Correspondence regarding the use of terminology around sectarianism: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Information requested

All emails, briefing documents that are internal to the Scottish Government highlighting the use of the terms anti-Irish catholic, anti-Irish or anti-Catholic. Also asking if this change from the term sectarian or racist will only apply to anti-Irish Catholic perceived hate crimes or will the force e.g. use the phrase anti British Protestant hate crimes?

Additionally request all correspondence between the Scottish Government and Police Scotland, from its ministers, SPAD's and civil servants discussing the change of terminology from sectarian to anti Irish or anti Irish Catholic etc.


Attached is a copy of most of the information requested. 

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested because exemptions under section 30(b)(i) (free and frank provision of advice) and 38(1)(b) (personal information) of FOISA apply to that information. The reason why these exemptions apply is explained in the Annex.

Regarding the use of the terms sectarianism, anti-Irish and anti-Catholic, the Scottish Government has made no policy changes. I can confirm that the current position of the Scottish Government is that we have accepted the definition of sectarianism that was included by the independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland in their final report which stated that:

Sectarianism in Scotland is a mixture of perceptions, attitudes, actions, and structures that involves overlooking, excluding, discriminating against or being abusive or violent towards others on the basis of their perceived Christian denominational background. This perception is always mixed with other factors such as, but not confined to, politics, football allegiance and national identity.

Therefore, while we continue to use the term ‘sectarianism’ in appropriate circumstances this does not preclude the use of more specific terms – such as ‘anti-Catholic’; ‘anti-Protestant’; ‘anti-Irish’; or ‘anti-British’ – when circumstances merit the use of these terms.


Exemptions under s.30(b)(i)

An exemption under section 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) applies to some of the information you have requested because disclosure of information would, or would be likely to, cause substantial harm to the free and frank provision of advice. This exemption recognises the need for candid discussion so that advice can be given freely and that the most appropriate judgement is reached having considered every option. This exemption is subject to the 'public interest test'.

Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption. We recognise that there is some public interest in release because of interest in an open and transparent government. However, this is outweighed by the public interest in continuing to ensure advice can be offered freely and frankly, enabling all options and concerns to be fully considered before the best final decision is reached. In all applications of this exemption within this FOI, which redacts discussion around the wording of lines in response to media enquiries, the final agreed lines following free and frank provision of advice remain included.

Exemptions under s.38(1)(b)
An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA applies to some of the information you have requested because it is personal data of a third party, for example names of individuals or other personal data such as email addresses and phone numbers. Disclosing this data would contravene the data protection principles in the UK General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018.

This exemption is not subject to the ‘public interest test’, so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

About FOI
The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at

FOI202100234954 - Information released


Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

Back to top