12 Sep 2014

Paisley’s death revives memories of sectarian Scotland

Ian Paisley’s death comes on the eve of a big pro-union Orange Order march in Edinburgh. It means headlines for two days running in the last stages of the Scottish referendum will have reminders of sectarian divisions which still haunt parts of Scotland.

Last week, one Scottish Catholic Labour MP told me emphatically that the flight of traditional Labour voters to the yes camp over the summer was dominated by Catholic voters. A Catholic Labour peer steeped in Scottish Labour politics spontaneously said exactly the same to me. Plenty more Scots Catholics insist that the “Catholic vote” term is utterly antiquated and now redundant.

Earlier in the summer we reportedĀ onĀ the embers of sectarianism that still smoulder in parts of Scotland. They are widely extinguished but it would be wrong to say they don’t remain.

Descendants of Irish immigrants who were loyal to Labour for decades long held on to feelings of Irish nationalism while supporting the union. Some trappings of the union, such as the monarchy, were remote if not alien, but class and political attachments trumped such feelings. Over time, the Thatcher years, Labour neglect and relentless work by the SNP helped to weaken the links to the union and/or Labour.

Will two days of Protestant supremacist imagery on the news bulletins add to that effect? Labour MPs have been sufficiently worried to plead privately with the Orange Order to stand down its march. They can now look forward to a day or so of TV news bulletins showing the union jack in the possession of Ian Paisley, the Orange Order and for good measure, up on a visit tonight, Nigel Farage. Not the grid Better Together would want.

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