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

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

This document is part of a collection

2 Religion, Football and Social Ties

Key points

  • The proportion of Scots who do not identify with any religion increased over the 2000s, from 40% in 1999 to 54% by 2013.
  • The increasing secularisation in Scottish society in recent decades has particularly affected affiliation with the Church of Scotland, which fell from 35% in 1999 to 21% in 2014. The proportion claiming belonging to the Catholic church barely changed over the same period.
  • People's willingness to acknowledge a religious affiliation is clearly affected by how they are asked and in what context. More people consider themselves to be Protestant, Catholic or Christian than say they 'belong' to any Christian church.
  • Religious identity appears to matter more to those who consider themselves to be Catholic compared with those who identify as Protestant. Catholics are also more likely to claim to attend church more regularly.
  • Very few (5% or less) Catholics or Protestants in Scotland do not know anyone of the other faith. The majority have a close friend of the other faith.
  • Catholics (52%) are more likely than Protestants (19%) to have family ties with Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.
  • Most Scots (58%) do not support any Scottish football team. The most widely supported by far are Glasgow Celtic and Rangers, each supported by 12% of the Scottish population.
  • While just over half of each of these club's support comes from people of the religion they have been historically associated with, they also gain support from people of other religions or none. However, relatively few Catholics support Rangers or Protestants Celtic.

2.1 The working definition of sectarianism adopted by the independent Advisory Group, and used in this report (see p1), views it as originating in religious difference but reflecting a 'distorted expression of identity and belonging' expressed in 'destructive patterns of relating'. In order to understand the context in which sectarianism may arise, it is therefore important to know something about the religious beliefs and identities of people living in Scotland. This chapter summarises findings from SSA on changing patterns of religious belonging and practice over time. It explores levels of religious identity in 2014, highlighting significant differences between religious identity and belonging. The level of social interaction between Catholics and Protestants in Scotland in 2014 is examined. Finally, in light of perceived associations between sectarianism and football team allegiance, it also looks briefly at the level of support for Scottish football teams (particularly the 'Old Firm' teams, Glasgow Celtic and Rangers) and how this interacts with religious identity. Many of the questions introduced in this chapter are used in subsequent chapters to analyse attitudes to and experiences of sectarianism.

Trends in religious belonging and practice

2.2 Scotland is often regarded as an increasingly secular society. In every year since 1999, SSA has asked people 'Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?'. As Table 2.1 shows, in 1999 there was evidence of a large secular minority in Scotland - as many as 40% said that they did not regard themselves as belonging to any religion. However, this proportion steadily increased over most of the 2000s, and by 2013 over half (54%) said they did not belong to any religion - clear evidence of an increasingly secular population.

Table 2.1: Religious belonging, 1999-2014, SSA

99 00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 09 10 11 12 13 14
% % % % % % % % % % % % % % %
No religion 40 41 37 42 43 47 46 46 50 52 48 53 53 54 44
Church of Scotland 35 35 36 31 32 29 28 27 25 22 24 22 20 18 21
Roman Catholic 14 12 14 15 13 12 12 12 12 12 13 12 12 13 14
Other Christian 10 10 11 10 10 9 11 13 11 12 12 10 12 11 15
Non-Christian 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 5

See Annex A, Table A.1 for sample sizes

2.3 Given this trend, it comes as something of a surprise that in the most recent survey the proportion who said they did not belong to any religion has fallen, from 54% in 2013 to 44% in 2014. However, this finding seems most likely to be an artefact of questionnaire content and ordering effects rather than a reflection of any true upsurge in religious adherence in Scotland. It is already known that the proportion who claim adherence to a religion depends on how and when people are asked about this issue. The 2011 Scottish Census, for example, asked, 'What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?', a wording that arguably assumes religious affiliation and does not explicitly invite the response 'none' - only 37% said that they had no religion, while higher proportions (compared with SSA 2014) said they belonged to the Church of Scotland (32%) and the Roman Catholic church (16%) (National Records Scotland, 2013). This year's SSA was the first since 2001 to carry an extensive range of questions about attitudes to religion or relationships between different religious groups. As Table 1 shows, in 2001 the proportion who said that they had no religion also fell somewhat (from 41% in 2000 to 37%). It is evidently possible that when, as in 2001 and 2014, a question about religious belonging is preceded by other questions about religion some people are stimulated into reporting a largely latent religious affiliation that they would not otherwise have acknowledged.

2.4 There is certainly no evidence of any increase in religious practice since 2013. Just 13% of respondents to our most recent survey who were either brought up in a religion or said they currently belonged to one said that they attended a religious service or meeting once a week or more, slightly lower (though not significantly different from) the 16% figure for 2013. The figure is notably down on the 19% who did so in 1999 (see Table 2.2).

Table 2.2: Frequency of attendance at a religious service*, selected years, 1999-2014

1999 2005 2010 2013 2014
% % % % %
Once a week or more 19 16 15 16 13
Never or practically never 49 54 60 56 54
Sample Size* 1327 1352 1264 1198 1260

*Based on all those either brought up in or expressing belonging to any religion

2.5 The increased secularisation of Scottish society since the late 1990s is also apparent if we compare those who say that they currently belong to a religion (Table 2.1) with the proportion who say they were brought up in a religion (Table 2.3). Although the proportion is a little higher in 2014 (19%) than in 1999 (12%), still only a minority say that they were not brought up in a religion as a child. This is far short of the 44% who, in 2014, said they do not currently belong to any religion.

Table 2.3: Religion respondent brought up in, 1999-2014

99 00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 09 10 11 12 13 14
% % % % % % % % % % % % % % %
Church of Scotland 54 54 54 50 52 49 47 47 44 43 41 39 38 35 36
Roman Catholic 18 17 17 20 18 19 19 17 18 18 20 21 18 19 20
Other Christian 14 15 15 14 16 15 17 18 17 18 19 15 18 20 20
Other religion 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 3 2 2 3 3 3 3 5
No religion 12 14 13 14 12 16 15 16 18 18 17 20 22 23 19
Refused/Don't Know/NA * - * 1 1 * 1 - 1 * * * 1 1 *

See Annex A, Table A.1 for sample sizes

2.6 The recent secularisation of Scottish society has not, however, occurred evenly. Reference back to Table 2.1 shows that over the last 15 years the decline in religious adherence has in fact been almost wholly confined to those who describe themselves as 'Church of Scotland'. In 1999, 35% of people in Scotland said they belonged to the Church of Scotland; in 2014, this figure was just 21%. The proportion who say they are Catholic has barely changed at all (14% in both 1999 and 2014), while those who say they are 'Other Christian' (most of whom do not claim membership of any particular denomination) has actually increased, from 10% in 1999 to 15% in 2014. There has also been a marked increase, from 1% in 1999 to 5% in 2014, in the proportion who say they belong to a faith community other than Christianity, amongst whom the largest group are Muslims (3% in 2014). The increase in those identifying as 'Christian' but not affiliating themselves with any particular denomination could also be interpreted as a sign of increasing secularisation: perhaps for some a 'Christian' identity has taken on a looser, more cultural meaning, and one which does not necessarily imply connection with a particular church. It may also, in part, reflect the ordering effects noted above - in 2013 the figure for those identifying as 'Other Christian' was lower at 11%.

2.7 As we might anticipate, given that religious adherence appears to have been declining over time, the proportion of younger people who say that they do not belong to a religion is considerably greater than the proportion of older people who do. As many as two-thirds (68%) of those aged 18-24 say that they do not belong to any religion, compared with just one in five (22%) of those aged 65 and older (Table 2.4). Patterns by age also highlight the fact that increasing secularisation has affected the Church of Scotland in particular - while younger people are much less likely than older people to say that they belong to the Church of Scotland (6% of under 25s compared with 45% of those aged 65 or older), younger people are almost as likely as older people to say that they are Catholic (12%/14%) or 'Other Christian' (10%/16%).

Table 2.4: Religion belong to by age group, 2014

18-24 25-39 40-64 65+
% % % %
Church of Scotland 6 7 21 45
Roman Catholic 12 13 16 14
Other Christian 10 11 18 16
Other religion 4 13 2 2
No religion 68 56 42 22
Unweighted sample size 100 303 665 430

2.8 Those who say they are Catholic are also more likely than those who claim adherence to the Church of Scotland to regularly attend church. As many as 43% of Catholics say that they attend a religious service at least once a month, compared with 32% of Other Christians and just 22% of those who say they belong to the Church of Scotland - though none of the Christian groups match the equivalent figure of 52% amongst (the relatively small number of) non-Christians.

2.9 However, if increasing secularisation in recent decades appears to have disproportionately affected the Church of Scotland, there is some evidence that the Catholic Church is not immune from this trend. Analysis of childhood religion by current religion shows that as many as 26% who say they were brought up as a Catholic now do not consider themselves to belong to any religion. Thus the level of adherence to the Catholic Church may also be declining over the longer term.

Nature and strength of religious identities in 2014

2.10 Historically, sectarianism in Scotland has most commonly taken the form of those who regard themselves as 'Protestant' discriminating in some way against those who are thought to be 'Catholic', and vice-versa (although some have argued that anti-Catholic sentiment has been the far more prevalent form of sectarianism in Scotland). Such a phenomenon may be thought to be as much to do with people's sense of social identity as with any religious 'belonging' or practice. The latter may imply a deeper set of beliefs or a more involved sense of membership of particular religious traditions than that claimed by some people who nonetheless identify with a particular religious label in some looser sense. SSA 2014 therefore also asked people whether they thought of themselves as any of the following:



Christian (but neither Protestant nor Catholic)


Belonging to another religion

Having no religion

2.11 When asked about their religious identity in this way, 30% of people in Scotland think of themselves as Protestant and 15% consider themselves to be Catholic. Another 15% think of themselves as Christian, but neither Protestant nor Catholic, while 3% say they are Muslim and 1% identify with another religion. One in three (33%) do not identify with any religion at all.

2.12 This pattern of responses suggests two key points. On the one hand, rather more people claim a religious identity than feel that they belong to a religion. While 44% say they do not think of themselves as belonging to a religion, only 33% think of themselves as having no religion (Table 2.5). Cross-tabulating these two questions also shows that as many as 23% of those who say they do not belong to any religion nonetheless identify as Protestant (12%), Catholic (3%) or Other Christian (7%). To that extent religious feeling is more pervasive in Scottish society than is apparent from questions about belonging, let alone attendance at a religious service.[7]

Table 2.5: Religious belonging and religious identity, 2014

Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion? Do you think of yourself as any of the following?
% %
No religion 44 33
Protestanta 25 30
(Roman] Catholic 14 15
Other Christian/Christian but not Catholic or Protestant 11 15
Non-Christian religion 5 5
Sample size 1501 1501

a - 'Protestant' in the first column includes all those who said they belonged to the Church of Scotland, Church of England, Anglican, Episcopal, Church in Wales, Free Church/Free Presbytarian, Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed, Congregational, or Brethren

2.13 On the other hand, overall less than half of people in Scotland in 2014 identify themselves as either Protestant or Catholic. In so far as sectarianism arises from 'a distorted expression' of such religious identities, it is perhaps important to note that only a minority (albeit a large one) of people in Scotland still explicitly identify with these labels. In the remainder of this report, we primarily use this question on religious 'identity', rather than the longer-standing question on religious 'belonging', to look at differences in attitudes between Protestants and Catholics. This choice reflects the argument that sectarianism primarily has to do with (distorted) expressions of religious identity, which may not necessarily be underpinned by any deeper sense of religious belonging or attachment to specific churches.

2.14 If these looser religious 'identities' are more widespread in Scotland than feelings of 'belonging' to specific churches, they are not necessarily very strongly held. In fact, only a half of people in Scotland (50%) either 'agree' or 'strongly agree' that their religious identity 'is an important part of who I am'.[8] However, as Table 2.6 shows, some of those who agree with that statement do so in respect of not having any religion - 38% of those who thought of themselves as having no religion considered this to be an important part of who they are. If this group is excluded, only 37% of Scots can be said to have a 'religious' identity that they consider to be an important part of who they are. That figure falls further to 25% when only those who say they are Protestant or Catholic are included - in other words, being Protestant or Catholic was an important part of the identity of just a quarter of Scots in 2014.

Table 2.6: Strength of religious identity by religious identity, 2014

Being (religion) is an important part of who I am Religious Identity All
Protestant Catholic Christian Other Religion No Religion
% % % % % %
Strongly Agree 14 27 17 45 12 17
Agree 31 45 33 51 26 33
Neither 28 15 29 3 32 26
Disagree/Strongly Disagree 26 13 21 1 30 23
Unweighted Sample Size 520 200 251 49 475 1495

Note: Those who said, 'Strongly Disagree' have been combined with those who simply say they disagree because only 4% of all respondents have that response

2.15 Religious identity appears to matter more to those who regard themselves as Catholic than it does to those who consider themselves to be Protestant. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of Catholics agree that their Catholic identity is an important part of who they are, compared with less than half (45%) of Protestants.

2.16 Much the same pattern is obtained if those who claim a religious identity are asked 'how religious' they are. Whereas 63% of Catholics say that they are 'very' or 'fairly' religious, only 41% of Protestants and 39% of 'Other Christians' express that view. Overall, just 32% of all Scots in 2014 claimed to be 'very' or 'fairly' religious.

Family and Friendship Ties

2.17 Existing research shows that those who know people with particular characteristics often hold less discriminatory views about people with those characteristics in general (Ormston et al, 2011). In order to explore whether the same is true of sectarian attitudes in Scotland, SSA 2014 looked at whether those who identify with different religious traditions have different or overlapping social networks. Respondents were asked 'Thinking about the people you know, which of them, if any, are Catholic?'. They were asked the same question about anyone who is Protestant. In each case, respondents were given a list of the kinds of people whom they might know, ranging from their partner/spouse through to other family members, friends and, finally, work colleagues.

2.18 As Table 2.7 shows, there is a high degree of overlap in the social networks of Catholics and Protestants in Scotland. Just 5% of those who consider themselves to be a Protestant said that they did not know anyone who was a Catholic, while only 4% of Catholics indicated that they did not know someone who was Protestant. In fact those who identify as Catholic or Protestant are less likely to say they do not know someone from the other tradition than are those who say they are Christian but not Catholic or Protestant or those who say they do not belong to a religion. It may perhaps be that those who do not feel that they belong to either religious tradition are less interested in and are thus less aware of the religious sympathies of their friends and acquaintances.

Table 2.7: Proportion who do not know anyone who is Protestant/Catholic by Religious Identity, 2014

Religious Identity All
Protestant Catholic Christian Other Religion No Religion
Protestant * 4 13 35 16 10
Catholic 5 0 11 10 12 7
Unweighted sample size 520 200 251 49 475 1501

* Less than 0.5

2.19 Looking in more detail at the kinds of social ties Protestants have with Catholics (and vice versa) shows that relatively fewer Protestants (18%) have a close family member (that is a partner, parent, child or sibling) who is Catholic, though as many as 30% of Catholics say they have a close family member who is Protestant. This difference may reflect the fact that there are fewer Catholics than Protestants in Scotland - there is more chance of a Protestant marrying in to your family as there are more of them. Friendship more clearly extends across the religious divide. No less than 81% of Catholics say that they have one or more friends they know fairly well who is Protestant, while 76% of Protestants report having a close friend who is Catholic. Friendship is thus the source of most integration between Protestants and Catholics in Scotland, and is the principal reason why most people who regard themselves as Protestant have at least one Catholic in their social network, and vice-versa.

2.20 Protestants and Catholics remain relatively distinct, however, in the extent to which they have family connections with one or other part of the island of Ireland. Slightly over half of Catholics (52%) report having family connections in either the north or the south of Ireland, whereas only 19% of Protestants do so. The latter figure is little different from that for those of no religion (22%) and only a little below that for those who simply regard themselves as Christian (27%).

Religion and Football

2.21 As we demonstrate later in this report (Chapter 4), there is a widespread popular belief that sectarianism and football are linked in Scotland. Media debate about sectarianism has often focused on the 'Old Firm', given the historical relationship between Glasgow Rangers and Protestantism and Glasgow Celtic with Catholicism. The sectarian character of songs and chants heard at some Scottish football matches has been a focus of recent legislation under the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012.

2.22 We asked our respondents which Scottish football clubs, if any, they supported. The majority of Scots (58%) do not support any Scottish club. But amongst those who do, those who support either Celtic or Rangers predominate. Around one in eight Scots (12%) support Celtic while the same proportion support Rangers. No other club's support approaches anything like these levels; the level of support for the next most popular clubs, Aberdeen and Hearts stands at just 3% (for detailed figures, see Annex A Table A.11).

2.23 Scottish men are nearly twice as likely as Scottish women to support a football club (over half of men, 55%, compared with just 29% of women). 16% of men support Rangers while 15% support Celtic (among women, the equivalent figures are 8% (Rangers) and 10% (Celtic)).

2.24 The historical relationship between the 'Old Firm' and religion is reflected to an extent in the religious identities of Rangers and Celtic supporters. A majority (56%) of those who support Rangers regard themselves as Protestants, but a substantial minority do not. Nearly a quarter of Rangers supporters (23%) do not identify with any religion at all, while 13% say they are Christian. Equally, a majority of Celtic supporters (56%) regard themselves as Catholic, but 23% do not identify with any religion at all, while 14% simply regard themselves as Christian. In each case, while around half the club's support comes from the religion with which they are historically associated, the relationship with religion is far from clear-cut.

2.25 However, given that there are only half as many Catholics as Protestants in Scotland, these figures imply that a Scots Catholic is twice as likely to be a Celtic supporter as a Protestant is to be a Rangers supporter. Indeed, whereas only 22% of Protestants support Rangers, as many as 45% of Catholics support Celtic. Meanwhile, neither club is very successful at securing the support of those who identify with the religious tradition of their 'Old Firm' rivals. Just 5% of Celtic supporters say they are Protestant while only 3% of Rangers supporters claim to be Catholic.


Email: Linzie Liddell

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