Alex Massie

Not in My Name

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Tom Harris, urbane and sensible blogger and, despite that, Labour MP for Glasgow South, writes:

It’s called “Scotland’s shame” for a reason: sectarianism makes you feel embarrassed to be Scottish. I hate it when the subject is even raised when I’m with English friends because I imagine they must look at us as a backward nation. That is, after all, a logical conclusion: what kind of people still think it’s remotely acceptable even to care about what religion other people follow, never mind object to that religion? What kind of nation still tolerates this kind of mindset?

This, of course, is the standard formula used by politicians and pundits. Sectarianism is a national badge of shame which must be worn by all right-thinking Scots. Accordingly, we are all complicit and each of us is responsible for our share of this national embarrassment. 

Well, count me out. Sectarianism doesn't make me "embarrassed" to be Scottish for the simple reason that it has almost nothing to do with my Scotland or my sense of Scottishness. There'd be no more logic in my being embarrassed by this than there was for those Americans who declared themselves "ashamed to be American" when George W Bush was electe President in 2000.

Because the truth of the matter is that sectarianism is a localised problem. To call it "Scotland's shame" is to conflate Glasgow and west-central Scotland with the rest of the country. There's no reason for Glaswegians ashamed of their fellow Glaswegians to spread their embarrassment around and cover the rest of us with the stuff. The fact that there may be plenty of bigotry in the west doesn't excuse west of Scotland politicians for implying that everyone else is a bigot too.

Mr Harris comes close to acknowledging that this is a local not a national problem when he adds:

The only time I ever seriously contemplated moving out of Scotland was in 1992, following the birth of my eldest son. I dreaded the idea of bringing him up in a city where so many people gave a toss about what school he went to.

But of course he wouldn't have had to leave Scotland would he? He'd have just needed to leave Glasgow. He could have moved to Perthshire. Or the Borders. Or the north-east. Pretty much anywhere, in fact, outside Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and parts of West Lothian. But apparently we - all of us - must assume collective responsibility for the behaviour of bigots and morons from Larkhall or Coatbridge. 

No-one in their right mind would pretend that there aren't problems with religious bigotry in Scotland (though one might also note that they're rather less acute than they have been in the past). But it's only in the west of Scotland (and pockets of the central belt) that the hospitals are full after each Old Firm game. It's only there that there's a chance you coud be stabbed or kicked in the head for wearing the wrong colour of football shirt. 

By and large the rest of us manage to get along without any of this. But the official attitude - as parroted by Mr Harris - is that we're all guilty. After all, if it's Glasgow's problem it must be Scotland's problem, right? How could anyone suppose there'd be any difference between the local and the national? That's akin to arguing that a chap from Naas or Mullingar should have been embarrassed to be Irish because the IRA was blowing people up in London. That didn't make sense then, and this blather about "Scotland's shame" doesn't make much sense now.

Glasgow's shame? For sure. Everyone's? No way. Not in my name.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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