2 Jul 2014

Independence, ghosts and ‘Stormont Scotland’

The Queen was in Glasgow today inspecting some of the Commonwealth Games venues. She missed last night’s march in Govan by the Orange Order honouring her crown and the Protestant religion – I didn’t see her there anyway. It was a peaceful affair – the only incident was some booing of a motorist who took a wrong turn and came to regret blocking the parade.

There are, we are told, more Orange marches in Glasgow and the surrounding towns than there are in Northern Ireland. Sectarian divisions have diminished and, until Glasgow Rangers‘ recent troubles, they mainly came to public attention when the “Old Firm” games between Celtic and Rangers took place.

But does sectarian feeling still lurk more widely? Is Glasgow, in one comedian’s words, “Belfast lite?” Will some Catholics voting in September’s referendum still be guided by decades of discrimination?

‘Just Say Naw’

George Galloway, brought up in Dundee’s Catholic community though now a Bradford MP, thinks they should be. He’s touring Scotland with his “Just Say Naw” campaign, telling Catholics that there is anti-Catholic bigotry not far below the top level of the SNP. They’ll close Catholic schools given the chance, he says. It’ll not be “a cold-water Cuba,” as promised by the SNP, he told me, but “Stormont Scotland”.

Dennis Canavan, like George Galloway a Catholic with Irish ancestry and like George Galloway once a Labour MP, says his old parliamentary colleague is talking rubbish and stirring up the past to suit his own political purposes.

Many experts will tell you there is no such thing as the “Catholic vote” in Scotland any more. Marrying out, secularisation, the ending of widescale discrimination in the workplace have broken up the near uniform block vote for the party of labour, the Labour party. Many have now voted SNP in Holyrood elections. Many are considering voting for independence.


Prof Sir Tom Devine believes that if the yes side win, it will be thanks to something that was for decades unimaginable: Catholics voting for an independence that they so long deeply feared.

It’s all more complicated by the fact that so many Scottish Catholics have Irish ancestry, impoverished antecedents who crossed the Irish sea to flee the famine. That makes the lifelong supporter of the pro-UK Labour party sometimes a proud nationalist when it comes to matters Irish but an uncomfortable but devout unionist at home.

I hear of pro-no Labour MPs trying to get the Orange Order to call off its planned big parade in Edinburgh on the weekend before the referendum. They’re worried it might just tip some Catholic voters into the rival camp.

Orange Lodges

You get a flavour of the messages that offend if you look at the British Together website of the Orange Lodges where it’s suggested that Alex Salmond is buying off Catholic welfare claimants with generous payments.

Sources inside Better Together mutter that they’re less than thrilled about the Orange march that’s planned for Edinburgh the weekend before the referendum. Those same sources though mutter quietly that they don’t back the campaigns run by the Orange Lodges or the words of George Galloway but find both quite useful “reaching voters” they can’t get to.

The ghosts aren’t banished here. They’re much diminished but they lurk.

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