December 15 2017

In this week’s Opinion Blog, Nil By Mouth Campaign Director Dave Scott reflects on the legacy of Jack McConnell’s work on tackling sectarianism and the need to forge consensus across political parties on how to continue the fight.

No Secret Anymore

Cara Henderson presents Lord McConnell with his award at Westminster Hall earlier this month

It’s often said that the first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one. That was certainly Jack McConnell’s approach 15 years ago when he spoke of sectarianism being ‘Scotland’s Secret Shame’ and announced a raft of measures, put together by a cross party group of MSPs, in an effort to address this complex and controversial problem. Over the next five years the McConnell administration pushed forward a range of educational initiatives, summits and changes to the law that sought to empower people and institutions to discuss and challenge bigotry in their midst.

In recent years this work has been continued by his successors as First Minister and driven forward by Dr Duncan Morrow, whose advisory group has provided the research, evidence and ideas to tackle the problem thoughtfully and effectively.

However, in recent years public debate of sectarianism has been dominated by the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act and the polarised, and often party political nature, of these arguments has served as a distraction from the good work being done in schools, workplaces and communities across Scotland. Regardless of whether Holyrood votes to repeal the Act or not the problem of sectarianism, on the terraces and beyond lingers. There remain those who scream abuse or smash bottles over the heads of those they see as different, who use sport as an excuse to antagonise others, who tell their children who they can, and can’t, fall in love with and who always want to know ‘what school did you go too?’

I do not believe any of our 129 MSPs want to be on the side of people like that. I believe they can park the finger pointing and cheap politics and focus on the bigger prize – a Scotland where people aren’t forced to endure the bitterness of others.

We built a consensus and faced down the bigots in 2002. If the Scottish Parliament is big and bold enough we can do it again today.

NB – A version of this piece appeared in the Daily Record on 7th December 2017

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