Last month I posed some questions to a room full of Scottish politicians, journalists and policy wonks at the “Changin Scotland” conference in Ullapool.
The title of my lecture was:
“Being second generation Irish in Scotland. An Existential challenge.”
One of the questions I put to them was: “what kind of Scotland do you want?”
The Scotland I was born into in the 1950s was a cold house for anyone with an Irish identity.
Would the new Scotland, fully independent and sovereign, that many of them wanted be any different?
In the Scotland of many cultures is my Irish culture ok?
If Americana can be celebrated at Ibrox for Thanks Giving can Irishness be expressed at Celtic Park?
If it is ok to laud 18th century American insurgents against the British crown then can I celebrate Theobald Wolfe Tone?
Recently I suggested an old Irish folk song for the PA at Celtic Park to a club employee.
The song was “oro se do bheatha bhaile.” Primary school children are taught this old song here in Ireland. It’s hardly controversial.
There is a 16th century version and the 20th century version by Padraig Pearse.
I offered the latter which is the one that is taught to the kids here.
He got back to me and said “we can’t touch this it’s about Irish history.”
Indeed it is about Irish history. The history that gave birth to Celtic!
The same club employee had earlier taken on board my suggestion to include a Proclaimers song into the Celtic match day experience.
The SNP’s Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill , likely to be passed tomorrow, will give, in effect, carte blanche to any zealous law enforcer who doesn’t take too kindly to any manifestation of Irishness in his country.
Under the new law a Saint Patrick’s Day banner at Celtic Park next March could be illegal.
As I reported earlier it would appear that in these days of Al Qaeda that the most pressing matter in the minds of a Special Branch officer at Glasgow airport was whether or not an Irishman was a member of the Green Brigade.
I will have more to report on this individual’s case soon.
Meanwhile the reality is that hard evidence exists (when it isn’t accidentally shredded of course) of the targeting of an ethnic minority in Scotland.
Even when some raw data reaches the tabloids the truth is hidden.
Within those sectarian statistics hide the reality of Anti Irish racism.
“Anti-Irish Racism” is a term that seems to be verboten by the SNP government.
Speak to them about it and they talk about “sectarianism.”
This is more important than semantics.
The representatives of the Irish community in Scotland have consistently petitioned for the political class in Hollyrood to think outside the sectarian framework.
So far they have been met with zero success.
There was not a single Irish community organisation invited to speak to the Justice Committee about this new law.
The Harps Community project, funded by the Irish Government, did send in a written submission.
The Catholic Church was invited, Celtic fans, the “Tartan Army” and people who run unofficial Rangers websites.
All of these groups and individuals were afforded the opportunity to speak to the lawmakers, but not the Irish community, not the people who are the targets of the abuse and the aggression for being who they are.
Can you imagine this happening if the new law was brought forward after prominent members of the Nigerian community in Scotland had been sent letter bombs and one of the recipients had been attacked at a televised sports event in Edinburgh? Moreover an Edinburgh jury does not find his assailant, despite being seen by millions, to be guilty of assault. Can you conceive of that actually happening?
It is an irony, to say the least, that when manifestations of anti-Irish racism in Scotland and an attack on an Irishman at his work went viral that the Scottish government, embarrassed by the fact they had sat on their hands about this issue, created a law whose main target will be people expressing their Irishness.
If I was still in that room in Ullapool with the same people I would ask them this:
“Given the reality of anti-Irish racism in your country do you think a law that effectively criminalizes entirely legitimate expressions of Irishness to be the sign of a mature political class worthy of greater powers?”