22nd Sep 2014

By Dave Scott, Campaign Director, Nil by Mouth

NBM Campaign Director Dave Scott
NBM Campaign Director Dave Scott

Last Thursday we took part in the biggest democratic exercise in Scottish history.  We read the leaflets, listened to the debates, spoke with activists and then went into polling booths to make our choice. Regardless of whether you voted ‘No’ or ‘Yes’  in an uncertain world where many people are denied the right to a free and fair vote the fact we had this opportunity is to be celebrated.

That is why it was beyond depressing that less than 24 hours after such a genuinely democratic process being concluded groups and individuals choose to act in an aggressive and sectarian manner toward fellow citizens in Glasgow City Centre.

There will no doubt be attempts by some to justify what happened but let’s be quite clear there can be no excuse for the type of scenes we witnessed on Friday night. No one voted for the people involved and the atmosphere they created was poisonous.  It’s even more depressing to think that whilst the world’s media was in town covering the referendum they were ‘treated’ to such a sorry spectacle of anger and abuse.

At its heart sectarianism has always been a fear of difference, a failure to understand why others choose a different path to our own be that religious, cultural or political. It’s a reactionary way of viewing the world, defining yourself by what you hate rather than what you believe in. Those with sectarian attitudes mutter darkly and like to give the impression that they alone represent the hopes and fears of their respective communities. They rely on our apathy, apprehension and reluctance to become involved. They tell us things have always been this way and that sides must always be taken. They deal in grudge and grievance, both real and imagined, and seek to transmit their hate from one generation to the next.

Those who filled George Square on Friday night where not there to celebrate democracy but to deface it and we can’t let this small minded minority scare us into thinking that change isn’t coming and that they are untouchable. Indeed the fact that the decent law-abiding majority of Scots have finally found their voice on sectarianism is part of the reason those who cling to the bitterness of the past are becoming so loud and shrill. They realise the ground beneath them is crumbling.  The scenes in George Square were worrying but they do not tell all of the story. Scotland does have a battle with sectarianism but it is one we are winning.

Over the last twelve months Nil by Mouth has worked in 19 local authorities across Scotland bringing our message of tolerance and change to thousands of people in schools, workplaces and communities. What’s been most heartening is watching grassroots projects springing up in schools in areas such as Armadale, Blantyre, East Kilbride and Inverclyde.  New friendships are being made, bridges built and barriers, mental and physical, dismantled. There are the brilliant ‘Shoes Brothers’ from Irvine, a Church of Scotland Minister and Catholic Priest who have been dancing their way across Scotland over the last few years with a simple message that we get more out when we join in together.

Earlier this year the Record supported our campaign for a restorative justice project with young people arrested for posting sectarian abuse on the internet to help stem the tide of cyber hate and create an environment for them to question their own behaviour. There are currently over 40 projects across Scotland working to bring people together and help us better understand difference.

All of us are standing up to be counted and we are not going to be intimated into silence.

At this unprecedented point in Scotland’s history we need to focus on things which unite rather than divide. Let’s make tackling sectarianism one of those things. Bigotry can only thrive if the rest of us shy away from standing up to it.  Democracy is not about who shouts the loudest or waves the most flags.  It’s about a society coming together to control its destiny. That is what we all did on Thursday whichever way we voted.  Let us refuse to let the loud and angry voices drown out debate and remind the world that we are the many and they are the few. By working together we have the opportunity to defeat sectarianism within a generation and consign it to the dustbin of history.

This article originally appeared in the Daily Record on 22nd Sep 2014