Hey everyone Happy St Patrick’s Day to each and every one of you. I hope the blessings of St Patrick are kind to you all throughout the coming year and whether or not you are part of the Irish-Scots community, the wider global diaspora or have no connections to the auld country I hope you enjoy the day and feel like you can join in the party and celebrate with as a welcoming and inclusive a gathering as you will find anywhere.
As for me I did my celebrating a couple of days ago and the St Patrick’s family day in Glasgow’s Merchant Square and was given the same warm welcome I have always received. Particular highlights included the Osborne School of Irish Dancing, The Michael Malone Band, The Keelies and the brilliant Michelle McManus whose rendition of Lady Of Knock was absolutely stunning.
We also crowned the new Mary Of Dungloe to succeed the lovely Grace Sweeney who won the overall title in Dungloe at the festival last July. I have to say when I heard this news it did not come as a shock. Nor would be a shock if her successor as Glasgow’s Mary Rosie Donnelly was to exactly the same this summer. However that is in the future and I think she will be on cloud nine after winning on Saturday night. The day which was organised totally at community level was a great success and it was brilliantly hosted by 2013 Young Scottish Traditional Musician Paddy Callaghan. All things considered I enjoyed a great day of quality entertainment and felt like I belonged within the diaspora family.
However it and saddens me to say it, not all Scots will be out enjoying the craic tonight and some for pseudo political and religious reasons are deeply hostile to any such celebrations taking place. You see we live in a country which though it likes to talk the talk on equality for all does not always practice what it preaches in this respect and even as we celebrate St Patrick’s Day 2014 it appears to me and many others that Anti-Irish Racism is the scar that shames Scotland.
It was my gran who only ever disliked one irish person her old orange stepmother from county Derry, who first told me that Scotland seemed to have what she referred to as a problem with the Irish. Note the phrase as I believe the wording to be important as she never once said we had an Irish problem.
This to me is an important position to take as it shifts the blame from the irish community and places it very firmly at the door of the host nation. After all as my gran told me all nationalists be they political or cultural, know or at least should know the debt Scotland owes to Ireland. It is actually true to say that without the help of three Irish clans there may never have been an independent Scotland in the first place O’Donnell of Donegal, O’Neill of Tyrone, and O’Sullivan of Kerry all answered the call to fight with Bruce at Bannockburn and advised him to defend the hill thus giving his army the major advantage of knowing when the enemy would attack and being better able to fight them off. It was this tactical advice that resulted in our victory.
Make no mistake this Anti-Irish racism was manufactured for religious reasons by the English nobility who feared Scotland’s ailliance with Catholic France and knew that just how susceptible their Scottish colleagues would be to a bribe. Trust me Burns got it 100 percent on the money when he said we were bought and sold for English Gold and I should add for lands in the green fields of Ulster and it is there that the problems between cousins who should have been the closest of kin actually began.
Putting a more contemporary slant on events and bringing them up to my timeline. I look in my poem Letterkenny Memories at the summer holiday experience of my first generation irish neighbours and contrast this to my dull and dreary trips to Manchester. I say that England was forced down young protestant throats as a friend against the Irish. Believe me this is true and I speak from personal experience.
This I believe has been the dominant paradigm in Scottish cultural thought since as far back as the union of the crowns and as such will have permeated the fabric of our society to a far greater degree than many Scots would like to imagine including the some members of the current SNP administration and all members of every unionist party. After all the unionist cause has long been associated with both Anti-Irish and Anti-Catholic sentiments. Indeed many Catholics who do buy in to the Scottish political system and unionist politics in particular often do so purely for personal gain and most if not all have chosen to dilute their identity in order to get on often ignoring Anti-Irish racism in the process.
However there is an old saying in politics which is your damned if you do and your damned if you don’t and perhaps the SNP Government should have decided in the wake of the parcel bomb threats that it would have been safer not to act than act in haste as they did by bringing in the Offensive Behaviour Act which criminalises fans of Celtic and supposedly Rangers for singing certain songs which some people may believe have the potential to incite religious hatred. I have to say that I initially believed this had the potential to be good piece of legalisation as I was sure it would protect the Irish community against the ravages of shall we say the more strident members of the unionist community Now of course having had time to reflect on the issue I concede that I was over optimistic to have such high expectations and I admit I was wrong as and I think it was the SNP’s biggest act of political naivety to believe that certain forces would not have a preset disposition to look after their own. Having said that however I do believe it was naivety rather than racism which made the SNP score this particular own goal.
As recently as December last year The Guardian reported on this issue and pointed the finger at the Scottish press. In a hard hitting article Roy Greenslade cites the vile abuse suffered by Angela Haggerty who was editing Downfall how Rangers FC Self Destructed by Phil Mac Gholla Bhain which was about to be serialised in the Scottish Sun until it was pulled at the last minute after protests from Rangers fans. The abuse suffered by Haggerty lead to the arrest and conviction of hard-line Rangers fan David Limond for threatening and abusive language against Ms Haggerty.
The journalist reminds us that Ms Haggerty was referred to as ‘taig of the day’ and informs those who are unaware of the cultural significance of this word by comparing it the N word in the USA and the Y word with regards to Tottenham Hotspur football club.
Greenslade asserts that had this happened in England the consequences for Limond would have been far greater, as the incident would have been reported in every major newspaper rather than being ignored as it was in Scotland.
It is with regret that I have to agree with the reporters assertion on this matter.
You see this is by no means an isolated incident in the ticking clock that is the cultural cocktail of the West Of Scotland there have been plenty of other examples. The parcel bombs sent to Celtic Manager Neil Lennon Former Labour MSP Tricia Godman, and the late and highly respected QC Paul McBride in 2011 were a horrific and disgusting reminder of the irrational and nauseating hatred some sections of society have towards those from a different cultural background to their own. Indeed it was these outrageous attacks which prompted my good friend Francis Lopez of Ayrshire band San Fran And The Sisco’s
to write the song A Beautiful Country which if you haven’t heard it yet is well worth a listen and you can find it on You Tube.
Another friend of mine the Cumnock poet Jim Monaghan tackles the issue in the second stanza of his poem United Colours of Cumnock in which he examines his home town with all its faults and flaws put under the poets microscope and it is with these words he condemns his country’s badge of shame ‘my town’s a blue town, a who the fuck are you town what school did you go to town and are you one of us? Here Monaghan exposes the causal Anti-Irish attitude of small town small minded Scotland as a country riddled with prejudice and fear. Indeed just a few weeks a Glasgow taxi driver ejected to Irish speaking youths from his cab, and there was an unprovoked attack on young musicians who gathered at St Rochs School as youngsters attended traditional music classes to celebrate their culture and heritage. This kind of behaviour is obnoxious and malevolent and represents a clear danger to the Irish community in the west of Scotland.
This danger has stalked our streets before and nowhere was this more clearly demonstrated than by the premeditated murder a few years ago of young 16 year old Mark Campbell by Rangers fan whose family had strong links with the loyalist paramilitaries of the UVF in fact he even wanted transferred to Belfast to serve his sentence. This permission was thankfully refused and the murderer remained what he’d been convicted as a murderer rather than the hero he would undoubtedly have to the more lunatic fringes of unionism
However one good thing did come out of this savage act of brutality as it led to the Charity Nil By Mouth being set up as a response to this sickening and senseless act. Campbell’s crime? Walking through the wrong part of the city wearing what was judged by the criminal who killed him to be the wrong team colours in the wrong part of town.
Unfortunately the reaction to Mark Campbell’s murder was to treat the death as a football related sectarian attack rather than think of it as Anti-Irish racism. After all in the cosy little world of the Labour Party who ruled Scotland at the time, Scotland couldn’t be racist could it? After all we treat our Asian communities far better than those nasty right wing English folk don’t we? and we all know racism is based on skin colour isn’t it?
Well this may come as a shock to the Labour Party the SNP and all other parties who present themselves as socially tolerant of other cultures but the answer to those questions are that Scotland could be racist. Scotland did not and does not treat our Asian communities any better than people of England and racism is not just confined to skin colour. Racism occurs where one dominant culture attempts to suppress any other within its territories by means of institutionalised discrimination which is fuelled by ignorance or fear of and/or prejudice to the said racial or ethnic group and I am sad to say that it is just as likely if not more likely to occur in a stateless nation like Scotland as it is anywhere else on this earth. This is a fact and for some a very unpleasant reality. A reality which if they are honest they would sooner not face.
However face it we have to and face we must if we are ever to get the Scotland we deserve. A fair democratic Scotland built on the twin cultural pillars of inclusion and respect. That Scotland and only that Scotland is the Scotland I have fought for all of my political life and I will continue to fight for it until the dream or should I say ambitious vision becomes accepted as the daily reality for all citizens of our country no matter where their place of birth or where their ancestors came from. We must bring to an end the Anti-Irish racism and must never stop until we finally rid Scotland of the scar that shames our nation.
Love And Best Wishes