There’s some very tortured logic lurking beneath George Galloway’s stentorian oratory. George is what you get when Ian Davidson swallows a thesaurus and takes some classes in rhetoric. He’s currently on a tour of Scotland, exhorting us to “just say naw” to independence. George believes he can get us to do this, in part, by flinging a bit of sectarian mud. In May this year he said:
“My own experience of growing up as a Roman Catholic in Scotland has led me to fear independence in Scotland. The possibility of Scotland being a kind of Stormont is a real one […] Of course, most Scottish people are not swivel-eyed, loyalist sectarians but there are a large number of them. A large six-figure number, and if I were living in Scotland as a Roman Catholic I would be worried about that.”
I’d never describe myself as “growing up a Roman Catholic”, far less as “Catholic”. Just ask my maw, to her eternal shame I was always the world’s worst Catholic. Religion just didn’t compute, despite enormous efforts on the part of my parents. I was dragged to Mass every Sunday until I was 15, even though I decided at the age of 10 that I was an atheist, and was sent to Catholic schools where time in RE periods was spent arguing with the priest. It was only a phase, they insisted, I’d grow out of it. And they were right. It was a phase. I’m still an atheist, but I no longer argue with priests.
Since, unlike George, I actually live in Scotland and don’t view the country from afar through the wrong end of a 1970s telescope bought on Westminster expenses, I reckon this gives my views on sectarianism considerably more credibility than his. But if you want to have your views given wide coverage, it helps to be a mouthy Westminster MP who grasps at the limelight with the single mindedness of a pussy cat intent on grasping Rula Lenska’s dangling ball of wool.
In the East End of Glasgow in the 1970s whether you were a “Catholic” or not had very little to do with your own personal beliefs about matters spiritual. I could have shaved my head, donned my mother’s best yellow curtains, and marched up and down Shettleston Road chanting Hare Krishna, but folk would still have said: “Aye, there goes thon weirdo Catholic boay.” Mind you, they said that anyway, but that’s by the by.
My own experience of growing up in a Catholic family in the West of Scotland led me to the opposite conclusion from George. I learned very young that sectarianism had little or nothing to do with religion. Atheism ever so slightly rules you out from being a Roman Catholic. Not being a Catholic was one of the things I was quite determined about, but it’s not like this would cut any ice with the average Orangeman, nor indeed the average Catholic parent in the 1970s. On one fundamental doctrine the Orange Order and the Catholic Church are in full agreement: Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.
So if sectarianism isn’t about a person’s religious beliefs or lack of them, then what is it about? There’s a clue in a somewhat glaringly obvious fact which George appears not to have noticed about swivel-eyed loyalist sectarians.
You can recognise such people, not primarily by their swivel-eyes, which could merely be a symptom of a thyroid condition, but rather by the fact that the loyalist loons are the ones waving Union flags and going on about being British and how much they love the Queen. Some of them wear bowler hats and carry furled up umbrellas. So far I’m not seeing much that would convince me I was at an SNP rally.
The swivel-eyed loyalist loons George warns us about are the ones who love being British so much that they make a point of causing traffic chaos in order to let the rest of us know about it. There’s also a fair bit of singing songs about 17th century wars between the British state and Irish nationalists, often accompanied by the copious consumption of tonic wine produced by Catholic monks. That would be an ecumenical matter.
None of these, with the possible exception of the Buckie, are, distinctive symbols of Scotland, independent or otherwise. But perhaps George knows different.
The Union flag is not a cuddly all-inclusive symbol. Even now, decades later, my primary association of the Union flag is with Orange Walks. It’s a symbol which historically represented the social exclusion of a large part of the Scottish population. It’s a symbol which says: “We’re better together without people like you.”
George appears to recognise this too, at least on some level. In one of his recent lectures, George claimed that his flag is not the Saltire, and it’s not the Union flag, his flag is red. It’s one of these fine sounding pieces of rhetoric which on closer examination is bereft of any substantive meaning, the socialist version of “oh look there’s a cute wee kitten called Karl”. A bit like a speech by Johann Lamont, come to think of it, apart from the fine sounding pieces of rhetoric, or any socialist references, or indeed sentences with nouns and verbs in them.
But eloquently expressed garbage is still garbage. His desire to continue having the red flag as his flag apparently depends upon Scotland retaining the Union flag. I’m not sure how that works, and I don’t think George does either.
George has also failed to notice that loyalist sectarian loons are precisely those people who are least likely to be in favour of an independent Scotland, apart from Westminster politicians. So if Scottish independence is likely to provoke an outbreak of loyalist violence, that can only be because the loyalist loons identify Catholics with, or blame them for, an independent Scotland. And that in turn would mean that loyalist loons see an independent Scottish state as representing Catholics, but not them.
So why should Catholics in Scotland feel threatened by a state which loyalist loons feel threatened by because of its supposed Catholic sympathies? Does not compute. It’s like RE classes all over again.
Trying to follow his chain of logic gives you a heidache that pounds like a Lambeg drum. Because no matter what way you look at it, the only folk in this equation who ought to be fearful of Scottish independence are the swivel eyed loyalist loons. And we already know that the Orange Order is an enthusiastic supporter of Project Fear, even though neither Project Fear nor George Galloway prefer to acknowledge the fact in public.
Sectarianism in Scotland is not about religion at all. And neither is it about defining who is or is not Scottish, despite what George Galloway says about the attitudes of certain SNP figures back in the 70s.
Historically, sectarianism was about defining who was British and who was not. Britishness, not Scottishness, was the most important consideration. It was never that the Irish in Scotland could not be Scottish. It was that the Irish in Scotland could not be Scottish because they were not British, and being Scottish depended upon being British first. But this is 2013, and we know better now. Everyone born, brought up, or living in Scotland is Scottish and a part of Scotland, it’s the British bit that’s optional.
Sectarianism is a disease of British nationalism, Loyalist bigotry and its Irish Catholic counterpart are symptoms of that disease. And the Auld Firm hoo-ha surrounding 22 overpaid baw kickers ruining a perfectly good lawn is yet another product of it. That’s British nationalism for you, it even manages to screw up the fitba.
Independence will not infect Scotland with the disease of sectarianism. Independence is the cure. And given that his last attempt at election to public office in Scotland saw him gain a mere 3.3% of the vote, it may very well prove to be a cure for George Galloway as well.