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Published Date: 26 May 2011

By Michael Fry

New legislation on sectarianism smacks of a knee-jerk reaction to a diminishing problem

IN November 2009, Brian Blair from Maryhill drove to Perth intent on robbery. He broke into a house outside the town and terrorised the couple living there, Annabelle Hutchison, 59, and Gordon Barnes, 57.

Blair threatened them with a hammer, tied them up and dragged them around their home. Annabelle was so distressed she thought she was going to have a heart attack, and Blair at least relented enough to give her some medication. To her partner he showed no such mercy: he tied a plastic bag over Gordon's head and dumped him in the River Almond. Lucky for him, Gordon did not drown but lived to see Blair tried, convicted and sent to prison for five years.

Five years may seem rather a lenient sentence for such horrific violence, but the sheriff took into account the "spark of humanity" that Blair had shown. These are matters on which reasonable men can differ and there is always a lively enough debate in Scotland on the severity of sentencing, with the just desire for retribution needing on sheer practical grounds to be balanced against the overstrained capacity of our prisons, the most crowded in western Europe.

So I wonder how, into that situation, we are to fit the decision by the Scottish cabinet yesterday to bring in legislation that would raise the maximum sentence for sectarian hate crime from six months to five years.

It strikes me as in itself fairly offensive to posit any equivalence between, on the one hand, the monster who brutalised Annabelle Hutchison and Gordon Barnes and, on the other hand, the sort of stupid young men who for an afternoon relieve the tedium and pointlessness of their lives with competitive sectarian chanting inside football grounds, followed by a rammy outside.

On either hand these things are deplorable, yet simply not to be placed in the same scale of wickedness. It will be to the detriment of the law of Scotland if it treats them as the same. It will mean that in this instance we have lost our moral bearings and that our moral compass is whizzing around randomly, no longer telling us anything useful to the making of laws. We will be making laws where there is no call for them, and with them probably doing more harm than good.

This is not to deny sectarianism still exists in Scotland. Sectarian jokes are commonplace, not only in the pub but also around bourgeois dinner tables. I have a cousin, a Catholic, who collects them: "They're so funny."

But by any standards, the intensity of sectarianism has diminished and continues to diminish. A century ago, Catholics in Scotland formed a shunned minority, abased and abused.

Their schools got no support from the state and their low standard of education kept them doing the worst jobs in the poorest places, where drink and vice were rife. Not only the Church of Scotland but also much of the secular intelligentsia of the country said out loud that its worst problem was Catholics, Irish Catholics in particular, and itched to get rid of them.

It is all history now. While the Catholic community may be still, to a greater than average extent, a working-class community, that has not stopped individual Catholics rising to high positions in the law, in medicine, in education and in politics. The government of the city of Glasgow, once a bastion of bigoted Protestants, is now largely in the hands of middle-class Catholics. If the bigots still have concerns, they are not about keeping the Catholics in their place but about their taking over.

What exactly is the point, then, of legislation to address a problem of sectarianism which has become in fact confined to the losers of our society, to the most uneducated and unsuccessful among us? If they fight, if they vandalise, if they breach the peace, by all means arrest them and lock them up. But we already have laws for that. We need no new ones.

Something that ought to be of greater concern to us is the mentality in the government of Scotland nourishing the thought that more laws are necessary to deal with sectarianism, and draconian laws too. The idea seems to have been entirely fuelled by a couple of rowdy football games last season - a shocking novelty in Scotland, of course. At least, I know of no other reason for the sudden burst of punitive zeal. Yet fears of a bloodbath for the final confrontation of Rangers and Celtic on 24 April evaporated in an almost trouble-free afternoon, and other potential causes of sectarian violence do not exist.

So why the zeal? One possible motive is the knee-jerk reaction. At the sight of disgraceful scenes on television, or of reactionary fulminations in the tabloid press, some politicians cannot help pandering to them. They should remind themselves of the damage that instant backlashes have done in the past, giving us bad law and causing innocent people to be locked up. The best way to reform the law is through long deliberation, and not with an eye to next morning's headlines in the yellow press.

But the knee-jerk reaction is only one symptom of a deeper disorder in political systems which suppose that for any particular problem a law must always be passed, and that laws are in every case wholly efficacious. The reverse is true: for the past half-century the UK has been suffering from a surfeit of law. The parliament at Westminster produces each year torrents of legislation - to little effect, because so few people, from the draughtsmen to the lawyers who apply it (not to speak of the hapless citizens) can understand it.

The law then becomes not more certain and more equitable, but more obscure and more unjust.

We might have hoped that a legacy from Westminster the Scottish Parliament might have cast off would have been this legislative hyperactivity. During the SNP's first term of office, it had no majority, of course, and so anyway could not obsess in the same fashion. To say the least, it is disappointing to find that, as soon as it has a majority, it at once sets off to press on us law both unnecessary and illiberal.

I say illiberal because, though sectarianism does not represent a pleasant or civilised or desirable state of mind, it still seems to me one that in an open western society we have to tolerate. If I got into a debate with a sectarian I would try to persuade him of the error of his ways, but I would not forbid him to speak on the grounds that his views were unacceptable, at least unacceptable to me. We can and should suppress sectarian crimes, but the mere expression of sectarianism is in itself no worse than the expression of Fascism or Communism or any other harsh dogma. We have to put up with it, and to overcome it with our liberalism. That is any case what over the years has been happening in Scotland

There is far more peril in admitting a principle that the Scottish Government, or any government, can set the limits to our legitimate words and thoughts.

http://sport.scotsman.com/theoldfirm/Michael-Fry-A-totally-unnecessary.6774395.jp?articlepage=3

I'm very much in agreement with Mr Fry.

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I think we should trust Alex Salmond's judgement on this one, after all why should we be singing songs about 17th century battles. There are perfectly good songs promoted by Alex about 13th century battles.

Why should we doubt his judgement,surely not because he fully supported the RBS takeover of ABN Amro, which resulted in the biggest losses in Uk corporate history. After all he did say afterwards that it was one of the banks many 'grievous errors.'

Nor should we doubt his judgement because of his support for the Celtic Tiger and Icelandic economies, months before they collapsed. Could have happened to any economist.

Maybe we should doubt his judgement, when, on giving his opinion of the film Braveheart, he said, from a Scottish independence point of view,the film is good news for Scotland and the SNP.

This film was, in the opinion of almost all English newspapers, xenophobic and linked to a rise in anti-English feeling.

Maybe his judgement is slightly suspect after all. :sherlock:

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I think we should trust Alex Salmond's judgement on this one, after all why should we be singing songs about 17th century battles. There are perfectly good songs promoted by Alex about 13th century battles.

Why should we doubt his judgement,surely not because he fully supported the RBS takeover of ABN Amro, which resulted in the biggest losses in Uk corporate history. After all he did say afterwards that it was one of the banks many 'grievous errors.'

Nor should we doubt his judgement because of his support for the Celtic Tiger and Icelandic economies, months before they collapsed. Could have happened to any economist.

Maybe we should doubt his judgement, when, on giving his opinion of the film Braveheart, he said, from a Scottish independence point of view,the film is good news for Scotland and the SNP.

This film was, in the opinion of almost all English newspapers, xenophobic and linked to a rise in anti-English feeling.

Maybe his judgement is slightly suspect after all. :sherlock:

The film was also directed by a Rabid anti British antisemitic Roman catholic zealot

(Its funny how all these Roman catholic zealots cant save there dick in their trousers for there "wifes" or in the priesthoods case "God")

The Film was so historically inaccurate that wallace shagged the queen of england and made her pregant even though she was an infant at the time.

And because of lack of "money" the decided to call the battle of stirling bridge the battle of stirling cause it would cost too much money to recreate a bridge fro them to fight on.

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He's called out the Scottish parliament on what it has been since it was created, a complete waste of time and money. This is all they do, create laws where existing ones were sufficient, reacting to whatever "issue" is a talking point at the time. I can't wait until next years annual "We're getting tough on knife crime with these new measures" parade. Same shite every year from the wee pretendy parliament.

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Not only the Church of Scotland but also much of the secular intelligentsia of the country said out loud that its worst problem was Catholics, Irish Catholics in particular, and itched to get rid of them.

Now it has changed 180 degree if you change the CoS fOR RC Church and Catholics for Rangers.

It is all history now. While the Catholic community may be still, to a greater than average extent, a working-class community, that has not stopped individual Catholics rising to high positions in the law, in medicine, in education and in politics. The government of the city of Glasgow, once a bastion of bigoted Protestants, is now largely in the hands of middle-class Catholics. If the bigots still have concerns, they are not about keeping the Catholics in their place but about their taking over.

And this would explain why, Despite working their way to the top of their professions in law,medicine,education and politics and hence intelligent they still talk up this sectarian shit as our shame when everyday they will be dealing with our real problems in there courtrooms,hospitals,schools and as a country in whole.

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It's a simple freedom-of-speech issue. If I want to say "fuck the pope", "up the 'ra", or "the holocaust never happened", I should be allowed to.

The National Front stood in the elections a few weeks ago. We don't ban them because they have a right to their beliefs and opinions, stupid as they are.

The whole thing is a fucking nonsense.

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A breach of the peace is common law, thus the maximum sentence is life.

WTF are they wasting their time and money on some statute pish?

This is like banning smoking in pubs, increasing alcohol duty, etc - purely for publicity.

They won't be happy until they are running a dictatorship. Same old, same old.

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I stopped reading it after this, what a crock of shite yet another case of protestant=bad, catholic=good.

We all know GCC is infested with hate filled RC bigots and crooks who are only in it for themselves.

It is all history now. While the Catholic community may be still, to a greater than average extent, a working-class community, that has not stopped individual Catholics rising to high positions in the law, in medicine, in education and in politics. The government of the city of Glasgow, once a bastion of bigoted Protestants, is now largely in the hands of middle-class Catholics. If the bigots still have concerns, they are not about keeping the Catholics in their place but about their taking over.

He also wrote,

Their schools got no support from the state and their low standard of education kept them doing the worst jobs in the poorest places, where drink and vice were rife. Not only the Church of Scotland but also much of the secular intelligentsia of the country said out loud that its worst problem was Catholics, Irish Catholics in particular, and itched to get rid of them.

I am sure with a wee bit of research he would have seen that the CoS had set up soap kitchens and where feeding the poor starving Irish catholic immigrants long before the marist priest interfered and drove a wedge between them, for purely sectarian reasons.

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It's a simple freedom-of-speech issue. If I want to say "fuck the pope", "up the 'ra", or "the holocaust never happened", I should be allowed to.

The National Front stood in the elections a few weeks ago. We don't ban them because they have a right to their beliefs and opinions, stupid as they are.

The whole thing is a fucking nonsense.

Freedom of Speech in the UK does not extend to "incitement of religious hatred" It is ok to say "I do not agree with the Catholic Church and the Papal rule because......." but its not ok to say "Fuck the Pope"

Freedom of Speech in the UK also does not extend to support, vocal or otherwise of a proscribed terrorist group which in turn means its NOT ok to shout "Up the RA"

Not withstanding that, i would like all fans who feel the need to do this, and im 100% ok with that, to do it at a Political rally, or a Religious rally, or outside House of Commons or one of the many Chapels in and around Glasgow. It has nothing to do with Rangers FC.

I dont understand that of the 10,000 minutes everybody has available on a weekly basis, why do they use the 90 minutes that they follow Rangers to express this freedom of speech ?

What happened to the Rangers first motto??

As for the article, excellent piece IMHO. (tu)

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Freedom of Speech in the UK does not extend to "incitement of religious hatred" It is ok to say "I do not agree with the Catholic Church and the Papal rule because......." but its not ok to say "Fuck the Pope"

Freedom of Speech in the UK also does not extend to support, vocal or otherwise of a proscribed terrorist group which in turn means its NOT ok to shout "Up the RA"

Not withstanding that, i would like all fans who feel the need to do this, and im 100% ok with that, to do it at a Political rally, or a Religious rally, or outside House of Commons or one of the many Chapels in and around Glasgow. It has nothing to do with Rangers FC.

I dont understand that of the 10,000 minutes everybody has available on a weekly basis, why do they use the 90 minutes that they follow Rangers to express this freedom of speech ?

What happened to the Rangers first motto??

As for the article, excellent piece IMHO. (tu)

The Sash, Derry's Walls and Penny Arcade have nothing to do with Rangers either going by that. It's ludicrous to think that social 'problems' have not contributed to make the club what it is today, even if some find it uncomfortable to admit and do everything in their power to rid us of "the minority who drag our name through the mud blah blah blah". Isn't that just another form of the intolerance they claim to be against?

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The Sash, Derry's Walls and Penny Arcade have nothing to do with Rangers either going by that. It's ludicrous to think that social 'problems' have not contributed to make the club what it is today, even if some find it uncomfortable to admit and do everything in their power to rid us of "the minority who drag our name through the mud blah blah blah". Isn't that just another form of the intolerance they claim to be against?

They dont, but they are not getting the club in trouble, which is my, and tens of thousands of others, main and number one concern. (tu)

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Freedom of Speech in the UK does not extend to "incitement of religious hatred" It is ok to say "I do not agree with the Catholic Church and the Papal rule because......." but its not ok to say "Fuck the Pope"

Freedom of Speech in the UK also does not extend to support, vocal or otherwise of a proscribed terrorist group which in turn means its NOT ok to shout "Up the RA"

Not withstanding that, i would like all fans who feel the need to do this, and im 100% ok with that, to do it at a Political rally, or a Religious rally, or outside House of Commons or one of the many Chapels in and around Glasgow. It has nothing to do with Rangers FC.

I dont understand that of the 10,000 minutes everybody has available on a weekly basis, why do they use the 90 minutes that they follow Rangers to express this freedom of speech ?

What happened to the Rangers first motto??

As for the article, excellent piece IMHO. (tu)

I see you staid well clear of the Fenian word debate.

The Club are getting into trouble because of people misunderstanding or choosing to disregard all evidence pointing towards it being about Irish terrorism as to what the word fenian means.

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I see you staid well clear of the Fenian word debate.

The Club are getting into trouble because of people misunderstanding or choosing to disregard all evidence pointing towards it being about Irish terrorism as to what the word fenian means.

The Scottish Court has already regarded it as sectarian so until someone has the balls to go into a police office, call them feninan bassas then take it all the way and prove otherwise, then the club gets in trouble.

What we need is for someone who shouts about it all the time to take it upon themselves to prove it is ok. Just dont do it under the banner of Rangers FC. (tu)

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The Weiss man is right.If people want to have the right to call someone a 'fenian' *********** it will need a private citizen or an organised group to challege the law on this. It is not and will never be the something the club supports so it is down to those who are brave enough. Wouldnt be me..................but .I'm happy enough thinking it. ........................................until the thought police arrive, that is.

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I see you staid well clear of the Fenian word debate.

The Club are getting into trouble because of people misunderstanding or choosing to disregard all evidence pointing towards it being about Irish terrorism as to what the word fenian means.

Maybe now that Elish Angiolini has left office, they might take another look at the correct meaning of the word fenian.

Who is the new guy ?

Frank Mulholland, Oh shit!

He will be in the process of drawing up a list of prody words to officially change the meaning.

Using as a reference, The Oxford English dictionary(Dublin version). :sherlock:

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