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

A summary of the evidence on sectarianism in Scotland


In 2013 the Scottish Government published a review of administrative and social science evidence on the subject of sectarianism in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2013). It drew on data from the criminal justice system, the 2001 census and other surveys to provide insight for on-going debates on the subject. It also noted some important gaps in the evidence base and suggested a number of pieces of further research to improve the evidence base.

Since the 2013 paper was published, the Scottish Government and the independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland have commissioned further analysis including quantitative and qualitative research projects, to fill some of the evidence gaps.

This paper therefore provides an update to the 2013 paper, and summarises some of the new evidence that has been collected, including a nationally representative survey of public attitudes to sectarianism in Scotland, qualitative research in communities where sectarianism was perceived to exist either currently or historically, research to understand the impact of public processions (including Loyalist and 'and Irish Republican marches) on communities, as well as further analysis of the 2011 census, the Scottish Household Survey (SHS), and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS).

The subject of sectarianism can be read across a range of disciplines and so the review makes no claim to having identified all evidence and sources which might be relevant to discussions of sectarianism. However a broad corpus of literature has been identified, and accessed through web-based search engines, including academic and government library searches and government policy and research sites[2]. While there is a great deal of literature in which academic commentators debate the existence and extent of sectarianism in Scotland[3] , this paper does not seek to rehearse these arguments but instead focuses the discussion on the empirical evidence.

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, the paper 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, as some academic commentators have, whether there is any evidence of structural disadvantage for Catholics in Scotland.


Email: Ben Cavanagh

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