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Tackling Sectarianism and its Consequences in Scotland: Final Report of The Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland – April 2015

Tackling Sectarianism and its Consequences in Scotland: Final Report of The Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland – April 2015

Friday, May 29, 2015

ISBN: 9781785443480

The Advisory Group was established by the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs to provide independent, impartial advice on developing work to tackle sectarianism in Scotland. The final report outlines the key conclusions and findings of the group.

Executive Summary


1. The findings, conclusions and recommendations contained in this report reflect the evidence gathered by the Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland ('the Advisory Group') up to 31 March 2015, the date at which the Advisory Group formally concluded. This advice also reflects the collective views of the Advisory Group based on this evidence. The specific form of sectarianism we have considered is that arising from the Catholic-Protestant tensions that are part of the historic legacy of Scotland.

2. As with our interim report, which was published on 13 December 2013, the breadth of views, opinions and experiences expressed to us has been striking and left us with the complicated dilemma of how to work through these to provide advice on the future development of work to tackle sectarianism in Scotland. This, our final report, therefore builds on the findings set out in our interim report.

3. Throughout the lifespan of the Advisory Group we have aimed to raise the level of discussion and debate on the issue of sectarianism in Scotland so that we can tackle it effectively, and it is our sincere hope that out interim and final reports will be used by a wide cross-section of Scottish society to help achieve this aim.

4. All of the work that we have engaged in has led us to the clear conclusion that Scotland is ready to move on from its sectarian past and that the need to build a truly inclusive society for all those who make Scotland their home is more important now than it has ever been. We have the potential to work together to shape our shared future by embracing positive change and not resisting or fearing it. Modern Scots come from a wide and diverse range of backgrounds and have complex and multi-layered identities. But all are Scots and these different layers demonstrate that Scotland is strong, inclusive and embraces difference.


5. As an alternative to the definition of sectarianism offered in our interim report we offer the following:

Sectarianism in Scotland is a mixture of perceptions, attitudes, actions, and structures that involves overlooking, excluding, discriminating against or being abusive or violent towards others on the basis of their perceived Christian denominational background. This perception is always mixed with other factors such as, but not confined to, politics, football allegiance and national identity.

6. We recommend that the Scottish Government continue to seek the help of communities across Scotland to craft a definition, which is easily understood, can be tailored to be appropriate for different communities, is useful for analysing what is happening in local areas, and covers as far as possible the breadth of manifestations of this complex phenomenon.


7. We are pleased to have been instrumental in developing a robust research base for sectarianism in Scotland including the commissioning of new research. Our key conclusions are that:

• A very substantial body of evidence consistently corroborates the evident perception in Scotland that ‘sectarianism’ (however defined) is widespread and worrisome. There is, though, rather less clear evidence about its actual form, character and extent. This ‘gap’ was amongst the key conclusions of Scottish Government reviews of evidence in 2005, 2013 and 2015 we wish to emphasise the importance of this finding.

• Whilst sectarianism is a problem in ‘pockets’ of Scottish life, there is limited robust evidence of structural disadvantage between key religious groups.

• It is clear that many people in Scotland live their lives untouched by sectarianism, or have the means to avoid it. Nevertheless, there is clear evidence that a minority of Scots report having been victims of sectarianism historically and recently and such experiences are not restricted to any particular religious or ethnic community.

• There are consistent patterns to beliefs about the seriousness and extent of sectarianism, as well as to what contributes to its continued existence.

• There is considerable evidence of social integration between Protestants and Catholics in Scotland.

• There is little evidence of sectarianism at the heart of Scottish politics.

• It is clear that there remain some key areas in which we lack robust knowledge about the nature and extent of sectarianism.


8. We have made recommendations calling for clearer responsibility taking and action in all areas associated with sectarianism and those who deal with the consequences of sectarianism such police, prisons and local communities. The recommendations are:


8.1 Focus on the role of gender in both sectarian victimisation and in the ‘handing down’ of sectarian attitudes through role models and family traditions.

8.2 Focus on better understanding of sectarian articulation and understanding on social media – potentials for exacerbate or ameliorating.

8.3 Further understand the relationship between sectarianism and football – top level, youth football – and what can be done to address this.

8.4 Better understand what we have termed as the polite, educated forms of sectarianism as a means to uncover in professional life in Scotland the roots of what has been described to us as a permissive environment that tacitly sanctions the more overt expressions of sectarianism.

8.5 Investigate the economic impact to organisations, business and geographical area associated with sectarianism.

8.6 Ensure the final community project reports, when collated, are used as community practice and practical knowledge alongside the review of evidence (Scottish Government, forthcoming 2015) to inform and direct future policy and decisions on funding.


8.7 Affirm cooperation where it exists, and encourage it where it has yet to emerge, including the provision of opportunities for people to learn about one another's history, tradition and practice. Too often people have a view of others' faith that is founded on inaccuracy and ancient prejudice.

8.8 Ensure local action is seen to be the priority, but also affirm this work through symbolic statements and actions at a denominational level to demonstrate the commitment to on-going co-operation and opposition to sectarian behaviour from all of Scotland's churches.


8.9 We wish to reaffirm the recommendations made in our Interim Report (paragraphs 6.65 to 6.73) all of which remain valid.

8.10 The football authorities and clubs should proactively work to address the close association in public perception of football in Scotland with sectarianism through direct programmes of intervention, clear anti-sectarian messaging and active and visible leadership in partnership with other agencies such as local government, youth work, schools, police.

8.11 Respond to our question of ‘if not strict liability then what?’ It is clear that a strategic and measured response to Scotland’s remnants of sectarian attitudes and behaviour cannot succeed without squarely addressing the sectarian problems within and around football.

Marches and Parades

8.12 Organisations convey the key messages of their parades through dialogue in and with local communities. Dialogue will also give an opportunity for local communities to present their views.

8.13 Scottish Government enter a dialogue with local communities and community planning partnerships which affirms and respects the rights of religious and political expression and the rights of communities not to be unreasonably disrupted.


8.14 Should work with local authorities to help empower and enable community planning to take the necessary steps to address sectarianism where and how it is found in local areas.

Local Authorities

8.15 Develop a whole council approach through policies, training and education of staff, where this is currently being developed it should be encouraged and supported with learning discussed and disseminated for use by other local authorities.

8.16 Use the learning from the existing community projects funded by the Scottish Government as a data source with community projects integrating their work into their wider youth work practice and training.

Education Scotland

8.17 Ensure sectarianism is integrated into the curriculum in a clear, locally appropriate way to provide a pathway into the wider equalities work when teachers and schools have the opportunity to not only address sectarianism but build their own skills, experience and confidence.

8.18 Aid development of all schools actively tackling the issue by producing a “Horrible Histories” style timeline of sectarianism in Scotland that can be used within schools and where appropriate the local history can be investigated.


8.19 Should make a clear commitment not to sensationalise and stoke flames of sectarianism through headlines, intensifying feeling and anxiety as seen in the lead up to the recent Celtic v Rangers league cup semi-final. This commitment should be acted on with the full knowledge that the repercussions of such sensationalism will always be harmful to society as a whole.

Youth and Community Projects

8.20 Work closely with local authority departments such as community planning partnerships and education departments where possible to begin mainstreaming work.

8.21 Form the basis of further development of programmes of training, learning and institutional development, using the Action on Sectarianism to open up the work to wider sectors with time being spent collating the work to produce a national toolkit or overarching guide.


8.22 Police Scotland work with relevant partners to share their knowledge and expertise in addressing sectarianism to allow the issues to be actively addressed by youth services, local authorities and Community Planning Partnerships.

8.23 Scottish Prison Service proactively address the issue and work with prisoners to reduce re-offending. Resources that have been developed with and for the prison service to tackle sectarianism should be utilised and updated where necessary.

Scottish Government

8.24 Continue to build on the current evidence base through new research and annual monitoring of the issue.

8.25 Use learning from community pilot projects to build on the practical knowledge of what is working and develop evidence based policy to direct any future funding.

8.26 Consider the role of independent advice in the future development of this agenda. While the Scottish Government has a leading role to play in tackling sectarianism, and indeed all other social issues, it is not a problem that can simply be dumped at their doorstep. As well as working with a broad range of partner organisations the Scottish Government should consider how independent advice can continue to contribute to this agenda particularly in relation to reporting on progress; convening discussions which have no political bias; and advising on the development and interpretation of evidence.

8.27 Leadership needs to be shown by the Scottish Government which encourages the acknowledgement of sectarianism where it is identified while refusing to turn it into a party-political football. This is essential if progress is to be maintained.

Working Definition

8.28 The Scottish Government continue to seek the help of communities across Scotland to craft a definition, which is easily understood, useful for analysing what is happening in local areas, and covers as far as possible the breadth of manifestations of this complex phenomenon.

Scottish Parliament

8.29 Leadership needs to be shown across all parties in the Scottish Parliament which encourages the acknowledgement of sectarianism where it is identified while refusing to turn it into a party-political football. This is essential if progress is to be maintained.

8.30 Demonstrates a willingness to act where action or resources are required to embed change in line with the report of the assets-based approach set out by the Christie Commission. Central to this is recognition of the fact that such approaches can only ever be successful if they are taken forward in a consistent long-term way and this can only be achieved if there is a shared political vision for this work.