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INSIDE TRACK: Does St Patrick hold the key to independence?

AMID leprechaun outfits, Guinness hats and sheer "Paddy Whackery", St Patrick's Day isn't an obvious platform to point out the complexities of those of an Irish heritage in modern Scotland.

Like Glasgow's Mela, it's becoming a more prominent celebration of a diaspora on these shores, a nod to an increased confidence within a community with many different reference points and back stories.

But it hardly reflects the today experience of the descendants of those who for over a century crossed the North Channel for a new life.

Step forward then Scotland's pre-eminent historian to debunk one long-held assumption re those of a Catholic and Irish background.

In an event celebrating Ireland's patron saint, Professor Tom Devine stated that members of this group were among those most disposed to a Yes vote on September 18. According to Prof Devine, the view of Catholics, and thus most of Scotland's "Irish", as an anti-SNP mass who view independence as a slippery slope to a Knoxian Scotland is long redundant. Educational and employment parity, the eradication of institutional sectarianism and an ease in "their Scottish skins" had transformed their views in the past 40 years.

Their electoral clout still exists, he believes, but they are a mosaic not a homogenous group of the mid-20th century.

George Galloway's view that an independent Scotland could herald a new era of anti-Catholicism is, Prof Devine believes, historically illiterate and the stuff of the 1950s and 1960s handed down via oral tradition.

During the St Patrick's Festival in Coatbridge, MSPs, academics and prominent commentators whizzed through factors which could influence that community's Referendum decision.

According to Labour's Hugh Henry, while Northern Ireland's Troubles once frightened people into keeping their Irish identity under wraps, many young people now viewed voting Yes was a continuation of their stance on Irish independence.

Party colleague Siobhan McMahon said opposition to Catholic schools was notably higher within SNP supporters.

Meanwhile, retired professor of literature Patrick Reilly said the view of many of his faith was that "the enemies of Catholicism" were now on the left, with secular policies like same-sex marriage alienating many.

Last word went to long-standing local MP Tom Clarke. He said while some Catholics would vote in line with their take on Ireland, including fear of importing Ulster's dynamics, most would do so on the basis of their views on a comprehensive range of issues crucial to Scotland's future.

Scotland's Catholics would not be distilled down to just their faith or Irish heritage, he said. Identities, then, based on class, gender, occupation, age and region come into play. Catholics will vote as lawyers, teachers, long-term unemployed people, parents or pensioners. From their choice of names to a surge in interest in Gaelic sports and music, Scotland's Irish seem more assured than at any time in the past.

For Prof Devine it's that confidence which will see their vote influenced by the same factors as the rest of the electorate.

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