Sectarianism has had real consequences in Scotland and remains an issue which needs to be addressed through the continuation and development of positive action. It exists in a variety of complex relationships within and between political, social and economic forces. From political, social and religious roots, it has evolved and adapted, surviving as a factor in communities, in organisations, in attitudes and relationships.
In May 2015, the independent Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland (the Advisory Group), reported its findings, conclusions and recommendations reflecting the evidence gathered over three years. The Advisory Group had set out to consider two key questions 'How does sectarianism manifest itself in Scotland now?' and 'How can we best deal with its consequences?' and I feel that the conversations, community action and research that took place during the lifespan of the Advisory Group and beyond to the present day, has taken us closer to finding answers to these questions.
The recommendations of the Advisory Group were aimed at a range of organisations and sectors across Scotland and we were clear that a culture of responsibility was vital if we were to move this issue forward in a positive way and promote good relations at individual and community level. This could only be successful if key figures and organisations from across civic Scotland were engaged and willing to provide positive leadership.
I am very grateful that 18 months on from the publication of the Advisory Group's final report, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs invited me as the former Chair of the Advisory Group to review the progress that has been made across all of the sectors that the recommendations were aimed at.
Evidence remains extremely important and the work taken forward during the lifetime of the Advisory Group, and continued since, by a programme of community based work has developed the most extensive understanding we have had of sectarianism in modern Scotland. Being able to work from an evidence base is crucial to engage and to approach the subject which can create polarised opinion.
The work of the community projects has emphasised the varying degrees of opinion on sectarianism, with some communities opening up and being willing to address the issue, and others not engaging or denying there is a problem. This work has shown that there is no easy answer and no one-size fits all approach that can be taken but that a series of approaches are necessary and even welcomed at times to allow engagement and time for confidence to grow, sometimes in individuals and other times in communities as a whole.
When the Minister tasked me with reviewing the recommendations I made contact with all relevant agencies and organisations previously contacted by the Advisory Group and essentially those who were responsible for taking forward recommendations. Letters were sent to each organisation in October 2016 with contact continuing to be made and responses received up to and including late January 2017. The content of this report is based on the evidence gathered through this process.
In conclusion, I do not believe that sectarianism is the biggest problem facing Scottish society. But I do believe that it remains a deep-rooted and serious problem which continues to manifest itself in areas across Scottish society. Work taken forward over the past few years has demonstrated that this issue can be properly addressed through active leadership and concerted effort, but that requires leaders to stand up and be counted and to use their influence in a positive and constructive way. While there is some evidence that this is happening, there is also evidence that a culture of denial exists in some areas, and that this culture remains an obstacle to progress.
Dr Duncan Morrow
Email: David Ross