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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18 reader comments

  1. John Cawley says:

    Just had a look at Professor Adam Tomkins’ Twitter and he has retweeted a picture of a new book of relevance to this debate called Born Under a Union Jack. There is a definite Blue (as in Rangers) tinge to the unionist campaign from the grass roots.

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    If its possible for a moment to sideline the tragedy of religious sectarian hatred……

    Is it not ironic that Catholics in Scotland see the Westminster government as protectors, but the Catholics in Northern Ireland see them as oppressors?

    All of which demonstrates the utter superstitious insanity of all religion. The Jocks would do well to discount all that claptrap and concentrate on what it REALLY means for their future. Frankly, I’d put the Orange Lodges and Opus Dei in the same field and tell them to batter each other into unconsciousness and leave the rest of us to get on with our lives.

    As for George Galloway engaging the issue for “…his own political purposes…” – what are the Yes campaigners doing? Engaging it for Scotch mist?

    1. Johnny D says:

      Love the irony Philip. ‘Orange lodges and Opus Dei’ Ha Ha! Brilliant observation; the meeting point on the spectrum of nutters.

    2. Dano50 says:

      So you think it’s got something to do with a belief in God?

  3. BrianPowell says:

    Apparently the vote for Independence will only be won by only; the Catholic voters, the Polish voters, the women voters, the Asian voters, the absconding Labour voters, the Uncle Tom Cobble and all voters, but definitely not the SNP voters because there are only three or four of them.
    What all of the folks who are trying to claim this, they don’t seem to have considered the reality is that these are all the people who live in Scotland, who collectively as citizens of Scotland will win the Yes vote.

  4. ds says:

    I was astonished at your item on Catholics and the Independence vote.
    I am over 70 and a Catholic from birth and in all my years have NEVER heard your assertion being made that Catholics are wary of independence because of the fear that we would be in a minority and somehow make us liable to discrimination.
    Where is the evidence?
    Certainly the bile poured out by the sectarian bigots of the Old Firm is at least disgusting and NO part of everyday life.
    The Orange marches too are to be condemned but are tolerated under ‘freedom of speech’.
    I do not understand why marching through Catholic areas playing flutes and ‘celebrating’ victories hundreds of years ago has any part today.
    The English don’t celebrate Culloden in this manner!!
    There is sectarianism in the west coast but you do a mis-service to ordinary Scots by suggesting this is an issue.
    Your sources don’t live among ordinary people as I do.

    1. DervalDame says:

      I wish I managed to be as succinctly right to the heart as you have been. wholeheartedly agree with every word you wrote. Well said.

  5. John Cawley says:

    There is an element of the old divide in the current debate. The Union Jack has negative connotations for Scottish Catholics and there is the triple (I hesitate to use the word trinity!) alliance of Conservatives, Scottish Protestantism and Rangers FC. Indeed, Professor Adam Tomkins has retweeted a picture of a book titled Born Under a Union Jack covering the subject of RFC and the independence referendum. As Scots Catholics do not seem to have the same cultural affinity with the union, they seem more open to the notion of independence than their Protestant counterparts. Galloway may be a bit dramatic, but the cultural tensions he alludes to are definitely lurking.

  6. Hugh Clark says:

    Faith schools under a UK government are at risk.


    SNP are committed to denominational education.

    That should have been in your ‘report’ Gary Gibbon.

    For the record. I’ll never vote for SNP. I will vote YES for independence.

  7. DervalDame says:

    Just watched the news report on how Catholics may vote in the September referendum. I found it offensive, irrelevant and, potentially divisive in terms of framing the debate in religious terms. Religion has not and SHOULD NOT feature in this political debate. I said goodbye to my Grannie in Saint Patrick’s in Coatbridge this time last year. Her faith and fourth generation Irish background, and my faith and that of my extended family are in no way relevant as to how we will choose to vote.

    to follow interviews outside st pats with footage from an orange walk is really inflammatory at this time of year.

  8. Sir Budgie says:

    Jesus(pardon the pun). Is it conceivable that there could be a discussion on this issue without dragging the one thing – that has been dragging Scotland down – and continues to drag it down – religion? A cleverly disguised interference on the real issues concerning Scotland – independence. Stop muddying the waters with the old bile. Some of us look forward to positive debate without reference to the tawdry, ill-informed garb of some divided country. It’s all about Scotland – not the orange order or other such religious miscreants. Forza Alba.

  9. Matthew John Johnston says:

    Been doing your bidding for year that is part of the circus, fought you then even fought the Americans against independence for you, Mohawk, last two PM’s born in the UK. A simple pardon they wear your colors, that is all I asked her for after being loaded up. Never Unprepared. I will just keep coming. You went into recession because I did not tell you Rudd did not because he was told about the operation before we made him PM.

  10. James Sneddon says:

    You assert there was no ‘incidents’ apart from a motorist going the wrong way. How does the bottling of a 12 yr old girl and two stabbings sound? Chack out Sunday Herald before you make remarks like that. There is always problems with violence at OO marches. I’ve no doubt, like old firm games, there is a correlation between OO marches and domestic violence as well.

  11. Masson Adams says:

    George Galloway is a fool, he has turned his back on Scotland, and still promotes religious tensions at the drop of a hat, he was once admired, now he is a nobody up here, whilst north of the Mighty Tay in the Grampians, the Highlands and the Islands there is no such thing as the orange marches and we are all the much better for it, i am a Scotsman first and foremost irrespective of religion, and i want to be a free Scot, so on the 18th of September i will be voting for Independence, for our future generations and for social justice and to save our natural resources, this will not happen while we are still part of the westsinter system.

  12. AS says:

    I to am a Catholic who has been a member of the SNP for over 30 years and my Father has never voted for anyone else but the SNP.
    Religion shouldn’t come into it but with many Catholics having an Irish background then independence should be the most natural thing in the world.
    The labour party in Scotland have played the divide and rule card for to long. Glasgow council has been encouraging the Orange vote for years while claiming that the SNP are a threat to Catholics.
    This referendum isn’t about religion its about whats best for the country and Scotland becoming a normal country again is what is best for Scotland.

  13. james connor says:

    Galloway does not represent the Catholic community in Dundee. He has lived away for too long. As somebody similarly aged to George and was brought up in the same part of the city, I find it odd that he did not avail himself of the denominational education available on his doorstep, instead going to the non-denominational option. He only seemed to `find` religion when he started to represent Hillhead in Glasgow. He is an opportunist. Rumours persist that he has secretly converted to Islam.
    From what I can gather the Catholic community in Dundee along with there fellow Dundonians will be voting predominantly YES.

  14. Hugh Clark says:

    I think it is worth noting that I personally am not at all religious. In fact I see religion as a cancer. I am also aware that it most definitely will impact on a huge number of how voters and should be properly addressed. I think it’s foolish not to address this very real issue, however pathetic you personally think it is.

    I very sadly believe not enough people with vote for independence. The divide and conquor technique seems to have worked very well.

  15. DervalDame says:

    Hugh, on reflection there are those that may be influenced by their religious background, but I don’t think that small and mostly ghastly (as opposed to ghostly) minority will make any real difference to the vote.

    My comments were a kneejerk reaction to C4’s news item that caused me to almost choke on my tea at yet another news piece that showed an astonishing level of ignorance about the grown up grass roots non-party affiliated debate that is happening in our towns, villages, communities – and pubs!? To introduce religion into this really peed me off.

    I am not religious, I was indoctrinated into Roman Catholicism at birth, as soon as I was old enough to think for myself I chose another path.

    My wee brother (who lives in Moscow so has no vote) did respond to my rant on a social media website thus:

    “I do actually remember Granny expressing a genuine concern that Scottish Nationalism was a Protestant conspiracy to abolish Catholic schools in Scotland. Not quite sure where she got that idea from, but my guess is that it was probably the Labour Party in Coatbridge trying to combat the rise in SNP support, particularly following Jim Sillars’ defection. Anyway, it does seem that this belief was actually a thing for a while. Not sure how relevant it is these days though. Sounds a bit like the Unionist cause is trying to resurrect a dead horse to see if it’s worth giving it another flogging.”

    Caused me to ponder about ghosts…..

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