Publication - Research and analysis

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2014: Public Attitudes to Sectarianism in Scotland

Published: 20 Feb 2015
Part of:

This report sets out key findings from the 2014 Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA) on public attitudes to sectarianism in Scotland.

98 page PDF

1.3 MB

98 page PDF

1.3 MB

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2014: Public Attitudes to Sectarianism in Scotland
1 Introduction

98 page PDF

1.3 MB

1 Introduction


1.1 Sectarianism exists in one form or another around the globe, but in the specific context of Scotland the term is usually used to denote the inter-faith tensions between Catholics and Protestants that are part of the historic legacy of Scotland. The religious roots of such tensions are, however, now complicated by associations with ethnicity, political nationalism and sporting allegiances. The complexity of this cultural phenomenon and the diversity of its impacts and consequences are captured in the independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism's working definition of the term:[2]

Sectarianism in Scotland is a complex of perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, actions and structures, at personal and communal levels, which originate in religious difference and can involve a negative mixing of religion with politics, sporting allegiance and national identifications. It arises from a distorted expression of identity and belonging. It is expressed in destructive patterns of relating which segregate, exclude, discriminate against or are violent towards a specified religious other with significant personal and social consequences

(Scottish Government, 2013a, p.18).

1.2 The Scottish Government's Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism was established in 2012 with the specific aim of raising the level of discussion and debate about sectarianism and identifying effective ways of tackling it. A core component of the work of the Advisory Group has been to consider existing evidence about the nature and extent of sectarianism in Scotland and to make recommendations about expanding and underpinning the evidence base in this area. To that end, the Scottish Government conducted an evidence review (Scottish Government, 2013b), which highlighted a lack of detailed information about the patterning of beliefs and attitudes about sectarianism across Scotland as a whole. This report aims to address this gap, using data from the 2014 Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA).

1.3 The remainder of this introductory chapter outlines the rationale, context and aims of this report, outlines some key challenges in researching attitudes to sectarianism, and summarises the report structure and conventions.

Research and policy context

1.4 The Scottish Government has expressed a commitment to creating a sectarian-free Scotland.[3] To this end, £9 million has been committed between 2012/13 and 2014/15 to tackling sectarianism. The Advisory Group's progress report (Scottish Government, 2013a) highlights a number of areas where there is potential for action to tackle issues around sectarianism. These include: leadership, at political, organisational and community levels; marches and parades; football; community activity; and education.

1.5 As discussed above, the Advisory Group has also identified a need for a better evidence base on sectarianism in Scotland. In recent years, the Scottish Government has published more data on sectarian and religious hate crime, including analysis of administrative data on religiously aggravated offending and charges under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act 2012 and analysis of new questions in the Scottish Household Survey and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey on experiences of and concerns about discrimination or harassment believed to be motivated by sectarianism. New research has also been commissioned to ensure that policy makers have an accurate and triangulated account of the nature of the problem of sectarianism in Scotland. This includes research into the community impact of public processions (marches and parades - see Hamilton-Smith et al, 2015), community perceptions of sectarianism, and public attitudes towards sectarianism, the last of which has resulted in this report. These projects are detailed in the Scottish Government's response to the Advisory Group (Scottish Government, 2014).

1.6 The 2014 SSA module on sectarianism builds upon previous survey research on Sectarianism in Glasgow (NFO Social Research, 2003), as well as previous modules on religion and discrimination in SSA (e.g. Bruce and Glendinning, 2003; Ormston et al., 2011).

1.7 The most rigorous existing piece of research on public attitudes to sectarianism was conducted in 2003 in Glasgow (NFO Social Research, 2003 - referred to as 'The Glasgow report' in the remainder of this discussion). The Glasgow report found that a majority believed that many different forms of sectarianism were common, including harassment, violence, vandalism, threats, sectarian language and sectarian jokes, although personal experience of crime or discrimination attributed to sectarian motives was rare. This suggests a gap between perceptions and experiences of sectarianism similar to that often found in relation to perceptions of crime in general (see paragraph 1.11, below).

1.8 A majority of people in Glasgow thought there was prejudice against both Catholics and Protestants, although more recognised prejudice against people from minority ethnic groups. The rivalry between Celtic and Rangers was the most commonly mentioned factor people thought contributed to the perceived sectarian divide in the city. Although rare, religion was the most frequently cited reason respondents gave for being excluded from, or made to feel uncomfortable at, social occasions. This report addresses many of the same themes as the 2003 Glasgow report, but unlike the earlier study it explores views on these across the Scottish population as a whole. Where possible and appropriate, comparisons with this earlier research are included in discussion.

The challenges of researching sectarianism

1.9 Researching public attitudes to sectarianism presents a number of challenges in relation to understanding and defining key terms, avoiding 'socially desirable' responses, and tapping into views and experiences of a phenomenon that may be expressed in more or less overt and subtle ways.

Understandings of 'sectarianism'

1.10 Sectarianism is a word which is widely used but is not always understood in a consistent manner. This presents a challenge in exploring views of sectarianism - people may be answering questions with different kinds of behaviours or attitudes in mind. In order to address this, many of the questions in the SSA 2014 asked about sectarianism indirectly, focusing on perceptions of discrimination against Protestants and Catholics, or on respondents' feelings in specific situations where religion may be an issue. Where the term was used directly, for example in questions about what contributes to sectarianism, these questions were placed towards the end of the module, prefaced by a brief clarification of how the term was to be understood.[4]

'Subtle' expressions of sectarianism

1.11 While sectarianism is sometimes associated with 'overtly aggressive bigotry', or with 'anti-Catholic', 'anti-Protestant' or 'anti-Irish' prejudice, the Advisory Group's report also refers to 'polite, educated expressions [of sectarianism] which are subtle but no less potent [than overt bigotry]'. The problem with such 'subtle' expressions of sectarianism is that they will be largely invisible to most of those affected and highly diverse in character. It would be almost impossible to document their prevalence, impact or consequences via a social survey. However, in an attempt to capture some of this subtlety, the survey asked about whether the respondent had ever thought twice about telling someone about their own religious beliefs, or lack of them. It also asked about attitudes towards jokes about Protestants and Catholics, and the use of specific terms ('Fenian' and 'Hun') which could be considered derogatory. These questions were included in the self-completion section of the survey, in order to try and reduce the potential for respondents to give 'socially desirable 'responses.

Overt sectarianism - a perception gap?

1.12 Recent evidence from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (Scottish Government, 2014b) and the Scottish Household Survey (Scottish Government, 2014c) has shown that relatively few people report they have been directly affected by more overt expressions of sectarianism, such as violence, verbal abuse or overt discrimination. [5] However, a sizeable proportion of the public, especially in the West of Scotland, appear to view sectarianism as a problem (Scottish Government, 2013b). This again signals the need for measures that speak to more 'subtle' forms of sectarian behaviour. As indicated above (1.7), there may be parallels here with the so-called 'perception gap' in relation to crime more generally (see Duffy, Wake, Burrows and Bremner, 2008) - a gap which often closes when people are asked to consider the extent of crime, not within Scotland or society as a whole, but within their immediate environments and communities. A similar approach was adopted in SSA 2014 - respondents were asked about their views of sectarianism across Scotland as a whole and in their own local area, as well as being asked where in Scotland they thought sectarianism was most common.

Report structure

1.13 The remainder of this report is structured as follows:

  • Chapter 2 explores the nature and structure of religious identity, belief and belonging in Scotland, as well as some of the relationships between religion, familial and social ties, and football.
  • Chapter 3 assesses whether or not sectarianism is in fact seen as a problem in Scotland. It explores perceptions of sectarian prejudice, discrimination and harassment in different contexts (comparing national and local) and views of whether or not relationships between Catholics and Protestants in Scotland have improved over time.
  • Chapter 4 examines beliefs about what contributes to sectarianism in Scotland, and who is seen as best placed to tackle it.
  • Chapter 5 explores feelings about various overt and subtle expressions of difference between Catholics and Protestants in Scotland, including marches and parades, denominational schools[6], jokes and potentially offensive terms relating to religion, and attitudes to inter-faith marriages. It also explores people's preferences for socialising with people of a similar religious orientation to themselves.
  • Chapter 6 examines personal experiences of discrimination and exclusion on religious grounds.

About the data

1.14 The Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA) was established by ScotCen Social Research, an independent research organisation based in Edinburgh and part of NatCen Social Research, the UK's largest independent social research agency. The survey provides robust data on changing social and political attitudes in Scotland to inform both public policy and academic study. Around 1,500 face-to-face interviews are conducted annually (1,501 in 2014) with a representative probability sample of the Scottish population. Interviews are conducted in respondents' homes, using computer assisted personal interviewing. Most of the interview is conducted face-to-face by a ScotCen interviewer, but some questions each year are asked in a self-completion section. The response rate in 2014 was 54%. The data are weighted to correct for over-sampling, non-response bias and to ensure they reflect the sex-age profile of the Scottish population. All sample sizes shown below the charts and tables show unweighted bases. Further technical details about the survey are included in Annex B and full tables for all questions covered in this report are shown in Annex A.

Analysis and reporting conventions

1.15 All percentages cited in this report are based on the weighted data (see Annex B for details) and are rounded to the nearest whole number. All differences described in the text (between years, or between different groups of people) are statistically significant at the 95% level or above, unless otherwise specified. This means that the probability of having found a difference of at least this size, if there was no actual difference in the population, is 5% or less. The term 'significant' is used in this report to refer to statistical significance, and is not intended to imply substantive importance. Further details of significance testing and multivariate analysis conducted for this report are included in Annex B.


Email: Linzie Liddell