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Seeking the truth about sectarianism in Scotland

The Scottish Government has hired as its anti-bigotry czar Dr Duncan Morrow, an academic whose professional life has been dedicated to healing deep rifts in his native Northern Ireland.

His appointment has been made to take account of the interpretation that sectarianism is a centuries-old nettle Scotland will not grasp but is also a problem few can – or will – define.

Over the next year, Mr Morrow's expert group will sift the evidence to advise ministers on the impact of bigotry, what it actually is in 21st-century Scotland and what potential improvements could be made.

Mr Morrow does not believe the problem is the same in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

He said: "I think there is a danger of importing analogies from Northern Ireland.

"I'm very aware of trying not to do that. All of my other four colleagues on the working group are Scottish-based and the secretariat is entirely Scottish.

"What's really important is that in its historic roots there are things which join the north of Ireland with the west of Scotland.

"But there are many things which are very different. Over the last 40 years in particular, the divergence on these issues has been quite strong. That's not to say there's not things which can't be learned constructively."

Nothing, it would seem, is off the table for the group. It has already commissioned a report into parades, which the Government had been accused of avoiding and which is sure to upset marching groups.

He says "there are things we can do within the education system to ensure children don't grow up as different species but are part of a shared Scotland", and that shared campuses for denominational and non-denominational schools may be part of the solution.

Mr Morrow's assertion that bigotry is not a "ned" problem, but an issue for golf clubs as well as football terraces, and one that covers all of Scotland, will unsettle those who prefer to see it as west of Scotland tribalism.

Mr Morrow said: "Up to now, one of the ways to manage this has been to deny its existence or try to manage it in private. People say there is a lot of sectarianism but can't find anyone who is sectarian.

"We would not be serious if we didn't look at it in all its dimensions, and that can also be in the different ways in which people feel Scottish. Sectarianism is very different in the west of Scotland than it is on the east coast, in the Western Isles as it is in the Borders.

"One of the difficulties in formulating policy in this area is what makes sense in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire must also make sense in Montrose. The problems are not the same or dealt with in the same way.

"There is a range of people who think this is something from the past and those who believe it is integrated into the fabric of Scottish life, from top to bottom.

"On the other hand there are others who would say that this is exaggerated and kept going as a historic reality which comes out of football, and for most people isn't a serious impediment - if you just let it disappear it'll disappear on its own.

"Where do you make a distinction between something which might have sectarian roots but is now just part of working-class culture and those things which have a genuine impact on people? What's not good enough is to just make allegations. If true, where does this present itself and where is it real? Also, you need to let people off the hook if it's not true anymore."

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