When I was a child, the world was divided into blue and green.
Uncle Peter had been a plater at John Brown’s shipyard, fierce for Rangers (until they lost), and freemasonry. My father has misty memories of getting the wheezing train to Glasgow, and finding his way to Govan.
My mother reminds me, just this morning, that her own father was a Protestant, staunch too. He was old-fashioned Hearts who gave his own heart to a Catholic girl.
Mum says she asked him, at the end, what he wanted for himself, what with the mother of his children in a RC plot. I’m paraphrasing. “Just pit me up there,” he said. “I want to be the first Protestant...”
At New Year, my non-drinking grandad, never the tallest man, would show the stairs to any who ventured a “party” song. Over on another branch, a couple of my father’s uncles saw it as their duty to march, bowlers and all, for Carson and Ulster. It gets complicated.
The late Jimmy Reid told me once he was invincibly proud of two things. First, being born in Govan; secondly, of having supported Glasgow Rangers FC. Then Jimmy added that sometimes, too often, he was, enraged and baffled, utterly ashamed of one of those things.
If bombs are in the post, in Glasgow, what follows? If a religious argument between people with no sense of religion leads to this, who gains? Sectarianism never exists in a vacuum.
I know: there’s a nutter on the loose. I know also that people born Catholic can feel as though they are under a vicious, bigoted, general attack thanks only a birth marker. But I’m not Glaswegian. In this, I speak for a wider Scotland. To wit: are you all insane? Over football?
Step down a level, then. Within my complicated history is a figure who would have had something to say on these matters. In short, my grandmother’s uncle, James Connolly, was shot by the British for being Irish. In the wrong place and at the wrong time.
He boasts a few other interesting facts, two of which are these: His beloved wife was a Protestant, never recanting, and the Church of Rome really hated James Connolly. I throw these truths into any bubbling pot going.
Now I ask you some questions. Who are you? Where do you come from? What allegiances do you think you offer, and to whom? Do you think that bombing a Catholic this week will count against the harm done to another day’s Protestant, or vice-versa?
There are serious things to be discussed. Despite all the bland politico-media-BBC stuff, it’s real. These are real, “viable” bombs, in Glasgow.
Which places us, as a national community, roughly in Alabama, or thereabouts, in 1961, more or less. What’s your definition of civil rights? That to be the adherent of a certain faith group should be of no account? Try that in Glasgow, tonight. Each time I mention James Connolly in print, my wife checks the mail, just in case. She’ll never find anything there? Neil Lennon, Paul McBride and Trish Godman may well have agreed until recently.
What is hatred, exactly? I used to think of Uncle Peter as a rosy-nosed comedy act. I used to think of James Connolly as a figure of myth. As a child, I used to go to Ibrox and to Celtic Park in wonderment – so long as we didn’t win – at all those jolly drunks who couldn’t have been nicer towards “Embra”. They made the world sound like a happy place.
My father is not a bigot. My mother is not a bigot. I’m not a bigot. No-one I know is a bigot. In fact, in this fascinating, unending career, I’ve never met a bigot. How weird is that?
No-one who will read this pile of words is a bigot. There are no bigots at Ibrox, or at Parkhead. Bigots cannot be found in the Scottish Parliament, or within the country’s media or within flash law offices, or the fancy PR firms, or in their many golf clubs. No bigotry anywhere. Astounding.
You won’t find a bigot in the arts. We allow no poets with the stain of bigotry. No bigot paints, makes music, or sits in a court of law. You wouldn’t catch a bigot writing a novel in our new Scotland. We are, are we not, “beyond bigotry”?
What is hatred, exactly? I might have certain football issues regarding Neil Lennon. I might even want to discuss relative matters – Jock Stein versus Neil Lennon? – but being bombed for being lippy is not on my chart. What Glasgow needs to understand, above all, is the world’s view of Glasgow and its madness.
The bigotry never goes away. Each time I return to Glasgow someone wants to know where I come from, and what I am. Specifically. They want to know how I pray. The fact that I don’t, and they never have, is overlooked. The fact that they couldn’t spell genuflect is one of my smart “Embra” jokes. I say only this. When Glasgow is stricken, someone decides to pull the sectarian card, or finds some juvenile with his head in his colon to do the job instead. It has happened too often to survive, plausibly, as a coincidence. A city is turned against itself, conveniently enough, time and again.
What unites bigots, after all? They are one and the same, with a choice of flags. You need to wonder who benefits, and why bigotry is forever relevant in this little country.
But what do I know? In my memory, odd Uncle Francis is off over the water for the 12th; and Uncle Jim, in a muddy snapshot, is up for his Rising: vice, then versa. I never wanted any part of any of it. I didn’t hate anyone. In my childhood, being Glaswegian involved an obligation to loathe. It made no sense.
Why would it make sense now? The current case will be settled, no doubt, to the satisfaction of the Crown and the Strathclyde Polis. Justice will be done. But tell me, Mother Glasgow, when will the rest of us be rid of this polluting insanity?
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