I ASKED Spike what it was like, so he told me. He told me what it was like to arrive in Northern Ireland as a 20-year-old soldier from Glasgow and have entire communities hate you. He also told me how his own hate turned to rage, then pain, then hope, thankfully. And he told me about all the times he thought he was going to die. The knives and guns and bombs shredded him inside, he said, and he still suffers.

But it was something else that Spike said about Northern Ireland that has really stuck with me. When he first arrived, he said, it was the differences he noticed, especially the housing schemes demarcated by religion. Irish flags on one side; the Red Hand of Ulster on the other.

But after a while he noticed similarities too. Spike grew up in a council house, the son of a violent father, and left school as soon as he could, and he saw that some of the lads throwing stones and petrol bombs were the same as him: poor, disenfranchised, angry. “If I’d been born in the Ardoyne,” he said, “I would’ve been in the IRA; if I’d been born in a Loyalist area, I would’ve been in the UVF.”

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It seems to me that, politically naïve as Spike was when he first went to Northern Ireland, as a young soldier he sensed something pretty profound that’s had a huge impact on Scotland, and still does. The connections between Scotland and Northern Ireland are in the history books and the genes; they predate the partition of Ireland and the creation of Northern Ireland and they’re cultural, religious, and ethnic, but they are also about poverty and class and have driven working-class men in Scotland and Northern Ireland to behave in similar ways and still do. It was something a lot of the soldiers sent to Northern Ireland noticed, Scottish soldiers in particular.

As for the effects of it all, they are obvious in Northern Ireland but they are obvious in Scotland too. Earlier this year, a riot broke out in Glasgow after an Irish unity march was met by counter-demonstrators, and recently, a pub in Govan, the Tall Cranes, was burnt out in an arson attack. The Tall Cranes was the base for a Republican flute band and had been attacked several times before. Attacks on the police are also up. It would be fair to say that sectarian trouble in Scotland is on the rise.

What it obviously wouldn’t be fair to say – and I’m not saying it – is that Northern Ireland and Scotland are the same. As well as Spike, I recently spoke to Helen Whitters, a woman from Derry whose 15-year-old son was killed when he was hit by a plastic bullet during rioting in the city in 1981, and she told me that, after her son’s death, she moved to Scotland because it was different and less divided than Northern Ireland. But she also knows that Scotland has sectarianism too. It’s in the football crowds, and on the streets, and in much more respectable places as well. We are more like Northern Ireland than we think we are.

I think this is important to say, and keep saying, because there is still a culture of denial in Scotland about sectarianism, even as Catholic pubs in Glasgow are attacked by arsonists. I also know, because I live in Govan, that the loyalist bands are stronger and more vociferous than they’ve ever been. The historian Ian S Wood has also told me about the younger element in the Republican bands in Scotland, many of whom support the dissident IRA. In the words of Mr Wood, there is a sense of unfinished business and it’s disturbing, or it should be.

Why, then, is there is culture of denial in Scotland? I think part of the explanation is the exceptionalist streak in the way some Scots see themselves, the idea that we are nicer, less racist, and less divided than other countries, especially England. The idea has deepened and spread in recent years. But it’s wrong.

It also doesn’t help that some observers see the history of the Troubles in a way that edits Scotland out of the worst of it. For example, there’s a myth that things were easier for soldiers if they were Scots and that Republicans only had it in for the English. Tell that to Spike who had knives pulled on him, and had dogs set on him, and was spat at by children and grannies. And tell it to the relatives of the 63 Scottish soldiers who died. And, while it may be true that the Provisional IRA had a standing order against bombs in Scotland, attacks did happen and they could easily have led to more, especially if people had been killed. The fact that the violence of the Troubles didn’t spread to Scotland is possibly more by accident than design.

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And the truth is the Troubles and their consequences are still here in Scotland and as long as we deny it, the solution is going to be harder to find. It certainly didn’t lie in the Scottish Government’s half-cocked, and now thankfully repealed, Offensive Behaviour at Football act. Fans didn’t like it; lawyers had no respect for it; the police were confused for it; and most people could see that it wasn’t effective anyway. Good riddance to bad laws.

A much better way forward would be to look more closely at experiences like Spike’s. Spike felt an affinity with some of the lads he came across in Northern Ireland because, in many ways, they were similar to him: they were from the same poor, working class backgrounds, and some of them sought a purpose or identity in religious, political and sometimes violent movements and still do. As Spike said, he ended up joining the British Army, but in another life, it could have been the IRA or the UVF.

It strikes me that we urgently need to deal with that reality, and seek to understand people who are loyal to tribal identities, particularly in this age of constitutional crisis in which the status quo is under threat; many people feel their identities are under threat too.

We also need to understand the story of Spike and the other men who fought in the Troubles for its most important lesson. Sectarianism and violence in Scotland and Northern Ireland comes from, and thrives on, poverty, exclusion and disenfranchisement. You won’t fix one until you fix both. You won’t deal with sectarianism until you deal with poverty.