 2-10% for other groups). The higher reported prevalence in the attitudes survey is likely to be due to the fact that this is based on a longer time frame and may include historical experiences as well as recent experiences.
  • Relatively few people are worried about being personally insulted, pestered or intimidated for any reason. Just 3% of respondents in the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SHS) said they were worried about being personally victimised for 'ethnicity/race' or 'sectarianism' reasons. The level of worry appears to decrease with age. Young people were more worried about being harassed for sectarianism reasons (5% of those aged 16-24) than older people (1% of those aged 60 and over), although this may be connected with the higher perceived risk of general victimisation among younger people.
  • Over recent years the SCJS has reported relatively low levels of sectarian crime. In 2008/09 1% of crimes were thought to be motivated by sectarianism, falling to 0.5% in 2009/10. In 2010/11 it was 1% while in 2012/13 (the most recently available figure) it was again 1%.
  • Religious hate-crime accounted for around 10% of all hate crime charges in Scotland in 2013-14 (racial hate-crime accounted for 69%), and is at its lowest level since 2009-10.
  • Roman Catholicism has been the religion most commonly cited in reported 'religiously aggravated' charges in the last four years since these statistics have been presented. In 2013-14, 63% of charges included reference to behaviour that was derogatory towards Catholicism - although this represents a year-on-year reduction in 'Catholicism' related charges since 2010-11, and a 5% decrease in 2013-14 from the previous year.
  • In 48% of cases the religious prejudice was directed towards a police officer, in 26% of cases it was directed towards the general community, in 27% of cases towards a member of the public and in 11% of cases to someone else working in their official capacity. The fact that so many incidents were directed towards the police or someone acting in their official capacity suggests that, in many cases, the accused was unlikely to have known the religion of the victim and that the religious abuse may have been arbitrary in nature.

Indicators of structural disadvantage

  • This section considers whether there is any evidence of structural disadvantage (or the inequality in opportunity one would expect to arise if there were systemic discrimination) due to sectarianism. It does this by conducting 3 main tasks. Firstly, it uses the latest census information (2011) to look at the demographic differences between Catholic and Protestant (defined as Church of Scotland) populations in Scotland. Secondly, it looks at data from a range of sources (2011 census, Scottish Household Survey, Labour Force Survey, and Scottish Crime and Justice Survey) to compare outcomes across a range of key variables including income, health and employment status. Lastly, it reports on a statistical analysis of the data (logistic regression) which allows the assessment of the relative impact of religion (or more specifically 'Catholicism') compared with other key demographic and socio-economic variables in terms of 'predicting' economic outcomes. The combination of these three tasks allows for an initial assessment of structural disadvantage.
  • Consideration of the demographics of Catholic and Protestant populations from the latest census, found that there are some marked differences in the make-up of these two populations. Catholics had a younger age profile than those affiliated the Church of Scotland, indeed this has become slightly more marked between the 2001 and 2011 censuses. Catholics also had a more diverse ethnic identity and were more likely to have been born outside of the UK than those affiliated with the Church of Scotland. Catholics were also more likely than Church of Scotland affiliates to have dependent children and to be lone parents. Some of these differences are likely to be related (i.e. younger people are more likely to have dependent children), however it is important to note these differences between the 2 populations as they are likely to provide an explanation for other measures (i.e. younger people may be expected to be more likely to have better health).
  • Analysis of Census and other national survey data was conducted to investigate evidence of disadvantage for either Catholics or those who belong to the Church of Scotland. This showed that there is little difference in terms of income, occupational class or educational attainment[1], and some indication (when comparing the 2001 and 2011 census results) of an improving picture. In terms of health, this seems to be the case, with tentative indications that, although Catholics were historically more like to suffer poor health, these differences may be disappearing. Examination of economic activity data showed that although unemployment rates were higher among Catholics than those affiliated with the Church of Scotland, they were in line with the Scottish average, with Muslims most likely of all groups to be unemployed. In 2011, as in 2001, Catholics were more likely than those of the Church of Scotland to rent their homes, be the victims of crime and experience imprisonment, although these differences may (at least partly) be attributed to the higher proportion of Catholics living in the most deprived areas.
  • Evidence shows that differences are more apparent amongst older generations than younger generations. This suggests that the socio-economic position of Catholics has improved over time, with recent census data providing tentative support for this contention (in terms of education and health). However, further sweeps of the census will shed light on whether this is indeed the case and the apparent trend continues, or whether, there is an 'age effect' and disadvantage only becomes apparent as people get older.
  • Consideration was also given to how far religion (or more specifically Catholicism) was an 'explanatory' factor in terms of predicting outcomes in terms of "education or employment"[2]. Results of a logistic regression analysis which explored this found that 'individual' variables (gender, lone parent, ethnicity, health, qualifications) had the biggest impact on economic outcomes. These did not change greatly when 'Catholicism' was controlled for, and only changed slightly when regional effects were accounted for. However, there does appear to be a slight generational difference, with Catholicism found to have a positive, but marginal effect on economic outcomes for young people aged 16-24, but a negative (again marginal) effect for older people aged 50-64. This does not mean that the younger Catholic population is 'more successful' or indeed 'less successful', than the non-Catholic population. It simply shows that 'individual' effects, and not 'Catholicism', have a stronger association with economic outcomes. While it is recognised that there are a number of limitations to the regression analysis (including the dichotomous categories of 'Catholic' and 'non-Catholic'), based on the models as specified, evidence suggests that 'individual' factors (i.e. gender, lone parent, ethnicity, health and qualifications) have a greater effect than religion in shaping economic outcomes, with no evidence found to suggest persistent anti-Catholic discrimination.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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