by Dave Scott, published in the Inside Track, Herald, Friday 3 January 2014

Last month saw the publication of the long awaited Morrow Report providing Scottish Ministers with advice and perspective on the future direction of anti-sectarianism policy.

One of its most interesting lines states ‘many senior and influential people across society’ had failed to acknowledge the problem or show the leadership required to tackle it.
There is a danger in allowing this to be viewed simply as a historical failing. ‘Institutional sectarianism’ can still be found and it thrives when left to lurk in the shadows, unchallenged and overlooked.

Those who posses sectarian attitudes mutter darkly and like to give the impression that they alone represent the hopes and fears of their respective communities. They tell us things have always been this way. They rely on our apathy, apprehension and reluctance to become involved.

The hardest set of barriers to dismantle are those we allow others to build in our heads and for too long ‘Civic Scotland’ displayed a marked reluctance to properly address sectarianism.

Yet, there is huge potential for institutions, particularly within the public sector, to reinforce the message that bigotry’s had its day.

In 2011 Nil by Mouth launched our ‘Beyond Religion and Belief’ project seeking to raise awareness of sectarianism in the workplace. Since then we have been reminded of the challenges many people still face: the teacher overlooked for promotion, the nurse abused in an A&E ward because of the colour of their tabard or the name on their ID badge, staff frozen out when overtime is available or the office worker constantly subjected to ‘banter’ from colleagues.

In 2012 City of Edinburgh Council became the first local authority to sign up to participate and we have since worked with hundreds of its staff. The partnership has been a success and feedback has been extremely positive yet other local authorities seem hesitant to become involved. Why is this? Do they feel that it isn’t a problem or is it easier to avoid the elephant in the room? It’s not as if there isn’t evidence of problems: several councils have had to discipline staff for sectarian behaviour over recent years yet when approached, they inform us that there isn’t a problem and things are being dealt with ‘internally’.

Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away and that is why we have contacted more than 100 public bodies offering to work with their staff, managers, HR departments and equality officers to ensure everyone is clear what’s not acceptable in a 21st-century workplace.

There is also currently a procurement bill making its way through Holyrood which seeks to ensure public sector contracts and practices maximise wider social benefits and objectives. Surely, it’s possible to insert a clause in this bill that would ensure any successful bidder for lucrative public sector contracts must have a stated anti-sectarian policy and offer awareness training to staff?

Neither of these proposals carry any real financial cost and would help provide protection for staff and clarity for employers. By signing up to these practical and cost-effective measures our institutions can help chase sectarianism out of the shadows once and for all.